Victor Lebow

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Nationality United States
Field Economics
Contributions Retail analysis

Victor Lebow was a 20th-century economist and retail analyst, perhaps best known for his quotation regarding the formulation of American consumer capitalism found in his paper "Price Competition in 1955" (Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955). Modern authors disagree as to whether Lebow was encouraging and prescribing conspicuous consumption or grimly acknowledging and critiquing its prevalence among American consumers.[citation needed]

Biography[edit]

According to the biography published in the beginning of his book Free Enterprise: The Opium of the American People (1972), Lebow was "an executive, officer, and director of large corporations". He once testified before the Senate Small Business Committee in its investigation of competitive practices, and was at one point the co-chairman of the University Seminar on the Economics of Distribution at Columbia University.[citation needed]

Price Competition in 1955[edit]

Lebow's best-known words were published in the Spring 1955 issue of the Journal of Retailing. The paper discussed the cost of maintaining the American lifestyle in 1955, and the effect this cost had on retail profits. According to Lebow, the large "cover charge" taken out of retail sales revenue would result in severe competition at the retail level, and that retail markups would be widespread. Under the heading, "The Real Meaning of Consumer Demand", Lebow wrote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.

Lebow's best-known words have been quoted in a number of articles, documentaries, and articles in the years since his paper was published.[1] He is cited in the book How Much Is Enough?: The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth by Alan Durning of the Worldwatch Institute. In 1993, Lebow was quoted in an article entitled "Consume 101: joys of consumerism at Campus Fest" in the University of British Columbia's student-run newspaper, The Ubyssey.[2] His words were most recently featured in a 2007 web-based documentary about the life-cycle of goods and services called The Story of Stuff, as well as a 2009 opinion column by Andy Coghlan in New Scientist magazine.[3]

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