Sheer Luxury

A few years back, my wife was pressing me to buy an expensive SUV.  “Why?” I wanted to know.  “Why spend all that money?”

I love my wife for her candor.  “I want to impress my friends,” she explained.

Thorstein Veblen, in his 1898 classic The Theory of the Leisure Class, coined the expression “conspicuous consumption”, which means exactly what it sounds like: buying expensive stuff not because you want them but because, like my wife, you want to impress your friends.

So people buy over-priced cars, over-priced clothes, over-priced food.  Veblen wouldn’t really approve, but it isn’t senseless: by buying expensive goods, you demonstrate your affluence, which improves other people’s opinion of you, which in turn benefits you in tangible ways.  You get some value, eventually, for your money.

But for status-enhancing merchandise — economists call them Veblen goods nowadays — for them to work, people have to know about them.  You have to wear them to parties, drive them to PTA meetings, eat them in popular restaurants.    An unknown Veblen good is no good at all.

A few months after the car discussion, I asked what her friends thought of our trip to Indonesia. She hadn’t told them. “Why not?” It would be bragging.

Bragging? What about the SUV? Isn’t an ostentatious vehicle at least as uncouth as letting slip you vacation in the South Pacific?

“No, I would have to tell them about the trip. The car, I just show up driving it.”

And that’s the key aspect about conspicuous consumption: it has to be conspicuous.

Which brings me to Naked, a brand of premium condoms.  Five bucks a, uh, pop.

Who could you be impressing with couture condoms?  Presumably whoever you’re planning to have sex with is already impressed enough with you to agree to sex, so who’s left?  The hotel chamber maids who empty the wastepaper basket?

The manufacturer touts its ultra-ultra-thin latex, but that’s a mixed blessing.  Maybe it feels like nothing at all, but a tiny tear in that ultra-ultra-thin latex and, zzzp, it is nothing at all.  You’ll end up wishing you’d put all those five bucks towards the kid’s college fund.

One thing money does buy: intelligent marketing.  The Naked condom is available in a variety of sizes.  The smallest one is wisely labeled “medium”.

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