Der Geist des Kapitalismus und der Aufbau Ost (The Spirit of Capitalism and the Building up of the East), by Robert Bohmer. Dresden: Thelem. 2005. ISBN 3937672427, 35 [euro]. 311 pages.
The Spirit of Capitalism and the Building up of the East is a remarkable dissertation, written by a young East German economist who studied economics in Dresden. After a brief description of the persistent economic problems after German reunification (high unemployment rate) in the first chapter, the author identifies mentalities as an elementary, often neglected, and in mainstream economic theorizing nonexistent variable to explain the lasting difficulties. In a highly original way he applies Thorstein Veblen's and Max Weber's approaches to analyze the mentality of the German East.
In the long chapter 2 he first presents Veblen as a heterodox, deconstructivist, critical institutionalist. He also highlights his relationship to the German Historical School, takes into consideration the more recent German literature on Veblen (Katterle, Reuter), and relates Veblen's analysis of the regime of status to, for example, literature (e.g., Houellebecq) and sociology (Bourdieu). An especially interesting part is the chapter on the reception of Veblen in the former German Democratic Republic, where he was interpreted as a modern apologist of monopoly capital, his critique of capitalism notwithstanding. Robert Bohmer especially focuses on status emulation as a key to understanding the East German mentality and the paradox that the material situation improved tremendously in the East but that this was not accompanied by an increase in the subjective feeling of well-being. The explanation is outright Veblenian: People do not make a material comparison with their former material situation but they are involved in status rivalry; they now compare themselves with their new relevant reference group (the West Germans). Their self-esteem depends on their (alleged) relative deprivation compared with the West which defines the preconceptions of an acceptable standard of living. The East tries to emulate this way of living and pursues envious comparisons. This prevents feelings of happiness and motivation for work. We can only mention this aspect of Bohmer's application of Veblenian ideas (mainly developed in the Theory of the Leisure Class. The author also combines them with the recent social-psychological literature on the subject.
In the third part Bohmer first roughly...