Birthday: July 30, 1857
Died At Age: 72
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Thorstein Bunde Veblen
Born Country: United States
Born in: Cato, Wisconsin, United States
Famous as: Economist
Spouse/Ex-: Ann Bradley Bevans (m. 1914–1920), Ellen Rolfe (m. 1888–1911)
father: Thomas Veblen
mother: Kari Bunde
Died on: August 3, 1929
place of death: Menlo Park
U.S. State: Wisconsin
Notable Alumni: Carleton College
education: Johns Hopkins University, Carleton College, Cornell University, Yale University
awards: John Addison Porter Prize
Who was Thorstein Veblen?
Thorstein Veblen was an American economist and a well-known critic of capitalism. He applied a dynamic approach to study economic institutions and devised popular terms like pecuniary emulation and conspicuous consumption. Born in Cato to Norwegian American immigrant parents, he grew up in a big family that consisted of his parents and eleven siblings. Veblen attended local schools and later studied at Carleton College. He studied economics and philosophy under noted economist John Bates Clark. The works of Herbert Spencer also inspired him to a great extent. Following school, Veblen enrolled in Yale University from where he earned his Doctor of Philosophy in 1884. Although extremely intelligent and knowledgeable in his field, he remained unemployed for several years before finding work as an editor at University of Chicago. He eventually emerged as a successful economist and sociologist, and earned both admirers and critics.
Childhood & Early Life
Thorstein Veblen was born on July 30, 1857, in Cato, USA, to Kari Bunde and Thomas Veblen.
He started attending school at the age of five. Following school, he attended the nearby Carleton College where he studied philosophy, economics, classical philology, and natural history.
Veblen then moved to Yale University and earned his Doctor of Philosophy from there in 1884.
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Although Thorstein Veblen graduated from Yale in 1884, he remained unemployed for many years. In 1891, he moved to Cornell University to study economics under Professor James Laurence Laughlin.
In 1892, he moved to the University of Chicago where he took an editorial job with Laughlin’s support. There he contributed to the university’s ‘Journal of Political Economy.’
In 1899, Veblen got his first and highly popular book, ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ published. He then moved to Stanford but soon resigned from there.
With the help of his friend Herbert J. Davenport, he accepted a position at the University of Missouri in 1911. Although he didn’t enjoy working there, he published many popular books, including ‘Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution’ and ‘The Instincts of Worksmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts.’
By 1917, Thorstein Veblen had moved to Washington, D.C. to assist a group to analyze possible peace solutions for World War I. During this time, he published ‘An Inquiry into the Nature of Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation’.
He then joined the United States Food Administration. After working for a brief period there, Veblen travelled to New York City to take up the role of an editor with ‘The Dial’. He lost his job the following year when the magazine shifted its orientation.
In the meantime, the economist had become familiar with many other academics, including James Harvey Robinson, John Dewey, and Charles A. Beard. The group went on to found The New School for Social Research (currently The New School).
From 1919 to 1926, Veblen contributed to The New School's development. During this time, he also authored a book titled ‘The Engineers and the Price System’.
Family & Personal Life
Thorstein Veblen had eleven siblings, including Andrew Veblen who became the father of one of America's most renowned mathematicians, Oswald Veblen.
The economist was married twice. He reportedly engaged in several extramarital affairs during his lifetime.
During his time at Carleton College, he met Ellen Rolfe who was the niece of the college president. The couple married in 1888 and divorced in 1911. Their marriage didn’t produce any children due to Rolfe’s infertility.
Veblen married his second wife, Ann Bradley Bevans, in 1914. He adopted her two daughters, Becky and Ann. The couple didn’t have any child of their own.
Death & Legacy
Thorstein Veblen died on August 3, 1929, in California, USA, at the age of 72. He is regarded a founder of the American school of institutional economics alongside Wesley Clair Mitchell and John R. Commons.
The economic terms coined by him, “pecuniary emulation” and “conspicuous consumption,” are widely used till date.
The Association for Evolutionary Economics gives the Veblen-Commons award annually to those who contribute to institutional economics.
His theory of economic systems is of great value in studying the new global economy.
Veblen is cited in the works of many feminist economists. He felt that “women in the industrial age remained victims of their barbarian status.” In hindsight, this thought makes him a forerunner of modern feminism.