Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Leisured Elitist Group

I found it interesting that Hayek puts a great deal of focus on what he calls the leisured portion of society; this refers to those as in the upper class, which have a focus on education and philosophical thought. He mentions that in America this class is not really apparent. However, he points out that this lack of a cultured upper class has brought about a new leisured group in Europe. It seems that this new group is looked down upon, rather than respected (like the former upper class) for their obnoxious amount of consumption. Yet he points that others in poorer countries feel that the American masses are wasteful.

I feel that this is true to a certain extent. I believe that a lot of this envy or critique of others wastefulness first stems from the knowledge, that there’re those who have more than others. I did not really think about how wasteful celebrity’s seemed to be until a watched a few episodes of Cribs and saw shoe closets bigger than my house. Like children who have tantrums about not getting the new toy that their neighborhood friend has we seem to have a focus on comparative view of resources and view of consumption and if we did not know that they had this toy we probably would not give a care. I think that perhaps at the time Hayek wrote this work, that others in developing countries did not feel that the average American was wasteful, as much so as they probably do now since there is more access to the knowledge of how much we consume compared to them.

Hayek next goes on to the point that just because the amount that the leisured class spends on materialistic goods seems wasteful, that we should not interfere as they should have the liberty to spend their income as they desire. It is this consumption that allows others in the economy to gain wealth.

I follow this argument and I actually hear it quite often. Typically, the person bringing it up uses the pie example and asks do we want to care about how the pie is split up or the total size of the pie. If we want to be good economists we need to care about the size of the pie, not tax people and reap the benefits. Quite honestly, I feel this argument is flat on both sides.

This is for the reason of thinking only about the NOW.

We are placing resource decisions through our consumption (whether frivolous or frugal) on future generations because of scarcity. I think that it is shallow in the name of liberty that we should not judge others as wasteful and give them the total liberty to use resources in very a wasteful manner as we are taking away the liberty for those in the future to use resources. Perhaps I have gone too far in a direction that was not meant to be mentioned, but it is a direction I feel is often neglected and not thought to the extent that that it should be.


  1. What social discount rate shall we use to determine the mix of present and future consumption? How shall we determine this discount rate?

  2. In response to shoe closets bigger than your house, just think of all the jobs this creates for children working in sweat shops!!! Sure Lyndsay Lohan might not need another pair of shoes, but that kiddo working for 3$ sure does need that job! If our wealthy class didn't over consume frivolous useless goods, there would be no demand for sweat shop labor, and then what would the children do, they would be forced to work as farmers in fields or worse sex workers. So it's okay!!! (I really hope you can sense my sarcasm)

    I agree with you for the most part, if this were Facebook I would hit the like button :) But their is one point I want to give credit Hayek credit to... What the bourgeoisie enjoys today the proletariat will enjoy tomorrow. Take for example my favorite thing to do (next to SWEET of course) skiing. Not long ago was this a sport reserved for the leisure class but in a short period of time (about 50 years I am guessing) it has become a popular sport for not only the upper class but also the middle and lower classes. A resort I worked at in High School was the largest employer of people in the county the resort was in (1000 people) even though the resort is only open about 7 months a year).
    You are right people should be held responsible for their over consumption but at the same time good can come from the upper class being free to explore their leisure time as they see fit. I think as with all things there is a healthy balance. The question is what is the balance and whose job (if it is anyone's) is it to discover and enforce this balance?