Conspicuous Consumption and Teetering Arguments

On conspicuous consumption:

The same is true for whites. Controlling for differences in housing costs, an increase of $10,000 in the mean income for white households—about like going from South Carolina to California—leads to a 13 percent decrease in spending on visible goods. “Take a $100,000-a-year person in Alabama and a $100,000 person in Boston,” says Hurst. “The $100,000 person in Alabama does more visible consumption than the $100,000 person in Massachusetts.” That’s why a diamond-crusted Rolex screams “nouveau riche.” It signals that the owner came from a poor group and has something to prove.

Generally speaking, this makes sense, but their examples give me pause… might it not be that 100k simply goes nearly three times as far in Alabama as it does in Boston?

Leave a comment


  1. Nope. An investment banker may brag about his GulfStream, but neither the Fishers, Pilsburys or Hiltons can empathize.

    The less you have, the more that what you have can distinguish you from your peers, and the more social utility (better pick of mates) can be derived therefrom.

  2. Happycrow

     /  August 7, 2008

    Right, JimDesu, but that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Neither the Fishers, Pilsburys, nor Hiltons are 100k/yr people. They’re stratospherically-out-of-sight types.

  3. ok, and by way of analogy, at the other end of the spectrum, having shiny spinner wheels on your Ford Escort can help you get laid….

    The point was that they are apples versus oranges by way of class.

  4. happycrow

     /  August 7, 2008

    I’m right with the shiny spinner wheels analogy… just not sure 100k in Alabama and 100k in Boston works out. I certainly wouldn’t be happy living on my current salary up in NYC, for instance…

  5. Oh. Well, in so far as that goes, let’s call it “100K equivalent” for purposes of argument. You’re right that Boston and Alabama are kinda different markets….

  6. Happycrow

     /  August 7, 2008

    and that was my problem. The article doesn’t seem to adjust for that. Boston is *expensive.* If I’m pulling the same pay in Boston as I am in 3/4 of the rest of the country… ANYWHERE else I am outside of those known expensive places (NYC, SF, all of Hawaii, etc), I’m going to have signicantly more free cash that can be used for discretionary spending.

  7. celogo

     /  August 7, 2008

    Oh, man, I wish I’d kept a comparison joke my uncle sent last year. Something along the lines of, “You like your shiny new Porsche? I paid twice that for a combine I use once a year!”

  8. Mike

     /  August 7, 2008

    I would go with the idea that its apples and oranges not due to money so much as class. Let us take certain members of the Hilton family. Yes they are tabloid whipping posts, but someone with all that money and time in theory should be able to take advantage of it and be educated, well-travelled, maybe well read. Not so in this case or many cases. Trip to European shopping MEccas isn’t well travelled and I seriously doubt that these examples can speak plain English, never mind another language. Then you have people like my mother who can speak and read German, has traveled widely and has seen and even played more classical music of all kinds than I have ever thought of hearing. And she comes from and lives in rural Nebraska. I look at the consumption as a part of class. Some people have it and it shows, others can have everything else and not have it.

  9. Happycrow

     /  August 7, 2008

    Celogo: I know that joke, I use it in my class when discussing farming, actually.

    Mike: Ms. Hilton is smart as a whip. She’s just throwing it in peoples’ faces, and making a killing in the process.

  10. Anna

     /  August 8, 2008

    Yeah, Mike, when she sounds better on energy policy than BOTH of the current presidential candidates, AND looks good is a swimsuit on that rebuttal ad she put out, one really starts scratching heads…:)

  11. Not to mention: just how much do you think she got paid for the product placement? As if she needs to read about places she’s been her whole life….

  12. Happycrow

     /  August 8, 2008

    Yeup. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll laugh my ass off the day she’s eaten by a bear. But I can’t stand her because she’s offensive, not b/c she’s dumb.

  13. Mike

     /  August 8, 2008

    I don’t think I was really clear, she may not be dumb. But I wouldn’t say she has class either. That was what I was aiming for. And yes, she does look better in a swimsuit than either of the other candidates…


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