Edited by Jürgen G. Backhaus
Chapter 59: Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929)
Heath Pearson Introduction Veblen was born to Norwegian immigrant parents in rural Wisconsin; he was raised there and in Minnesota, and did not become ﬂuent in English until his late teens. He attended Carleton College (BA in philosophy, 1880), Johns Hopkins (no degree) and Yale (PhD in economics, 1884). Thereafter he taught economics at Chicago, Stanford, Missouri and the New School for Social Research. In addition to his scholarly endeavours, he served as editor of the Journal of Political Economy and occasionally contributed to such popular periodicals as the Dial. Veblen’s greatest posthumous fame is as the progenitor of the American school of ‘institutional economics’, better known to outsiders as ‘old institutionalism’. This entry will illuminate those aspects of his thought which bear on the concerns of modern ‘law and economics’, sometimes termed the ‘new institutionalism’. First, we shall show that Veblen’s thought was grounded in the same jurisprudential revolution that has issued in the economic analysis of law. Having established this, succeeding sections will stress how he took that common impulse in an exotic direction that has marked him ever since as a pole of heterodoxy. From natural law to legal realism Veblen’s thought matured in a broader intellectual ferment that predisposed him to the same style of social thought that has motivated law and economics ever since. Had he entered university 30 years earlier, Veblen would no doubt have imbibed a social philosophy grounded in natural law; in other words, he would have been taught to approach the...
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