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The origin of utility: Sexual selection and conspicuous consumption

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  • De Fraja, Gianni

Abstract

This paper proposes an explanation for the universal human desire for increasing consumption and the associated propensity to trade survival opportunity off conspicuous consumption. I argue that this desire was moulded in evolutionary times by a mechanism known to biologists as sexual selection, whereby an observable trait - conspicuous consumption in this case - is used by members of one sex to signal their unobservable characteristics valuable to members of the opposite sex. It then shows that the standard economics problem of utility maximisation is formally equivalent to the standard biology problem of the maximisation of individual fitness, the ability to pass genes to future generations, and thus establishes a rigorous theoretical foundation for including conspicuous consumption in the utility function.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Volume (Year): 72 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (October)
Pages: 51-69

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:72:y:2009:i:1:p:51-69

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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jebo

Related research

Keywords: Natural selection Utility Darwin Evolution Conspicuous consumption Veblen Sexual selection;

References

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Cited by:
  1. Schubert, Christian & Cordes, Christian, 2013. "Role models that make you unhappy: light paternalism, social learning, and welfare," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(02), pages 131-159, June.
  2. John Foster, 2010. "Energy, Aesthetics and Knowledge in Complex Economic Systems," Discussion Papers Series 404, School of Economics, University of Queensland, Australia.
  3. Omer Moav and & Zvika Neeman, 2012. "Saving Rates and Poverty: The Role of Conspicuous Consumption and Human Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 122(563), pages 933-956, 09.
  4. Friedrichsen, Jana & Engelmann, Dirk, 2013. "Who cares for social image? Interactions between intrinsic motivation and social image concerns," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79746, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

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