This paper addresses how the work of Thorstein Veblen relates to several issues in U.S. economic history. Since one of Veblen's central ideas is the notion that man's attitudes for the most part are not calculated and rational but dictated by the institutions by which he lives, we can go quickly through the institutions that shaped Veblen's mind to better understand his manner of thinking and what influenced his work.
His father's systematic and methodical practice of his craft, and the simple work ethic of the people around him, made a lasting imprint on his mind. The impact on his thinking of the marked behavioral and lifestyle contrast between the industrious, hardworking farmer-artisans and the small businessmen, traders, and lawyers (mostly white Americans) in the towns found its expression in much of his work in later years.
Until 1891, when Veblen found a teaching post at the economics faculty of the University of Chicago, he was practically a professional failure. But once he was attached to an "institution" of higher learning, he thrived and his career blossomed, moving to Stanford in 1906, the University of Missouri in 1910, and in 1918 worked at various posts, lectured, and wrote thought-provoking works that continue to challenge modern minds to this day.
We see in this distinction his insight into the working of the economy as a coordinated system with two components: the producing, technology-driven, practical side called industry and the coordinating, value-providing, and capital stimulating business enterprise. His concept of industry does not only relate to the working of machines. ...