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The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen - 1899

Chapter VIII torna a Indice

Industrial Exemption and Conservatism

The life of man in society, just like the life of other species, is a struggle for existence, and therefore it is a process of selective adaptation. The evolution of social structure has been a process of natural selection of institutions. The progress which has been and is being made in human institutions and in human character may be set down, broadly, to a natural selection of the fittest habits of thought
and to a process of enforced adaptation of individuals to an
environment which has progressively changed with the growth of
the community and with the changing institutions under which men
have lived. Institutions are not only themselves the result of a
selective and adaptive process which shapes the prevailing or
dominant types of spiritual attitude and aptitudes; they are at
the same time special methods of life and of human relations, and
are therefore in their turn efficient factors of selection. So
that the changing institutions in their turn make for a further
selection of individuals endowed with the fittest temperament,
and a further adaptation of individual temperament and habits to
the changing environment through the formation of new
The forces which have shaped the development of human life
and of social structure are no doubt ultimately reducible to
terms of living tissue and material environment; but proximately
for the purpose in hand, these forces may best be stated in terms
of an environment, partly human, partly non-human, and a human
subject with a more or less definite physical and intellectual
constitution. Taken in the aggregate or average, this human
subject is more or less variable; chiefly, no doubt, under a rule
of selective conservation of favorable variations. The selection
of favorable variations is perhaps in great measure a selective
conservation of ethnic types. In the life history of any
community whose population is made up of a mixture of divers
ethnic elements, one or another of several persistent and
relatively stable types of body and of temperament rises into
dominance at any given point. The situation, including the
institutions in force at any given time, will favor the survival
and dominance of one type of character in preference to another;
and the type of man so selected to continue and to further
elaborate the institutions handed down from the past will in some
considerable measure shape these institutions in his own
likeness. But apart from selection as between relatively stable
types of character and habits of mind, there is no doubt
simultaneously going on a process of selective adaptation of
habits of thought within the general range of aptitudes which is
characteristic of the dominant ethnic type or types. There may be
a variation in the fundamental character of any population by
selection between relatively stable types; but there is also a
variation due to adaptation in detail within the range of the
type, and to selection between specific habitual views regarding
any given social relation or group of relations.
For the present purpose, however, the question as to the
nature of the adaptive process -- whether it is chiefly a
selection between stable types of temperament and character, or
chiefly an adaptation of men's habits of thought to changing
circumstances -- is of less importance than the fact that, by one
method or another, institutions change and develop. Institutions
must change with changing circumstances, since they are of the
nature of an habitual method of responding to the stimuli which
these changing circumstances afford. The development of these
institutions is the development of society. The institutions are,
in substance, prevalent habits of thought with respect to
particular relations and particular functions of the individual
and of the community; and the scheme of life, which is made up of
the aggregate of institutions in force at a given time or at a
given point in the development of any society, may, on the
psychological side, be broadly characterized as a prevalent
spiritual attitude or a prevalent theory of life. As regards its
generic features, this spiritual attitude or theory of life is in
the last analysis reducible to terms of a prevalent type of
The situation of today shapes the institutions of tomorrow
through a selective, coercive process, by acting upon men's
habitual view of things, and so altering or fortifying a point of
view or a mental attitude banded down from the past. The
institutions -- that is to say the habits of thought -- under the
guidance of which men live are in this way received from an
earlier time; more or less remotely earlier, but in any event
they have been elaborated in and received from the past.
Institutions are products of the past process, are adapted to
past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with
the requirements of the present. In the nature of the case, this
process of selective adaptation can never catch up with the
progressively changing situation in which the community finds
itself at any given time; for the environment, the situation, the
exigencies of life which enforce the adaptation and exercise the
selection, change from day to day; and each successive situation
of the community in its turn tends to obsolescence as soon as it
has been established. When a step in the development has been
taken, this step itself constitutes a change of situation which
requires a new adaptation; it becomes the point of departure for
a new step in the adjustment, and so on interminably.
It is to be noted then, although it may be a tedious truism,
that the institutions of today -- the present accepted scheme of
life -- do not entirely fit the situation of today. At the same
time, men's present habits of thought tend to persist
indefinitely, except as circumstances enforce a change. These
institutions which have thus been handed down, these habits of
thought, points of view, mental attitudes and aptitudes, or what
not, are therefore themselves a conservative factor. This is the
factor of social inertia, psychological inertia, conservatism.
Social structure changes, develops, adapts itself to an
altered situation, only through a change in the habits of thought
of the several classes of the community, or in the last analysis,
through a change in the habits of thought of the individuals
which make up the community. The evolution of society is
substantially a process of mental adaptation on the part of
individuals under the stress of circumstances which will no
longer tolerate habits of thought formed under and conforming to
a different set of circumstances in the past. For the immediate
purpose it need not be a question of serious importance whether
this adaptive process is a process of selection and survival of
persistent ethnic types or a process of individual adaptation and
an inheritance of acquired traits.
Social advance, especially as seen from the point of view of
economic theory, consists in a continued progressive approach to
an approximately exact "adjustment of inner relations to outer
relations", but this adjustment is never definitively
established, since the "outer relations" are subject to constant
change as a consequence of the progressive change going on in the
"inner relations. " But the degree of approximation may be
greater or less, depending on the facility with which an
adjustment is made. A readjustment of men's habits of thought to
conform with the exigencies of an altered situation is in any
case made only tardily and reluctantly, and only under the
coercion exercised by a stipulation which has made the accredited
views untenable. The readjustment of institutions and habitual
views to an altered environment is made in response to pressure
from without; it is of the nature of a response to stimulus.
Freedom and facility of readjustment, that is to say capacity for
growth in social structure, therefore depends in great measure on
the degree of freedom with which the situation at any given time
acts on the individual members of the community-the degree of
exposure of the individual members to the constraining forces of
the environment. If any portion or class of society is sheltered
from the action of the environment in any essential respect, that
portion of the community, or that class, will adapt its views and
its scheme of life more tardily to the altered general situation;
it will in so far tend to retard the process of social
transformation. The wealthy leisure class is in such a sheltered
position with respect to the economic forces that make for change
and readjustment. And it may be said that the forces which make
for a readjustment of institutions, especially in the case of a
modern industrial community, are, in the last analysis, almost
entirely of an economic nature.
Any community may be viewed as an industrial or economic
mechanism, the structure of which is made up of what is called
its economic institutions. These institutions are habitual
methods of carrying on the life process of the community in
contact with the material environment in which it lives. When
given methods of unfolding human activity in this given
environment have been elaborated in this way, the life of the
community will express itself with some facility in these
habitual directions. The community will make use of the forces of
the environment for the purposes of its life according to methods
learned in the past and embodied in these institutions. But as
population increases, and as men's knowledge and skill in
directing the forces of nature widen, the habitual methods of
relation between the members of the group, and the habitual
method of carrying on the life process of the group as a whole,
no longer give the same result as before; nor are the resulting
conditions of life distributed and apportioned in the same manner
or with the same effect among the various members as before. If
the scheme according to which the life process of the group was
carried on under the earlier conditions gave approximately the
highest attainable result -- under the circumstances -- in the
way of efficiency or facility of the life process of the group;
then the same scheme of life unaltered will not yield the highest
result attainable in this respect under the altered conditions.
Under the altered conditions of population, skill, and knowledge,
the facility of life as carried on according to the traditional
scheme may not be lower than under the earlier conditions; but
the chances are always that it is less than might he if the
scheme were altered to suit the altered conditions.
The group is made up of individuals, and the group's life is
the life of individuals carried on in at least ostensible
severalty. The group's accepted scheme of life is the consensus
of views held by the body of these individuals as to what is
right, good, expedient, and beautiful in the way of human life.
In the redistribution of the conditions of life that comes of the
altered method of dealing with the environment, the outcome is
not an equable change in the facility of life throughout the
group. The altered conditions may increase the facility of life
for the group as a whole, but the redistribution will usually
result in a decrease of facility or fullness of life for some
members of the group. An advance in technical methods, in
population, or in industrial organization will require at least
some of the members of the community to change their habits of
life, if they are to enter with facility and effect into the
altered industrial methods; and in doing so they will be unable
to live up to the received notions as to what are the right and
beautiful habits of life.
Any one who is required to change his habits of life and his
habitual relations to his fellow men will feel the discrepancy
between the method of life required of him by the newly arisen
exigencies, and the traditional scheme of life to which he is
accustomed. It is the individuals placed in this position who
have the liveliest incentive to reconstruct the received scheme
of life and are most readily persuaded to accept new standards;
and it is through the need of the means of livelihood that men
are placed in such a position. The pressure exerted by the
environment upon the group, and making for a readjustment of the
group's scheme of life, impinges upon the members of the group in
the form of pecuniary exigencies; and it is owing to this fact --
that external forces are in great part translated into the form
of pecuniary or economic exigencies -- it is owing to this fact
that we can say that the forces which count toward a readjustment
of institutions in any modern industrial community are chiefly
economic forces; or more specifically, these forces take the form
of pecuniary pressure. Such a readjustment as is here
contemplated is substantially a change in men's views as to what
is good and right, and the means through which a change is
wrought in men's apprehension of what is good and right is in
large part the pressure of pecuniary exigencies.
Any change in men's views as to what is good and right in
human life make its way but tardily at the best. Especially is
this true of any change in the direction of what is called
progress; that is to say, in the direction of divergence from the
archaic position -- from the position which may be accounted the
point of departure at any step in the social evolution of the
community. Retrogression, reapproach to a standpoint to which the
race has been long habituated in the past, is easier. This is
especially true in case the development away from this past
standpoint has not been due chiefly to a substitution of an
ethnic type whose temperament is alien to the earlier standpoint.
The cultural stage which lies immediately back of the present
in the life history of Western civilization is what has here been
called the quasi-peaceable stage. At this quasi-peaceable stage
the law of status is the dominant feature in the scheme of life.
There is no need of pointing out how prone the men of today are
to revert to the spiritual attitude of mastery and of personal
subservience which characterizes that stage. It may rather be
said to be held in an uncertain abeyance by the economic
exigencies of today, than to have been definitely supplanted by a
habit of mind that is in full accord with these later-developed
exigencies. The predatory and quasi-peaceable stages of economic
evolution seem to have been of long duration in life history of
all the chief ethnic elements which go to make up the populations
of the Western culture. The temperament and the propensities
proper to those cultural stages have, therefore, attained such a
persistence as to make a speedy reversion to the broad features
of the corresponding psychological constitution inevitable in the
case of any class or community which is removed from the action
of those forces that make for a maintenance of the
later-developed habits of thought.
It is a matter of common notoriety that when individuals, or
even considerable groups of men, are segregated from a higher
industrial culture and exposed to a lower cultural environment,
or to an economic situation of a more primitive character, they
quickly show evidence of reversion toward the spiritual features
which characterize the predatory type; and it seems probable that
the dolicho-blond type of European man is possessed of a greater
facility for such reversion to barbarism than the other ethnic
elements with which that type is associated in the Western
culture. Examples of such a reversion on a small scale abound in
the later history of migration and colonization. Except for the
fear of offending that chauvinistic patriotism which is so
characteristic a feature of the predatory culture, and the
presence of which is frequently the most striking mark of
reversion in modern communities, the case of the American
colonies might be cited as an example of such a reversion on an
unusually large scale, though it was not a reversion of very
large scope.
The leisure class is in great measure sheltered from
theÜjÜstress of those economic exigencies which prevail in any
modem, highly organized industrial community. The exigencies of
the struggle for the means of life are less exacting for this
class than for any other; and as a consequence of this privileged
position we should expect to find it one of the least responsive
of the classes of society to the demands which the situation
makes for a further growth of institutions and a readjustment to
an altered industrial situation. The leisure class is the
conservative class. The exigencies of the general economic
situation of the community do not freely or directly impinge upon
the members of this class. They are not required under penalty of
forfeiture to change their habits of life and their theoretical
views of the external world to suit the demands of an altered
industrial technique, since they are not in the full sense an
organic part of the industrial community. Therefore these
exigencies do not readily produce, in the members of this class,
that degree of uneasiness with the existing order which alone can
lead any body of men to give up views and methods of life that
have become habitual to them. The office of the leisure class in
social evolution is to retard the movement and to conserve what
is obsolescent. This proposition is by no means novel; it has
long been one of the commonplaces of popular opinion.
The prevalent conviction that the wealthy class is by nature
conservative has been popularly accepted without much aid from
any theoretical view as to the place and relation of that class
in the cultural development. When an explanation of this class
conservatism is offered, it is commonly the invidious one that
the wealthy class opposes innovation because it has a vested
interest, of an unworthy sort, in maintaining the present
conditions. The explanation here put forward imputes no unworthy
motive. The opposition of the class to changes in the cultural
scheme is instinctive, and does not rest primarily on an
interested calculation of material advantages; it is an
instinctive revulsion at any departure from the accepted way of
doing and of looking at things -- a revulsion common to all men
and only to be overcome by stress of circumstances. All change in
habits of life and of thought is irksome. The difference in this
respect between the wealthy and the common run of mankind lies
not so much in the motive which prompts to conservatism as in the
degree of exposure to the economic forces that urge a change. The
members of the wealthy class do not yield to the demand for
innovation as readily as other men because they are not
constrained to do so.
This conservatism of the wealthy class is so obvious a
feature that it has even come to be recognized as a mark of
respectability. Since conservatism is a characteristic of the
wealthier and therefore more reputable portion of the community,
it has acquired a certain honorific or decorative value. It has
become prescriptive to such an extent that an adherence to
conservative views is comprised as a matter of course in our
notions of respectability; and it is imperatively incumbent on
all who would lead a blameless life in point of social repute.
Conservatism, being an upper-class characteristic, is decorous;
and conversely, innovation, being a lower-class phenomenon, is
vulgar. The first and most unreflected element in that
instinctive revulsion and reprobation with which we turn from all
social innovators is this sense of the essential vulgarity of the
thing. So that even in cases where one recognizes the substantial
merits of the case for which the innovator is spokesman -- as may
easily happen if the evils which he seeks to remedy are
sufficiently remote in point of time or space or personal contact
-- still one cannot but be sensible of the fact that the
innovator is a person with whom it is at least distasteful to be
associated, and from whose social contact one must shrink.
Innovation is bad form.
The fact that the usages, actions, and views of the
well-to-do leisure class acquire the character of a prescriptive
canon of conduct for the rest of society, gives added weight and
reach to the conservative influence of that class. It makes it
incumbent upon all reputable people to follow their lead. So
that, by virtue of its high position as the avatar of good form,
the wealthier class comes to exert a retarding influence upon
social development far in excess of that which the simple
numerical strength of the class would assign it. Its prescriptive
example acts to greatly stiffen the resistance of all other
classes against any innovation, and to fix men's affections upon
the good institutions handed down from an earlier generation.
There is a second way in which the influence of the leisure
class acts in the same direction, so far as concerns hindrance to
the adoption of a conventional scheme of life more in accord with
the exigencies of the time. This second method of upperclass
guidance is not in strict consistency to be brought under the
same category as the instinctive conservatism and aversion to new
modes of thought just spoken of; but it may as well be dealt with
here, since it has at least this much in common with the
conservative habit of mind that it acts to retard innovation and
the growth of social structure. The code of proprieties,
conventionalities, and usages in vogue at any given time and
among any given people has more or less of the character of an
organic whole; so that any appreciable change in one point of the
scheme involves something of a change or readjustment at other
points also, if not a reorganization all along the line. When a
change is made which immediately touches only a minor point in
the scheme, the consequent derangement of the structure of
conventionalities may be inconspicuous; but even in such a case
it is safe to say that some derangement of the general scheme,
more or less far-reaching, will follow. On the other hand, when
an attempted reform involves the suppression or thorough-going
remodelling of an institution of first-rate importance in the
conventional scheme, it is immediately felt that a serious
derangement of the entire scheme would result; it is felt that a
readjustment of the structure to the new form taken on by one of
its chief elements would be a painful and tedious, if not a
doubtful process.
In order to realize the difficulty which such a radical
change in any one feature of the conventional scheme of life
would involve, it is only necessary to suggest the suppression of
the monogamic family, or of the agnatic system of consanguinity,
or of private property, or of the theistic faith, in any country
of the Western civilization; or suppose the suppression of
ancestor worship in China, or of the caste system in india, or of
slavery in Africa, or the establishment of equality of the sexes
in Mohammedan countries. It needs no argument to show that the
derangement of the general structure of conventionalities in any
of these cases would be very considerable. In order to effect
such an innovation a very far-reaching alteration of men's habits
of thought would be involved also at other points of the scheme
than the one immediately in question. The aversion to any such
innovation amounts to a shrinking from an essentially alien
scheme of life.
The revulsion felt by good people at any proposed departure
from the accepted methods of life is a familiar fact of everyday
experience. It is not unusual to hear those persons who dispense
salutary advice and admonition to the community express
themselves forcibly upon the far-reaching pernicious effects
which the community would suffer from such relatively slight
changes as the disestablishment of the Anglican Church, an
increased facility of divorce, adoption of female suffrage,
prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating
beverages, abolition or restriction of inheritances, etc. Any one
of these innovations would, we are told, "shake the social
structure to its base," "reduce society to chaos," "subvert the
foundations of morality," "make life intolerable," "confound the
order of nature," etc. These various locutions are, no doubt, of
the nature of hyperbole; but, at the same time, like all
overstatement, they are evidence of a lively sense of the gravity
of the consequences which they are intended to describe. The
effect of these and like innovations in deranging the accepted
scheme of life is felt to be of much graver consequence than the
simple alteration of an isolated item in a series of contrivances
for the convenience of men in society. What is true in so obvious
a degree of innovations of first-rate importance is true in a
less degree of changes of a smaller immediate importance. The
aversion to change is in large part an aversion to the bother of
making the readjustment which any given change will necessitate;
and this solidarity of the system of institutions of any given
culture or of any given people strengthens the instinctive
resistance offered to any change in men's habits of thought, even
in matters which, taken by themselves, are of minor importance.
A consequence of this increased reluctance, due to the
solidarity of human institutions, is that any innovation calls
for a greater expenditure of nervous energy in making the
necessary readjustment than would otherwise be the case. It is
not only that a change in established habits of thought is
distasteful. The process of readjustment of the accepted theory
of life involves a degree of mental effort -- a more or less
protracted and laborious effort to find and to keep one's
bearings under the altered circumstances. This process requires a
certain expenditure of energy, and so presumes, for its
successful accomplishment, some surplus of energy beyond that
absorbed in the daily struggle for subsistence. Consequently it
follows that progress is hindered by underfeeding and excessive
physical hardship, no less effectually than by such a luxurious
life as will shut out discontent by cutting off the occasion for
it. The abjectly poor, and all those persons whose energies are
entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance, are
conservative because they cannot afford the effort of taking
thought for the day after tomorrow; just as the highly prosperous
are conservative because they have small occasion to be
discontented with the situation as it stands today.
From this proposition it follows that the institution of a
leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by
withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of
sustenance, and so reducing their consumption, and consequently
their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable
of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new
habits of thought. The accumulation of wealth at the upper end of
the pecuniary scale implies privation at the lower end of the
scale. It is a commonplace that, wherever it occurs, a
considerable degree of privation among the body of the people is
a serious obstacle to any innovation.
This direct inhibitory effect of the unequal distribution of
wealth is seconded by an indirect effect tending to the same
result. As has already been seen, the imperative example set by
the upper class in fixing the canons of reputability fosters the
practice of conspicuous consumption. The prevalence of
conspicuous consumption as one of the main elements in the
standard of decency among all classes is of course not traceable
wholly to the example of the wealthy leisure class, but the
practice and the insistence on it are no doubt strengthened by
the example of the leisure class. The requirements of decency in
this matter are very considerable and very imperative; so that
even among classes whose pecuniary position is sufficiently
strong to admit a consumption of goods considerably in excess of
the subsistence minimum, the disposable surplus left over after
the more imperative physical needs are satisfied is not
infrequently diverted to the purpose of a conspicuous decency,
rather than to added physical comfort and fullness of life.
Moreover, such surplus energy as is available is also likely to
be expended in the acquisition of goods for conspicuous
consumption or conspicuous boarding. The result is that the
requirements of pecuniary reputability tend (1) to leave but a
scanty subsistence minimum available for other than conspicuous
consumption, and (2) to absorb any surplus energy which may be
available after the bare physical necessities of life have been
provided for. The outcome of the whole is a strengthening of the
general conservative attitude of the community. The institution
of a leisure class hinders cultural development immediately (1)
by the inertia proper to the class itself, (2) through its
prescriptive example of conspicuous waste and of conservatism,
and (3) indirectly through that system of unequal distribution of
wealth and sustenance on which the institution itself rests.
To this is to be added that the leisure class has also a
material interest in leaving things as they are. Under the
circumstances prevailing at any given time this class is in a
privileged position, and any departure from the existing order
may be expected to work to the detriment of the class rather than
the reverse. The attitude of the class, simply as influenced by
its class interest, should therefore be to let well-enough alone.
This interested motive comes in to supplement the strong
instinctive bias of the class, and so to render it even more
consistently conservative than it otherwise would be.
All this, of course, bas nothing to say in the way of eulogy
or deprecation of the office of the leisure class as an exponent
and vehicle of conservatism or reversion in social structure. The
inhibition which it exercises may be salutary or the reverse.
Wether it is the one or the other in any given case is a question
of casuistry rather than of general theory. There may be truth in
the view (as a question of policy) so often expressed by the
spokesmen of the conservative element, that without some such
substantial and consistent resistance to innovation as is offered
by the conservative well-to-do classes, social innovation and
experiment would hurry the community into untenable and
intolerable situations; the only possible result of which would
be discontent and disastrous reaction. All this, however, is
beside the present argument.
But apart from all deprecation, and aside from all question
as to the indispensability of some such check on headlong
innovation, the leisure class, in the nature of things,
consistently acts to retard that adjustment to the environment
which is called social advance or development. The characteristic
attitude of the class may be summed up in the maxim: "Whatever
is, is right" whereas the law of natural selection, as applied to
human institutions, gives the axiom: "Whatever is, is wrong." Not
that the institutions of today are wholly wrong for the purposes
of the life of today, but they are, always and in the nature of
things, wrong to some extent. They are the result of a more or
less inadequate adjustment of the methods of living to a
situation which prevailed at some point in the past development;
and they are therefore wrong by something more than the interval
which separates the present situation from that of the past.
"Right" and "wrong" are of course here used without conveying any
rejection as to what ought or ought not to be. They are applied
simply from the (morally colorless) evolutionary standpoint, and
are intended to designate compatibility or incompatibility with
the effective evolutionary process. The institution of a leisure
class, by force or class interest and instinct, and by precept
and prescriptive example, makes for the perpetuation of the
existing maladjustment of institutions, and even favors a
reversion to a somewhat more archaic scheme of life; a scheme
which would be still farther out of adjustment with the
exigencies of life under the existing situation even than the
accredited, obsolescent scheme that has come down from the
immediate past.
But after all has been said on the head of conservation of
the good old ways, it remains true that institutions change and
develop. There is a cumulative growth of customs and habits of
thought; a selective adaptation of conventions and methods of
life. Something is to be said of the office of the leisure class
in guiding this growth as well as in retarding it; but little can
be said here of its relation to institutional growth except as it
touches the institutions that are primarily and immediately of an
economic character. These institutions -- the economic structure
-- may be roughly distinguished into two classes or categories,
according as they serve one or the other of two divergent
purposes of economic life.
To adapt the classical terminology, they are institutions of
acquisition or of production; or to revert to terms already
employed in a different connection in earlier chapters, they are
pecuniary or industrial institutions; or in still other terms,
they are institutions serving either the invidious or the
non-invidious economic interest. The former category have to do
with "business," the latter with industry, taking the latter word
in the mechanical sense. The latter class are not often
recognized as institutions, in great part because they do not
immediately concern the ruling class, and are, therefore, seLdom
the subject of legislation or of deliberate convention. When they
do receive attention they are commonly approached from the
pecuniary or business side; that being the side or phase of
economic life that chiefly occupies men's deliberations in our
time, especially the deliberations of the upper classes. These
classes have little else than a business interest in things
economic, and on them at the same time it is chiefly incumbent to
deliberate upon the community's affairs.
The relation of the leisure (that is, propertied
non-industrial) class to the economic process is a pecuniary
relation -- a relation of acquisition, not of production; of
exploitation, not of serviceability. indirectly their economic
office may, of course, be of the utmost importance to the
economic life process; and it is by no means here intended to
depreciate the economic function of the propertied class or of
the captains of industry, The purpose is simply to point out what
is the nature of the relation of these classes to the industrial
process and to economic institutions. Their office is of a
parasitic character, and their interest is to divert what
substance they may to their own use, and to retain whatever is
under their hand. The conventions of the business world have
grown up under the selective surveillance of this principle of
predation or parasitism. They are conventions of ownership;
derivatives, more or less remote, of the ancient predatory
culture. But these pecuniary institutions do not entirely fit the
situation of today, for they have grown up under a past situation
differing somewhat from the present. Even for effectiveness in
the pecuniary way, therefore, they are not as apt as might be.
The changed industrial life requires changed methods of
acquisition; and the pecuniary classes have some interest in so
adapting the pecuniary institutions as to give them the best
effect for acquisition of private gain that is compatible with
the continuance of the industrial process out of which this gain
arises. Hence there is a more or less consistent trend in the
leisure-class guidance of institutional growth, answering to the
pecuniary ends which shape leisure-class economic life.
The effect of the pecuniary interest and the pecuniary habit
of mind upon the growth of institutions is seen in those
enactments and conventions that make for security of property,
enforcement of contracts, facility of pecuniary transactions,
vested interests. Of such bearing are changes affecting
bankruptcy and receiverships, limited liability, banking and
currency, coalitions of laborers or employers, trusts and pools.
The community's institutional furniture of this kind is of
immediate consequence only to the propertied classes, and in
proportion as they are propertied; that is to say, in proportion
as they are to be ranked with the leisure class. But indirectly
these conventions of business life are of the gravest consequence
for the industrial process and for the life of the community. And
in guiding the institutional growth in this respect, the
pecuniary classes, therefore, serve a purpose of the most serious
importance to the community, not only in the conservation of the
accepted social scheme, but also in shaping the industrial
process proper. The immediate end of this pecuniary institutional
structure and of its amelioration is the greater facility of
peaceable and orderly exploitation; but its remoter effects far
outrun this immediate object. Not only does the more facile
conduct of business permit industry and extra-industrial life to
go on with less perturbation; but the resulting elimination of
disturbances and complications calling for an exercise of astute
discrimination in everyday affairs acts to make the pecuniary
class itself superfluous. As fast as pecuniary transactions are
reduced to routine, the captain of industry can be dispensed
with. This consummation, it is needless to say, lies yet in the
indefinite future. The ameliorations wrought in favor of the
pecuniary interest in modern institutions tend, in another field,
to substitute the "soulless" joint-stock corporation for the
captain, and so they make also for the dispensability, of the
great leisure-class function of ownership. Indirectly, therefore,
the bent given to the growth of economic institutions by the
leisure-class influence is of very considerable industrial