ENTHYMEME: Power can be equated with money, as those who have money possess power over others, and those in power have the ability to accumulate money.
In the face of pecuniary emulation, it is clear that power can be equated with money, and this power can manifest itself in many ways. Control is most certainly one of them – the ability to hold sway over other human beings and groups. Ownership is a very strong indicator of a leisure class. At first, ownership was defined by men owning women, females being a very strong, prevalent commodity in the community. “the earliest form of ownership is an ownership of the women by the able bodies men of the community” (Veblen, 134).
Before this arose, members of the community would often share items, no one holding exclusive ownership to them. They were formerly useful as trophies and as a means to unite various clans, back when humanity behaved in an uncivilized manner. People lived predatorily and competitively even then, though this behavior was far more overt and violent. Barbaric men of the past used to kill each other for dominance and ownership of their possessions, including women. “The two institutions are not distinguishable in the initial phase of their development; both arise from the desire of the successful men to put their prowess in evidence by exhibiting some durable result of their exploits” (Veblen, 134). As a result, these men would consider women as said result, with their physical beauty and their symbol as a mate for the man evidence that he will carry on his seed. This was the ultimate test of power, and as such became an incredible bit of evidence towards a man’s dominance; it also led to pecuniary emulation of others, as they also wished to carry on their seed.
Property in goods through monetary wealth is the most prominent evidence of a leisure class; the more things people have, the greater implication that they have the time to enjoy these things. It also indicates monetary wealth, as these individuals possess the monetary funds to purchase these goods. However, this possession does not exist in a vacuum; for the most part, men still have to compete for these goods, and the ability to buy these goods. However, compared to primitive times, when men had to scrape by just to survive, one’s basic needs are already met in a modern society; therefore, the struggle then becomes who can have “the most toys” – the greatest level of amenity and leisure. This is the essence of pecuniary emulation.
When people seek to own something or have more money, they are trying to emulate someone else; they have seen a more successful person possess this thing, and wish to have it too. Alternatively, they are acting on information from advertising of a product, and so they would like to include it in their lives. Either way, they have seen something in action that would improve the ease of their lives, or their social status, and feel the need to acquire it at any means. “The possession of wealth confers honour,” and as a result, the more things that someone has, the more honorable they will be (Veblen, 135). This, then, equates to power; the more things people have, the greater honor is bestowed upon them, and this extends to the amount of influence they have over others.
This power via possession and wealth can manifest itself in many ways. For one, someone can possess a good or an item that others need or want; the permission to use or witness such a possession can be granted by its owner. With this incentive in mind, others are willing to do things or give things to the owner in exchange for this good or service. This semblance of power is familiar to those who possess items of envy (new cars, new technology). Power can also come with the ability to shape minds and sensibilities; as someone with wealth, and the ability to spend it however they please, the things they choose to acquire and use can become status symbols of power. As a result, those undergoing pecuniary emulation will also buy the same items and do the same things, in the hopes of becoming more like those they wish to emulate (i.e. the wealthy). When the wealthy considers this, they realize they have the power to determine people’s tastes and wants.
In the past, “property set out with being booty held as trophies of the successful raid”; this implies that the items used to belong to someone else, and now are theirs. This is a natural extension of the primitive act of stealing someone’s woman, or earning them through some act of power transference (killing or defaming someone who is in power, in order to take their place). What’s more, the successful stealing of the booty indicates a transference of power from the owner to the thief, as the owner could not successfully protect that item or booty from being taken from him. This extends to today, from “finder’s keepers” to the purchasing of companies by other companies.
As civilization moves forward and turns into an industry-based society, “the possession of wealth gains in relative importance and effectiveness as a customary basis of repute and esteem” (Veblen, p. 138). This means that having more things carries a greater importance than ever before. In today’s industrialized world, where most material needs are met, power is not based on the measure of reproductive success and survival but on what leisurely items are possessed by whom. As a result of this high repute that people struggle to attain, those who do accomplish it are those who work to gain power over others, and often gain that power in the mere accumulation of said objects.
While “prowess and exploit may still remain the basis of award of the highest popular esteem…the possession of wealth as become the basis of common place reputability and of a blameless social standing.” This power then does not extend to mere political or monetary power, but of social power – the ability to set trends and establish patterns of behavior to emulate.
One could argue that there is more to power than the amount of money; the ability to lead, the strength to command others and provide needed wisdom to those lesser than you are more important factors. However, the presence of wealth, especially in such an industrialized society where accumulation of material goods is such a virtue, indicates those same attributes. Individuals seek out those who have succeeded where they have not, in order to learn from them. When someone sees a wealthy person, they presume that they acquired that wealth through savvy, hard work, and dedication. As a result, these other attributes which are the indicators of power and leadership are found often in those who have money. While there is ostensibly more to power than money, those in power often have money as a proof of their powerful attributes.
The primary reason people have to accumulate wealth is the power which it confers. People engage in activities with a purpose for this reason – to gain things, and by extension power through those things. Whether they are needed or wanted, others will desire to have what others have, making individual ownership a game which everyone plays in an industrialized society. When you accomplish your purposes, you come away from it with things in your possession; when others see this accomplishment, they hold greater respect to you, and therefore are granted power over them. You are favorably compared to others, and therefore your opinion holds greater sway over them. Those who do not have as much are met with the perception of shortcomings, as they were not “strong” or “powerful” enough to have what you have.