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The Theory of Business Enterprise Paperback – April 8, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


“[M]any evidences of keen and profound thought, of a high grade of scholarship and of a breadth and sureness of vision . . . penetrated by flashes of inimitable satiric wit that is delightful.”—Industrial and Labor Relations Review

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

Thorstein Veblen was once described by Fortune magazine as "America's most brilliant and influential critic of modern business and the values of a business civilization," and his wisdom and often dry, satiric wit continues to be obvious today.

In The Theory of Business Enterprise, first published in 1904, he ravages corporate malfeasance and the greed that was spurring the robber barons of his day. If it all sounds familiar a century later, it's a testament to the timelessness of Veblen's criticisms of the corporate world, the wrongdoings of which today he would readily recognize. Modern readers will appreciate this reintroduction to one of the great economic thinkers. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Nabu Press (April 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1148703799
  • ISBN-13: 978-1148703794
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.8 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,199,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Craig L. Howe on June 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
I recently reread Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of Business Enterprise. To my amazement, the book is more relevant today than when I first read during my college days

Published in 1904, the book expands the author's view that business organization was incompatible with making money. The industrial system, he argues, requires men to be diligent, efficient, and cooperative. On the other hand, those who rule it are overly concerned with making and spending money.

Personally, I have grown tired of hearing today's executives call for a renewal of a corporate entrepreneurial spirit. Meanwhile, their employment contracts guarantee bonuses keyed to meaningless metrics, access to one or more corporate jets, gross-ups and "uber"-luxury car leases. Their rhetoric sounds as short-sighted as Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake."

Coining the phrase "conspicuous consumer," Veblen revealed the roots of these excesses more than a century ago. Writing about the robber barons of his day, he ravaged the greed and corporate malfeasance in his books.

Educated at Carleton College, Johns Hopkins University and Yale University had a short teaching career as a lecturer at the University of Missouri and a subsidized position at the New School for Social Research.

Veblen's reputation reached its pinnacle during The Great Depression. Often viewed as a political radical or socialist, Veblen committed himself to any form of political action.

Eerily relevant today, "The Theory of Business Enterprise" earned him a deserved reputation as a social critic that extends far beyond his limited academic roots.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jon Thomas on April 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
I read a fair amount of Veblen on the side as an undergraduate over 35 years ago. I did this during a very anti-War and anti-establishment time that meshed neatly with my own attitudes during that period. Recently, I thought I would go back and re-read some of his works--including this one. I was surprised. His descriptions of the financial foibles of Wall Street and American industry of the early 20th and late 19th century are startlingly similar to what we see today. The same tendency towards excessive leveraging existed back then (1904 publication) as it does today. It would truly seem that the old adage that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This homely insight could also be applied to good effect concerning military adventures by future US administrations. For some reason, I doubt that it will be the present one....

Veblen is his most wickedly funny and insightful as a critic. His views of captains of industry and the politicians who are effectively bought by them are as pertinent today as they were back them. He was a superb economic and social diagnostician.

The area that he seems to be weakest in, in retrospective, is his prescription for the ill patient. He romanticized the "machine process" and the "engineer", only to be eventually disappointed. Technocracy was a movement that he flirted with for awhile, but given the fact that engineers and technical people are every bit as flawed as the rest of humanity, was bound to fail him as well.

I wonder what he would have thought of FDR if he had lived another 10 years. I like to think that he would have embraced the type of social democracy that Roosevelt represented. But then again, he enjoyed playing the iconoclastic outsider.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rick Woodward on August 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
While I couldn't say this book is a must-read for contemporary social scientists, it is extremely impressive how much of later developments in economics Veblen anticipated in this book, written in 1904. Moreover, this came as a surprise to me, which leads me to suspect that there is less awareness of his contributions than there should be. We know, of course, that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants of the past, and Veblen is clearly one of those giants. In this book we can find the seeds of ideas like the transaction cost analysis developed later by Coase and Williamson, the separation of ownership and control in the modern corporation (associated in most people's minds with the names of Berle and Means), and much of what Keynes wrote about the animal spirits of investors in his General Theory. Veblen also anticipated an important element of Keynesian macroeconomic theory in writing about the role of contracts as a source of price rigidities, and I had to wonder whether his speculations on how policy measures to reduce competition might ameliorate business downturns inspired some aspects of Roosevelt's National Recovery Act. Moreover, from the very first page, on which he discusses the centrality of the machine and the "machine process," we can see how Veblen, along with other classics like Adam Smith and Karl Marx, anticipated the concern of neo-Schumpeterian evolutionary economic theory with the role of technology in economic processes. The concluding chapters deal with Veblen's concerns about how the "machine process" is transforming culture and civilization. I feel that a more insightful treatment of this subject can be found in Jacques Ellul's Technological Society, but again Veblen was breaking new ground here, and one has to recognize and admire his role as a pioneer.
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