The struggle for distinction
This was a great in-depth explanation of luxury beliefs—I'm going to keep it bookmarked.
You might be interested to know, however, that luxury goods like top hats did have detrimental effects on the working class. Hat-making was dangerous to the craftsmen because of the use of mercury, but the practice was in demand for fashionable hats since the 17th century well into the 19th.
In the 19th century a color called Scheele's Green (or arsenic green) was a popular pigment. The copper arsenite in the dye probably wouldn't kill you if you were just wearing a bright green gown (or at least kill you *that* quickly). The same couldn't be said for the workers manufacturing the fabric who would come down with terrible illnesses.
Similarly when lace cuffs (which were so long they would cover men's fingers) and collars were highly fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries. Handmade lace is a time-intensive labor requiring highly skilled workers. Considering how expensive lace was in that time period, you would think the young women who were making it would have been well off, but most of the money made from the lace industry went to the merchants.
I think, to your point, it's almost (perhaps completely) impossible to have luxury beliefs or goods that do not come at a cost for someone else. (Although I would be interested to hear your thoughts on that.)
The struggle for distinction seems to strongly overlap with (or, is it just the same essence as?) the craving to see oneself as special. And achieving the affirmation of one’s “special-ness” seems to always involve getting others to “recognize” that. While the essence of such drives probably plays an appropriate role in individuation, or, developing an identity, the comments describing the addicting qualities of “the more one gets the more one wants” stimulate reflection. Not intending to challenge the value of what is put forth here, only offering a perspective from which I see similar narcissistic dynamics at work in many contexts of life.
Very interesting. I was in a social science program in school and a lot of the stuff I read was perplexing, I was just like what the hell are they talking about. I'm probably just too dumb and can't totally understand it. But the further from it I get the more I realize that it was just stupid nonsense, signaling something as you say here. Even if I get wealthy I don't ever want to feel the need to signal my status, if I can help it. I find that disgusting.
Do you consider the ‘health at any size’ and the messaging that larger sized/obese people as beautiful as a luxury belief? I come across this messaging constantly and see it pushed ad nauseam however in real life I notice that the majority of wealthier women I observe tend to be slim and/or fit and/or quite health focused. Body weight seems to be related to class to some degree. What are your thoughts?
There are some incredibly strong assertions and statements that are backed up by 0 evidence here. As a person who grew up super wealthy but recently took up a passion for class issues, I totally understand how WC people are much more likely to be unfamiliar with academic language, but I think to say that working class people as an entire whole do not understand ANY of those terms is pretty reductive and a bit insulting. It’s kind of frustrating to me how we think that the working class NEVER have college degrees and are just dudes in hard hats
Finally got around to reading this one, Rob. There is a whole lot of truth in the concept of luxury beliefs. I don’t know how you do it, Rob, dealing with all the elites every day considering your background. 😂😵 In a previous career I was a wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley and I just had to get out of the industry. I felt I was helping the wrong people.
Narcissism is very much a part of it. For my take on all this, see my "Here, the People Rule: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto. It pursues the political and legal ramifications of the rage for distinction.
Very interesting, I'd love to read more about luxury beliefs.
I wonder if this true among the elite class in Asia or other cultures?
Thanks for this post. It made me wonder if I emphasize to our adult children the luck my wife and i have had as opposed to emphasizing the hard work.
Also, I wrote a post on my free sub stack called "Does Everyone Need Their Own Personal Myth?"
I wonder if a personal myth as I explain it would qualify as a "luxury belief."