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The origin of utility: Sexual selection and conspicuous consumption

  • De Fraja, Gianni

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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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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