Memories of Emily Veblen Olsen

Thorstein Veblen’s older sister had a more comprehensive perspective on society. Though, in his later writings, Thorstein did replace his invention, “the leisure class,” with the more accurate, “the kept.” He himself was a kept man who never produced anything but words.

How did the Veblen’s accumulate wealth? Well, perhaps mother’s charity in taking a poor woman into the house and having her weave all the cloth to clothe the family provides a partial explanation. Why did the Veblens keep relocating? Acquiring and selling real estate, lumber and limestone were more profitable than farming.

There is a new biography published by Harvard University, which proclaims “Veblen: The Making of an Economist Who Unmade Economics”
Would that it were so, but before and after his irregular career, Veblen maintained the male perspective of what economic analysis is even about. I am tempted to consult Charles Camic’s book to see if the quasi-industrial enterprise run by his father, which rested on the productive imput of women and, yes, even children (Thorstein and Emily were put to work delivering vittles, prepared in the home kitchen, to workers on a distant farm). Who made up the workforce? Recent immigrants who could not afford land, food or clothing. Was their labor paid? Emily makes no mention. All we know is that while mother Veblen provided a natural increase in the population, her husband moved from investment to investment.

Veblen has become quite popular. There are several scholarly articles one is supposed to buy. Andrew Pedankis has an interesting line:

It has not since been as easy as we might think to defrock pope, banker, bureaucrat and general all at once.

Is that a slip of the tongue, or what? The importance of the male evaporates when he is undressed???

Pedankis’ essay strikes me as pure nonsense. Philosophy presumably loves knowledge.  Economics is about household management, keeping body and soul together, absent which no knowledge is possible.  Of course, by ignoring what actually provided him sustenance, Veblen was able to maunder about ideas to justify his own lazy existence.  What was the “leisure class” but a new category to accommodate his self-importance. How did the Veblens become prosperous?  Not by subsistence farming.


Poor Plenum: Veblen and The Economics of Philosophy

As one of Thorstein’s brothers said:
“He read and loafed, and the next day he loafed and read.” In other words, in designating the leisure class, he invented a category for himself.