I think the best way to handle the never ending conservative and (anti)Republican obsessive screaming fits over this or that is to poke fun at them. But, if between chuckles and guffaws, you are seriously wondering, wtf are these people so freaked out about Senator Fetterman not wearing a suit in the Senate, then, as the ad says, America, this one’s for you.
Ok, how to explain this? How to introduce this? I suppose most Kossacks don’t need much convincing that mainstream economics is mostly bunk. But there is a school of American economics, called the institutionlists, centered on the work and writings of perhaps the biggest gadfly ever among American professional economists, Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929). Veblen is famous for coining the phrase “conspicuous consumption.” It was the title of the fourth chapter of his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class.
The title of Chapter Seven in that book is, “Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture,” and it is here that Veblen explains how the Leisure Class — basically, the rich and their hangers on, and the various elites of the different parts of society — creates and enforces standards of taste and culture (the pecuniary culture) that reinforces and perpetuates their dominant role in society.
Quite simply, elites dress in such a way as to make clear they do not have to do any work in order to exist. This signifies their status, position, wealth, and power as superior to everyone else.
So, the working and lower classes are expected to wear hoodies and shorts. Senators, Congresspeople, bankers, lawyers, and so on, are expected to wear suits, damn it. You do want to fit in, don’t you?
And, if you have achieved an elite position (or been admitted into an elite institution) and you refuse to conform to the expected pecuniary culture, you are marked as a potential troublemaker who may disrespect — or even worse, overturn — the accepted social order. Which of course threatens their status, position, wealth, and power.
This is the hidden meaning of the virulence behind the “dirty hippie” label. But you kind of knew that already. Right?
OK, I’ve explained what I think Veblen is writing here. Just asking people to read Veblen is not very effective, because, well, Veblen is hard to read, though I swear if The Theory of the Leisure Class were required reading in high school (highly improbable, I admit), the republic would be in much better shape. I will say this: Veblen is far superior to Marx, because using Marx’s ideas and frames of analysis, you cannot explain how socialist countries end up under the control of authoritarian hierarchies. Using Veblen, you can explain how that happens to both capitalist and socialist countries.
I’ll leave it to you to wonder why mainstream economics teaches that the only alternative to private enterprise and capitalism is Marx.
Excerpts from Thorstein Veblen, Chapter Seven, “Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture”
...Other methods of putting one’s pecuniary standing in evidence serve their end effectually, and other methods are in vogue always and everywhere; but expenditure on dress has this advantage over most other methods, that our apparel is always in evidence and affords an indication of our pecuniary standing to all observers at the first glance. It is also true that admitted expenditure for display is more obviously present, and is, perhaps, more universally practiced in the matter of dress than in any other line of consumption….
But the function of dress as an evidence of ability to pay does not end with simply showing that the wearer consumes valuable goods in excess of what is required for physical comfort. Simple conspicuous waste of goods is effective and gratifying as far as it goes; it is good prima facie evidence of pecuniary success, and consequently prima facie evidence of social worth. But dress has subtler and more far-reaching possibilities than this crude, first-hand evidence of wasteful consumption only. If, in addition to showing that the wearer can afford to consume freely and uneconomically, it can also be shown in the same stroke that he or she is not under the necessity of earning a livelihood, the evidence of social worth is enhanced in a very considerable degree. Our dress, therefore, in order to serve its purpose effectually, should not only he expensive, but it should also make plain to all observers that the wearer is not engaged in any kind of productive labor… The pleasing effect of neat and spotless garments is chiefly, if not altogether, due to their carrying the suggestion of leisure exemption from personal contact with industrial processes of any kind… It not only shows that the wearer is able to consume a relatively large value, but it argues at the same time that he consumes without producing....
...Conspicuous waste and conspicuous leisure are reputable because they are evidence of pecuniary strength; pecuniary strength is reputable or honorific because, in the last analysis, it argues success and superior force….