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The Origin of Utility : Sexual Selection and Conspicuous Consumption

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De Fraja, Gianni

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Abstract 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.
Keywords evolution
Classification Basic Research, General Concepts and History of Economics
Free Keywords Natural selection; Utility; Darwin; Conspicuous Consumption; Veblen; Sexual selection
Document language English
Publication Year 2009
Page/Pages p. 51-69
Journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 72 (2009) 1
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)