Veblen introduced some interesting ideas in The Theory of the Leisure Class. My professor seems to insist that Veblen was an early pioneer in the field of signalling.

Although Veblen drove his ideas to the extreme to bring in absurd implications that I simply will not buy, there are specific arguments that I find attractive and readily agreeable. This is one of them:

The same pervading canon of vicarious leisure is also visibly present in the exterior details of devout observances and need only be pointed out in order to become obvious to all beholders. All ritual has a notable tendency to reduce itself to a rehearsal of formulas. This development of formula is most noticeable in the maturer cults, which have at the same time a more austere, ornate, and severe priestly life and garb; but it is perceptible also in the forms and methods of worships of the newer and fresher sects, whose tastes in respect of priests, vestments, and sanctuaries are less exacting. The rehearsal of the service (the term “service” carries a suggestion significant for the point in question) grows more perfunctory as the cult gains in age and consistency, and this perfunctoriness of the rehearsal is very pleasing to the correct devout taste. And with a good reason, for the fact of its being perfunctory goes to say pointedly that the master for whom it is performed is exalted above the vulgar need of actually proficuous service on the part of his servants. They are unprofitable servants, and there is an honorific implication for their master in their remaining unprofitable. It is needless to point out the close analogy at this point between the priestly office and the office of the footman. It is pleasing to our sense of what is fitting in these matters, in either case, to recognize in the obvious perfunctoriness of the service that it is a pro forma execution only. There should be no show of agility or of dexterous manipulation in the execution of the priestly office, such as might suggest a capacity for the turning off the work. [The Theory of the Leisure Class. Chapter 6: Pecuniary Canons of Taste. Thorstein Veblen. 1899]

As a side note, I am beginning to understand why a Veblen good is called a Veblen good. It all begins with this book.

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