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Well-being and Affluence in the Presence of a Veblen Good*


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     We thank two anonymous referees and an editor of this Journal. We also thank Jay Allen, Jeremy Clark, Brian Copeland, Herb Emery, John Helliwell, Ken McKenzie, Rob Oxoby, Scott Taylor, Duane Rockerbie, and the students and faculty who participated in the workshop on Well-Being at the University of Calgary in the winter term of 2005. We also thank participants of the DIET Workshop at the University of British Columbia and of the Bank of Montreal Lecture Series on Economics and Evolution at Simon Fraser University. We thank SSHRC for funding that made this work possible.


The happiness literature has established that, in the developed countries, increasing affluence has not increased well-being in recent decades. We seek an explanation for this in terms of conspicuous consumption, a phenomenon originally identified by Veblen. We develop some simple general equilibrium models that incorporate a Veblen good, among others. In all of our models, as productivity increases, the Veblen good eventually dominates the economy in the sense that, by reducing leisure, more than all the added productivity is dissipated in the production of this good. Also, in the presence of a Veblen good, productivity increases destroy social capital.