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Vanity Economics: An Economic Exploration of Sex, Marriage and Family – by C. Simon Fan

May 6, 2014


Couple Shopping

We live in an era of consumerism. Influenced by a powerful media, many people indulge in the purchase of ever-expanding varieties of goods and services. A new word, “oniomania,” was created to describe some people’s compulsive urge to shop. However, most consumption activities are simply for “vanity” rather than for biological needs. Back in 1899, Veblen put forward the theory of “conspicuous consumption”, which argues that economic behaviour is socially determined and driven by the human instincts of emulation and social comparison. Similarly, John Maynard Keynes argued that an important aspect of our desire for the conspicuous consumption of goods is “in the sense that we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows.” Dave Ramsey puts it more vividly: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don ’t like.”


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