Thorstein Veblen

1857 - 1929


The Theory

of the Leisure Class


An Economic Study

of Institutions










It is the purpose of this inquiry to discuss the place and value of the leisure class as an economic factor in modern life, but it has been found impracticable to confine the discussion strictly within the limits so marked out. Some attention is perforce given to the origin and the line of derivation of the institution, as well as to features of social life that are not commonly classed as economic.

At some points the discussion proceeds on grounds of economic theory or ethnological generalization that may be in some degree unfamiliar. The introductory chapter indicates the nature of these theoretical premises sufficiently, it is hoped, to avoid obscurity. A more explicit statement of the theoretical position involved is made in a series of papers published in Volume IV of the American Journal of Sociology, on "The Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor," "The Beginnings of Ownership," and "The Barbarian Status of Women." But the argument does not rest on these – in part novel – generalizations in such a way that it would altogether lose its possible value as a detail of economic theory in case these novel generalizations should, in the reader's apprehension, fall away through being insufficiently backed by authority or data.

Partly for reasons of convenience, and partly because there is less chance of misapprehending the sense of phenomena that are familiar to all men, the data employed to illustrate or enforce the argument have by preference been drawn from everyday life, by direct observation or through common notoriety, rather than from more recondite sources at a farther remove. It is hoped that no one will find his sense of literary or scientific fitness offended by this recourse to homely facts, or by what may at times appear to be a callous freedom in handling vulgar phenomena or phenomena whose intimate place in men's life has sometimes shielded them from the impact of economic discussion.

Such premises and corroborative evidence as are drawn from remoter sources, as well as whatever articles of theory or inference are borrowed from ethnological science, are also of the more familiar and accessible kind and should be readily traceable to their source by fairly well-read persons. The usage of citing sources and authorities has therefore not been observed. Likewise the few quotations that have been introduced, chiefly by way of illustration, are also such as will commonly be recognized with sufficient facility without the guidance of citation.