Markets in everything, Thorstein Veblen edition

by on May 2, 2008 at 6:19 am in Economics | Permalink

A watch that doesn’t tell time.  Oh, it costs $300,000.  And:

He added that anyone can buy a watch that tells time – only a truly discerning customer can buy one that doesn’t.

And here’s the best part: The watch sold out within 48 hours of its launch.

I thank Darren Klein for the pointer.

Addendum: I am reminded of Borges on Veblen: "When, many years ago, I happened to read this book, I thought it was a satire.  I later learned it was the first work of an illustrious sociologist."

Peter May 2, 2008 at 10:37 am

If you can afford to spend $300K on a watch you don’t need to be able to tell the time. For instance, you don’t have to worry about getting to a business meeting on time, as the other participants will wait however long for you to show up. Catching a plane? You’re not bound by airline schedules; you have a private jet and can show up anytime you please.

Acrite May 2, 2008 at 10:47 am

A watch that doesn’t tell time? That is a bracelet. I know it tells day or night, sorry, its still a bracelet

tommy May 2, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Some people have more dollars than sense.

David Heigham May 2, 2008 at 3:14 pm

I suspect that the inspiration came from a quite widely sold and unreasonably priced brand of watch called Fossil. If a watch named after something no part of which has moved for many millenia sells well, why not try one which blatently does not tell the time?

They made nine watches out of steel from the Titanic; perhaps two or three rivets worth of steel. The most convincing account that I have seen about why the Titanic sunk was authored by a man who had analysed a few of those rivets, and demonstrated that they were made of way sub-standard steel.

For economists, this is the best demonstration that I have yet seen of goods that are unsaleable at anything near average or marginal cost, but which sell superbly if priced ridiculously high.

imp May 2, 2008 at 6:29 pm

If the watches don’t work, how do we know they were sold out in forty-eight hours?

ideogenetic May 2, 2008 at 9:28 pm

What’s the tourbillon? Romain Jerome made a binary watch out of it. Are they plowing money into R&D on the tourbillon?

AxelDC May 3, 2008 at 5:37 am

I have a device that tells me if it is day or night: It’s called a window, and while it wasn’t cheap, it didn’t cost me 6x the average salary of a college educated American worker!

John Fast May 4, 2008 at 2:25 am

Borges on Veblen, amazing. Mencken on Veblen, brilliant!

“What sound reason was there for believing that exclusive possession was the hall-mark of luxury? There was none that I could see. It might be true of a few luxuries, but it was certainly not true of the most familiar ones. Did I enjoy a decent bath because I knew that John Smith could not afford one—or because I delighted in being clean? Did I admire Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony because it was incomprehensible to Congressmen and Methodists —or because I genuinely loved music? Did I prefer kissing a pretty girl to kissing a charwoman because even a janitor may kiss a charwoman—or because the pretty girl looked better, smelled better and kissed better?

“Confronted by such considerations, it seemed to me that there was little truth left in Prof. Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste—that what remained of it, after it was practically applied a few times, was no more than a wraith of balderdash.”

“One more example of the Veblenian logic and I must pass on. On page 135 of “The Theory of the Leisure Class” he turned his garish and buzzing searchlight upon another problem of the domestic hearth, this time a double one. First, why do we have lawns around our country houses? Secondly, why don’t we use cows to keep them clipped, instead of employing Italians, Croatians and blackamoors? The first question was answered by an appeal to ethnology: we delight in lawns because we are the descendants of “a pastoral people inhabiting a region with a humid climate”—because our dolicho-blond ancestors had flocks, and thus took a keen professional interest in grass. (The Marx motif! The economic interpretation of history in E flat.) But why don’t we keep flocks? Why do we renounce cows and hire Jugo-Slavs? Because “to the average popular apprehension a herd of cattle so pointedly suggests thrift and usefulness that their presence . . . would be intolerably cheap.” Plowing through a bad book from end to end, I could find nothing sillier than this. Here, indeed, the whole “theory of conspicuous waste” was exposed for precisely what it was: one per cent. platitude and ninety-nine per cent. nonsense. Had the genial professor, pondering his great problems, ever taken a walk in the country? And had he, in the course of that walk, ever crossed a pasture inhabited by a cow (Bos taurus)? And had he, making that crossing, ever passed astern of the cow herself? And had he, thus passing astern, ever stepped carelessly, and—”

Bruno May 7, 2008 at 5:48 am

“Did I enjoy a decent bath because I knew that John Smith could not afford one—or because I delighted in being clean?”

There is a huge range in prices for bath tubs. People are prepared to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for gold plating, designer faucets, etc. Those expensive features don’t make you any cleaner or more comfortable. Veblen’s expanation is basically correct.

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