The Veblen Effect: A Memoir

A small town story with big town ambitions 

it all started with...

a Google search. 

Yes, really. 


the #7 worst place to live in South Dakota

In 2016, my hometown of Veblen, South Dakota was voted (by some off the wall travel website) #7 on their top 10 list of small South Dakota towns no one would want to live. Largely, I agreed with them. But then I got to thinking why. I hadn't always wanted to leave Veblen. What was it that made me want to? What is it that made this town, and the rest on the list, so unlivable?


the veblen effect

I've tried to research the Genesis of my hometown for quite some time, but any easily reachable information is nonexistent. But in my 1,000th Google search that I conducted anyway, the autofill gave me "The Veblen Effect." 

"Abnormal market behavior where consumers purchase the higher-priced goods whereas similar low-priced (but not identical) substitutes are available. It is caused either by the belief that higher price means higher quality, or by the desire for conspicuous consumption (to be seen as buying an expensive, prestige item). Named after its discoverer, the US social-critic Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857-1929)."

You couldn't pay for a better metaphor.


the mission

Since stumbling on Thorstein Veblen and his effect, I have dug into reading. As it turns out, Thorstein is the elder brother of my town's namesake, Ed Veblen. Which has led me on this journey--looking at the death of rural America through the lens of Veblen, Veblen, and The Veblen Effect. My mission is to travel, to interview, and to write on how Americans are drawn to large-scale living as opposed to small-scale because there is the stigma that it is better simply because it is given the label of "higher value."

It may not be. 

have information that may be useful to my mission? please contact me

published excerpts

"Living Where No One Wants To."  Midwestern Gothic Aug. 2017. Print.

"A Frontier, a Tale, a Town and the Name.” The Britton Journal 22 Feb. 2017. Print.

The Veblen Family Homestead, located in Nerstrand, MN

The Veblen Family Homestead, located in Nerstrand, MN

Thorstein Veblen, the stunner

Thorstein Veblen, the stunner

Early day Veblen, South Dakota

Early day Veblen, South Dakota

Veblen, present-day (also the photo used in the Worst SD Towns article)

Veblen, present-day (also the photo used in the Worst SD Towns article)


follow my progress

live life conspicuously