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Emulation, Inequality, and Work Hours: Was Thorsten Veblen Right?

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  • Samuel Bowles
  • Yongjin Park

Abstract

We investigate the manner in which a desire to emulate the rich influences individuals' allocation of time between labour and leisure, greater inequality inducing longer work hours as a result. Data on work hours in ten countries over the period 1963-98 show that greater inequality is indeed associated longer work hours. These 'Veblen effects' are large and the estimates are robust using country fixed effects and other specifications. Because consumption inequality is a public bad, a social welfare optimum cannot be implemented by a flat tax on consumption but may be accomplished by more complicated (progressive) consumption taxes. Copyright 2005 Royal Economic Society.

Suggested Citation

  • Samuel Bowles & Yongjin Park, 2005. "Emulation, Inequality, and Work Hours: Was Thorsten Veblen Right?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(507), pages 397-412, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecj:econjl:v:115:y:2005:i:507:p:f397-f412
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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