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Торстейн Бунде Веблен
Thorstein Bunde Veblen
Источник: Journal of Economic Issues, Sep97, Vol. 31 Issue 3, p817, 9p
Stabile, Donald
In a thorough survey of Thorstein Veblen's "intellectual antecedents," Stephen Edgell and Rick Tilman provide a list of possible influences on Veblen's ideas [Edgell and Tilman 1989, 1003-1004]. A name missing is Veblen's one-time professor, John Bates Clark (1847-1938). Clark's influence on Veblen has usually been construed as minimal at best and mainly one of opposing ideas [Henry 1995, 3]. Clark was a neoclassical marginalist, while Veblen was an evolutionary institutionalist. Furthermore, Veblen did not indicate any influence from Clark. Joseph Doffman relates that Veblen admired Clark as a teacher, but "the only teaching of Clark that he remembered was a lecture on suavity" [Doffman 1972, 31]. Veblen added to this perception of minimal influence by his critical review of Clark's economics [Veblen 1932b].
The marginalist approach that Veblen criticized, however, was not the economics Clark had taught him. In his premarginalist writings, when Veblen was his student, Clark made a case for what he termed an anthropological approach to economics. Ben Seligman once suggested that Clark's early ideas were "paradoxically enough, a possible influence on Veblen's thinking," but he did not explain his suggestion [Seligman 1962, 313]. This note will compare Clark's early writings to Veblen's ideas and explore the plausibility of Seligman's suggestion.
A case for Clark having influence on Veblen must remain speculative. Edgell and Tilman warn that "establishing intellectual ancestry is a complex exercise and in the case of Veblen, exceedingly so. ..." They then refer to a test of similarity devised by Quentin Skinner, which asks if the ideas of two thinkers were similar, if the second thinker could have gotten the ideas only from the first, and if the similarity could not be random [Edgell and Tilman 1989, 1019]. This note will present intimations of Clark's influence on Veblen consistent with tests one and three regarding anthropology, the analysis of consumption, and the nature of competition. It will be argued that the interests of Clark and Veblen were too parallel to have been random. As for test two, the evidence is circumstantial. Although the ideas they shared can be traced to a variety of thinkers, Veblen had heard of them from Clark early in his intellectual life and used terms and examples analogous to what Clark had written.
There is no case to be made, however, that Veblen was a follower of Clark. While they analyzed similar issues that can be construed as dating from their initial contact, each took a different intellectual path in later years. Clark transformed himself into a neoclassical marginalist, while Veblen became a Darwinian. Because of his Darwinian approach, Veblen abjured static economic theories of both classical (natural law) and neoclassical (equilibrium) varieties. Whatever he may have thought of Clark's ideas when he initially heard them, in his later days Veblen usually turned Clark's arguments around to suit his own analytical framework and thereby opposed Clark's method and conclusions. In this sense, Clark served Veblen as a catalyst and a contrast, as can be seen in their similar but divergent interest in anthropology.
Anthropological Economics
Veblen's interest in anthropology is well known [Hamilton 1991, 937-8; Edgell and Tilman 1989, 1004]. He began his most intense essay on economic method with a quotation: "Anthropology is destined to revolutionize the political and social sciences . . ." [Veblen 1932a, 56]. The source of this interest in anthropology has remained obscure. For example, in his recent book on Veblen, Tilman writes that "no adequate explanation exists as to why Veblen became so intrigued with anthropology. ..." [Tilman 1996, 191. It might have come from his courses with Clark.
Clark and Veblen spent three overlapping years (1877-1880) at Carleton College [Dorfman 1972, 13, 37: Henry 1995, 1-3]. During those years, Clark had just finished, or was at work on, the articles [Clark 1877a; 1877b; 1879; 1880; 1881] that would enlarge his reputation as an economist. In Veblen's senior year, Clark presented his ideas on "the new philosophy of wealth" in a "college forum" [Dorfman 1972, 29]. It would be difficult to believe that Clark had not discussed the ideas in his articles with his students; Veblen was one of his best students.
In the second of Clark's early articles, "Unrecognized Forces in Political Economy," he asserted that in leading works of economics, "the motives attributed to men have been, in fact, erroneous." The problem was that "the writers have troubled themselves very little with anthropological investigation." He then offered a judgment that anticipated Veblen's thinking: "Economic science has never been based on adequate anthropological study" [Clark 1877b, 710-11].
The anthropological study that Clark presented, however, was very rudimentary, as can be seen in his outline of the evolution of competition. In another early article, "Business Ethics, Past and Present," he criticized the notion of "unrestricted competition" as "impossible in any collection of men that can be termed a society," writing, "to find anything approaching unrestricted competition, we must go farther back than history reaches ... to the isolated troglodyte, the companion of the cave bear." Cave dwellers competed on savage terms, restrained only within the "family circle ... by sentiments of personal affection." There was a split in motivation between "love toward relatives and enmity toward neighbors." As society developed, these family ties became widespread as a moral code and legal system that created a more peaceful society [Clark 1879, 158-161].
Veblen offered two commentaries on Clark's anthropology. The first was implied in the opening chapter of The Theory of the Leisure Class, which presented Veblen's version of human development from prehistoric times. He argued that group life and peaceful living were the early norm, not the solitary cave dweller at war with all but family members. As technology developed and a surplus appeared, groups began fighting with each other, and a division of labor between predatory and peaceful work took place [Veblen 1953, 23-31]. The development of society could lead to peace or to predation.
Veblen offered a more explicit response to Clark's anthropology in his review of Clark's work. He called Clark's "excursions into 'primitive life' ... harmless and graceful misinformation" [Veblen 1932b, 184-5]. Clark's error was in reading current conditions into the past as a static natural law, which made them the "proposals of pre-Darwinian hedonism, which is not troubled by the exuberant uncertainties of cumulative change" [Veblen 1932b, 230]. To Veblen, with his stress on the non-teleological evolution of institutions, Clark's theory of change ended where it began, with the competitive natural order.
Veblen had the advantage over Clark of 20 years of development in anthropology. By the time Veblen wrote, anthropology was being conceived as combining cultural and biological study [Reuben 1996, 140]. That was why he viewed its influence favorably. Clark, however, had not kept up with these advances. After his initial appeal for anthropological study, which he repeated in his first book, The Philosophy of Wealth [Clark 1886, 34], Clark did not again refer to it. His later examples of early society remained simplistic [Clark 1965, 82-4]. Veblen surpassed Clark in the study of anthropology, and, as the next sections relate, the way in which he surpassed Clark's early ideas made it possible for him to be critical of Clark. Still, it is conceivable that Veblen's interest in anthropology came from his classes with Clark.
Types of Consumption
A problem in documenting Clark's influence on Veblen is that he had little to say about Clark directly. Veblen's most famous work, The Theory of the Leisure Class, has no mention of Clark. Nevertheless, that book can be construed as following up on questions raised by Clark.
In one of his early articles, Clark argued that "the assumed man is too mechanical and too selfish to correspond with the reality; he is actuated altogether too little by higher psychological forces." His framework for studying these forces was higher and lower wants. By higher wants, Clark meant "the scientific, aesthetic and ethic wants" that "lead men to labor for that which is true, beautiful and good. ..." These higher wants were what economists ignored [Clark 1877b, 714-5].
As society developed, humans aspired to attain the higher wants, but their cultivation required education and affluence. Clark wrote, "The man who is both uneducated and poor will have neither the disposition nor the ability to obtain many other than animal gratifications and a low order of the intellectual." He followed with a description that may well have given Veblen something to think about:
Should such a man become wealthy without becoming more cultured, he will desire only a quantitative increase of gratification of the lowest social type. Personal vanity and love of display are strongly marked in the lowest social grades ... His dwelling will be more showy, especially on the exterior. For purposes of display it may be of a size which does not increase, but rather diminishes the comfort which its owner takes in it. The furnishing of the interior will exhibit a desire for brilliant effects unregulated by taste. It is such men as this who order libraries according to shelf room, by the linear foot independently of contents ... [Clark 1877b, 717].
In The Philosophy of Wealth, Clark explained this showy consumption as a corruption of higher wants. He wrote, "A want that is universal and insatiable is the desire for personal esteem." The primary concern for Clark was with the effect the desire for esteem had "in supplementing the ideal motives of human nature. It counterfeits taste, intellect and virtue where they have small existence" [Clark 1886, 467]. The quest for esteem could offset the cultivation of higher wants.
In another of his early articles, "Spiritual Economics," Clark looked more closely at how esteem made religion an example of a higher want that was not then being met among the lower classes due to inequality of wealth. First, the wealthy, by requiring more magnificent churches, were "increasing the costliness of church attendance." As Clark saw it, "Two centuries have seen the growth of differences of wealth, the adoption of a more luxurious spiritual table and the withdrawal of the majority of the poor." Second, while churches had become centers for socializing, the rich and poor were uncomfortable at church meetings. This discomfort arose not "from pride alone," but from "mental habit; it is their thoughts, not their respective ranks, that are too diverse to admit of much social intercourse" [Clark 1880, 31213]. The result was that the poor were losing their religion. As a remedy, Clark believed that the church should diminish "the elegance of its furnishing" to promote gatherings of rich and poor [Clark 1880, 318].
Clark's early economics were motivated by his Christian values, and he has been interpreted as an advocate of Christian socialism [Everett 1982, 34-6; Tanaka 1990, 159]. His concern over religion was that while churches should be building the "fraternal spirit on which higher industrial development depends," they fostered "class antagonism" and lost their appeal to the masses [Clark 1886, 233-4]. Clark wanted to reform religion as a tool for reducing class conflict and making capitalism more stable.
Veblen expanded on, but also turned these ideas upside down, in his discussion of conspicuous consumption. He noted that the reason for wealth was supposedly to consume. He continued, in terms similar to Clark's, that "such consumption may of course be conceived to serve the consumer's physical wants--his physical com-fort--or his so called higher wants--spiritual, aesthetic, intellectual or what not. ..." But as society developed, wealth "becomes the conventional basis of esteem. Its possession in some amount becomes necessary in order to have any reputable standing in the community." Individuals who did not meet this standard suffered a loss of esteem [Veblen 1953, 35-39]. Veblen agreed with Clark on the importance of esteem.
Clark believed that affluence could bring greater interest in higher wants, although the desire for esteem could corrupt that interest. Veblen agreed that consumption was colored by the desire for esteem. To him, emulation was a defining element of esteem, with the lower classes mimicking the leisure class' conspicuous consumption. They learned counterfeit tastes from the wealthy, not from their lack of education and refinement as Clark had maintained [Veblen 1953, 64, 70].
As had Clark, Veblen applied his analysis to religion. He agreed with Clark's perception that church attendance by workers was in decline in comparison to wealthier groups. He also pointed out that the wealthy joined churches stressing "spectacular accessories of worship." This was "due in part to a predilection for conspicuously wasteful spectacles. ..." As a result, there was a stratification among the religious observations of different classes based on the amount of conspicuous consumption. Much as Clark had noted, Veblen attributed "this pecuniary stratification of devoutness" to "class differences in habits of thought" [Veblen 1953, 213-14].
Veblen, however, was not interested in the reform of religion and doubted that those class differences could be overcome. He went further than Clark in explaining the differing mental outlook among the social classes. The habit of devoutness was an archaic outlook, strongly felt among the leisure class. It was held in varying degrees of strength among those who emulated the leisure class. To analyze the strength of this emulation, Veblen took his categories of work, predatory and peaceful, and translated them into modern terms, pecuniary and industrial. Leisure class interest in religion was followed especially by persons engaged in pecuniary employments. Workers engaged in industrial employment were least susceptible to the hold of religious fealty, due to the matter-of-fact mental outlook industrial work required [Veblen 1953, 208-16]. Whether the cultivation of higher wants followed Clark's natural path depended on the ability of this industrial outlook to supplant the dominion of leisure class values among the masses.
The analyses of consumption that Clark and Veblen produced had similar interest in counterfeit tastes. While that could have been due to influence running from Clark to Veblen, many leaders in economic thinking made the distinction between higher and lower wants at this time [Stabile 1996, 685-94]. Yet the terms and examples both used were sufficiently similar to evince a potential for influence.
The Nature of Competition
In his early writings, Clark disputed the notion of competition idealized by economists, writing that "competition unrestricted is a monster. ..." He categorized as wrongful the practices involved in making money through underhanded bargaining. As he saw it, "it is the shrewd trading men who create no wealth, but deal in stocks and real estates, horses and general merchandise, in a manner that benefits no one but themselves. ..." This type of transaction, moreover, was becoming "characteristically American." It might exist occasionally in other countries, but in them it did not "so pervade the entire community as to make it respectable" [Clark 1879, 162-3].
When transactions were not moral, "the system becomes as undisguisedly predatory as one can be without violating the rights of property. ..." Under those circumstances, he concluded, "Much of our bargaining is a refinement of fraud. ... The aim of the practice is to get property by force ..." [Clark 1886, 151, 160, 161-5]. Not all trade was bad, however, as some merchants created utility by placing goods before the consumer. As a result, Clark concluded, "one of the imperative duties of the new Political Economy is to draw the line where production terminates" and unproductive exchanges begin [Clark 1879, 161].
Veblen drew such a line with his distinction between industrial and pecuniary work. Industrial work involved production. Pecuniary work stressed making money through sharp dealing whereby "fraud" substituted for "forcible seizure" [Veblen 1953, 154-5]. This use of force and fraud he could have learned from Clark. What he added was that through the process of emulation the leisure class made force and fraud respectable.
Veblen elaborated on economic predation in The Theory of Business Enterprise. There are several references to Clark's The Distribution of Wealth in the footnotes as well as citation of some of his "lectures hitherto unpublished," but again Clark did not figure directly in the contents of the book [Veblen 1935, 136n, 140n, 169n]. Nevertheless, the book can be interpreted as supplementing and contradicting the type of competition Clark thought harmful to society through its stress on shrewd dealing.
In The Theory of Business Enterprise, Veblen focussed on the increase in strictly pecuniary transactions as an economic force. Through the use of credit, financiers bought and sold firms with an eye toward monetary gain, regardless of the productive efficiency of their transactions. In efforts to increase the financial value of their property, they ruined their rivals or bought them out, suppressed production to keep prices high, and engaged in advertising that appealed to esteem and emulation [Veblen 1935, 3, 18, 22, 31, 49, 55-9, 92, 119]. These activities, which boiled down to the buying and selling of financial assets, had "many points of similarity with stock speculation" but their "nearest analogue" was that of "the real estate agent" [Veblen 1935, 122]. These large-scale pecuniary transactions were rated highly by the community, even though they produced no wealth. Every person imbued with pecuniary values came to admire them.
Clark had noted this admiration. Instead of following up on this and other questions he raised about competition in his early writings, Clark built his career on setting forth marginal product theory as a prototype of competition [Clark 1965]. This theory left many questions unanswered about the nature of business and its values, however, and that was the task Veblen set for himself. Whether he saw that task as completing what Clark had started can never be known, but it is a possibility.
It remains only a possibility, because Clark was not the only economic thinker that Veblen encountered expressing concern over force and fraud in competition. As Dorfman points out, during his Carleton years Veblen read Henry George and Henry Demarest Lloyd, and in his graduate school years he took a course from Richard T. Ely and wrote a major paper on John Stuart Mill IDorfman 1972, 32, 37, 40, 45]. It is beyond the scope of this brief note to summarize what these thinkers had to say about competition, but a sample will indicate a similarity with what Clark and later Veblen wrote.
Although he was concerned with land rent in Progress and Poverty, George disparaged "speculation, and especially that mode of gambling known as stock dealing" for it brought out "the arts of the confidence man" and gave "advantage to the individual, but . . . whatever one gains some one else must lose." Speculation in land was the cause of depressions. George also believed that civilization advanced when humans worked together and that an unequal distribution of income caused it to decline [George 1942, 163, 225, 416, 442]. Lloyd's critical view of Standard Oil, first published in article form in 1881, portrayed business as "a race to the bad, and the winners are the worst. A system in which the prizes go to meanness inevitably marches with the meanest men at its head" [Lloyd 1963, 169]. Ely saw as a disadvantage of competition "that the moral atmosphere of a race-course is not a wholesome one. Competition tends to force the level of economic life down to the moral standard of the worst men who can sustain themselves in the business community" [Ely 1889, 83]. Finally, Mill's view was equally severe: "I confess I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other's heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind ..." [Mill 1969, 748].
Veblen surely learned about the nature of competition from these other sources, but Clark's influence remained primary. Clark himself was very early influenced by George [Stabile 1995, 373-82] and might have introduced Veblen to him. Ely placed Clark's The Philosophy of Wealth on his suggested "Course of Reading" [Ely 1889, 330], so his views may have reflected his reading of Clark. In addition, Clark had used Mill as a foil for his ideas [Clark 1877b, 721-23; 1883, 356-7] and probably had assigned Mill's works to his students. More to the point, none of these other thinkers had looked at predatory competition with the depth and intensity of Clark's early articles. And whatever they wrote, Veblen had already heard a version of it from Clark.
A case for Clark as one of Veblen's intellectual antecedents is at best a vague hint of a piece in the puzzle that was Veblen. In his early writings, Clark posed important questions: How can economics be improved by anthropology? Why do humans use extra income to consume items of little obvious value? And what impact do predatory business practices have on society? He initially answered them in static terms and then ceased to consider them at all. Veblen's analyses of conspicuous consumption and industrial versus pecuniary work took Clark's study of counterfeit tastes and fraudulent competition and placed it within an evolutionary framework, thereby augmenting and contradicting it. Even though his analysis was more advanced than Clark's, Veblen may have learned something from him.
As for Veblen's having been critical of Clark, it must be remembered that the same can be said of several of his intellectual antecedents. Veblen expanded on and countered nearly every idea that influenced him. For example, Veblen learned from the Social Darwinist thinking of Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, without agreeing with their conclusions. In the case of Clark, it was the questions he raised early in his career that make him a suitable candidate as one of Veblen's intellectual antecedents.
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