American sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen popularized the criticism of capitalistic consumerism in his magnum opus “The Theory of the Leisure Class”. In this treatise, he devised the concept of conspicuous consumption, which as the name suggests involves the consumption of lavish goods and services for the sole purpose of displaying one’s financial prowess. Veblen argued that a consumer would engage in such an activity, with the intent to establish him/herself at a high position on the social echelon.
Veblen’s book would be published at the end of the 19th century, to indict the “nouveau riche” — translated into English, this stands for the new rich — who accumulated all their capital wealth, following the Technological Revolution; hence their wealth was not hereditary. Veblen considered this exponential increase in conspicuous consumerism to be spurred by the newly formed society, which deemed an increasing amount of redundant goods and services to be necessary to possess. The consumption, he argued, had a psychological effect on these rich individuals, providing them the illusion of grandeur:
“Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure.” — Thorstein Veblen
A similar concept conceived by Thorstein is that of the “Veblen goods”, which opposes the law of demand by having the price of goods or services be in direct correlation with the demand of the given goods and services. This theory usually involves high-end commodities (i.e. Ferrari cars, aged wine et cetera), dubbed superior goods in economics. As the price of these products increase, it becomes more desirable for the consumer to buy them, since it allows the consumer to attain a high social status.
Fight Club. 20th Century Fox, 1999.