In economics, a Veblen good is a member of a group of commodities whose demand is proportional to their price; an apparent contradiction of the law of demand. A Veblen good is often also a positional good.
Some types of luxury goods, such as high-end wines, jewelry, designer handbags, and luxury cars, are Veblen goods, in that decreasing their prices decreases people's preference for buying them because they are no longer perceived as exclusive or high-status products. Similarly, a price increase may increase that high status and perception of exclusivity, thereby making the good even more preferable.
At the other end of the spectrum, with luxury items priced equal to non-luxury items of lower quality, all else being equal more people would buy the luxury items, even though a few Veblen-seekers would not. Thus, even a Veblen good is subject to the dictum that demand moves conversely to price, although the response of demand to price is not consistent at all points on the demand curve.
Modern extreme examples
The I Am Rich smartphone application is a prime 21st century example of a Veblen good which, despite doing nothing more than displaying a message declaring that the user is wealthy and successful, the application still sold 8 copies at ~$1,000 US each from the Apple app store in the 24 hours the app was live (2 of those purchases have since been refunded).
- The snob effect: preference for goods because they are different from those commonly preferred; in other words, for consumers who want to use exclusive products, price is quality.
- The bandwagon effect: preference for a good increases as the number of people buying them increases (a psychological effect).
- The network effect: value of a good increases as the number of buyers or users increases (e.g., as the number of people with telephones or Facebook increased, its value increased since you could reach more people).
- The common law of business balance: low price of a good indicates that the producer may have compromised quality, that is, "you get what you pay for".
None of these effects in itself predicts what will happen to actual quantity of goods demanded (the number of units purchased) as prices change—they refer only to preferences or propensities to purchase. The actual effect on quantity demanded will depend on the range of other goods available, their prices, and their substitutabilities for the goods concerned. The effects are anomalies within demand theory because the theory normally assumes that preferences are independent of price or the number of units being sold. They are therefore collectively referred to as interaction effects.
The interaction effects are a different kind of anomaly from that posed by Giffen goods. The Giffen goods theory is one for which observed demand rises as price rises, but the effect arises without any interaction between price and preference—it results from the interplay of the income effect and the substitution effect of a change in price.
Recent research has begun to examine the empirical evidence for the existence of goods which show these interaction effects. The Yale Law Journal has published a broad overview. Studies have also found evidence suggesting people receive more pleasure from more expensive goods.
- Veblen, T. B. (1899). The Theory of the Leisure Class. An Economic Study of Institutions. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- John C. Wood (1993). Thorstein Veblen: Critical Assessments. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-07487-2.
- Galatin, M.; Leiter, Robert D. (1981). Economics of Information. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 25–29. ISBN 0-89838-067-7.
- Leibenstein, H. (1950). "Bandwagon, Snob, and Veblen Effects in the Theory of Consumers' Demand". Quarterly Journal of Economics 64 (2): 183–207. doi:10.2307/1882692.
- Lea, S. E. G.; Tarpy, R. M.; Webley, P. (1987). The individual in the economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26872-9.
- e.g. Chao, A.; Schor, J. B. (1998). "Empirical tests of status consumption: Evidence from women's cosmetics". Journal of Economic Psychology 19 (1): 107–131. doi:10.1016/S0167-4870(97)00038-X.
- e.g. McAdams, Richard H. (1992). "Relative Preferences". Yale Law Journal 102 (1): 1–104. JSTOR 796772.
- Price tag can change the way people experience wine, study shows