Global Pecuniary Emulation: a Case Against Americanization

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Global Pecuniary Emulation: A Case Against Americanization

International affairs, globalization, and economics literature often speaks of a concept of "Americanization." By this the authors generally attempt to portray that globalization in the 21st century has consistently been an example of the rest of the world adopting American culture instead of a true global exchange between all nations. Often, the advocates of this position view the perpetrators of Americanization as multinational corporations, the United States government, or other multilateral organizations that the United States plays a large role in, such as the IMF or World Bank. Even Thomas Friedman, a staunch advocate of Globalization, argues that there is a connection between the two processes: Globalization is in so many ways Americanization: globalization wears Mickey Mouse ears, it drinks Pepsi and Coke, eats Big Macs, does its computing on an IBM laptop with Windows 98. Many societies around the world can't get enough of it, but others see it as a fundamental threat. Yet, Thomas Friedman also seems to suggest, unlike others, that the societies are to blame for this Americanization, not just the United States. One could say then that the debate between Americanization and Globalization hinges not on the effects of such a transformation, but rather on the actors who create this transformation. Focusing on this critical aspect, the author contends that the theories of the early 20th century economist, Thorstein Veblen, help to elucidate proof that Globalization inherently consists of a process of global pecuniary emulation entirely separate from any sinister concept of Americanization.

In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen details his theories behind what he terms so eloquently the leisure class, but what most would think today of as the upper class. He chronicles the historical formation of such a class and outlines the various effects that this class has on society as a whole. Veblen's explanation for the creation and continuation of the leisure class is what he calls pecuniary emulation: Relative success, tested by an invidious pecuniary comparison with other men, becomes the conventional end of action. … Purposeful effort comes to mean, primarily, effort directed to or resulting in a more creditable showing of accumulated wealth. Among the motives which lead men to accumulate wealth, the primacy, both in scope and intensity, therefore, continues to be belong to this motive of pecuniary emulation. (p.33-34) Veblen, writing after the groundbreaking works of Freud, speaks of economic motives in much more psychological ways than the economists before him, such as Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Each person strives for wealth, not because it allows one any special rights or responsibilities, but rather as an end in itself because it satisfies what Veblen refers often to as a "spiritual need." Veblen's pecuniary emulation leads to his infamous remarks regarding "conspicuous leisure" and "conspicuous consumption" because these are the vehicles by which one proves to one's peers that he/she is "wealthy." Veblen's book, though, does not deal simply with the esoteric world of the upper echelon of society. Instead, the impulse of pecuniary emulation drives everyone to compete within their own class to prove their "relative success." The fact that workers in a factory are often more concerned with what their fellow worker makes than the managers that oversee them demonstrates Veblen's point that society stratifies itself into classes which compare between themselves but not across classes. As a hypothetical example, the postal worker does not expect to ever buy a Ferrari as a weekend car like the CEO would, but he might buy a second car to prove to his colleagues his wealth. The postal worker has less opportunity to purchase a Ferrari due to the fact that most of the money he earns goes towards providing the food, clothing, shelter,...
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