Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Showy Consumption

Nice article in The Atlantic Monthly on consumption patterns and under what conditions it one would chase after external trappings of "wealth". The theory is :

Since strangers tend to lump people together by race, the lower your racial group’s income, the more valuable it is to demonstrate your personal buying power.

To that end, the richer your peer group the lesser your need for conspicuous, public consumption. Virginia Postrel writes: As peer groups get richer, the balance between private pleasure and publicly visible consumption shifts.

My grandmother was barely literate and could not spell economics to save her life, but she knew what research has uncovered. Her theory was that the people with old money live luxuriously but they are rarely flashy. In fact, they are often extremely tight-fisted. It is only the nouveau riche that flaunt what little they have lest anyone imagine they are still poor - they are often very generous when lavishing friends and family with gifts.

When my grandfather came upon hard times as a refugee with a large brood of children in Calcutta in 1947, he made up a mantra for himself that we still remember - To not show-off your wealth is the best way to it show-off.We wondered what he really meant when he said that. Was he trying to project he still had the old money he no longer had or was it perhaps a lesson for the rest of us who were at risk of turning ostentatious because we had never known the old way of life as he and his forefathers had.

1 comment:

Chester said...

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