However, as will be shown in later chapters, the amount of social class continuity has far outweighed the amount of social class percolation. Social class produces wealth, each station more or less according to its place on the scale. Social class in America has not formed its structure each generation out of "new men" characteristically. That is, the upper and middle classes have not neglected their economic opportunities to the extent that any overwhelming amount of wealth has been allowed to fall into the hands of persons of lower class standing, with which they could overcome and outrank those persons of respectable and reputable percentage.Next Page
In order to demonstrate that families of high social standing tend to monopolize opportunity in the economic realm, Appendix I is offered as typical of the manner in which the good things of life are distributed among those with prior advantage. There one finds that, although application was made by many fine families of Scotland to be allowed to take up, early in the seventeenth century, the newly subjugated lands of North Ireland, when the final list of those accepted was issued, the larger tracts were generally distributed among persons of higher rank. Appendix I also shows, by the typical manner in which middle class families went bond for each other, the degree to which they were prepared, if given the chance, to further entrench their own economic position. But many were destined to disappointment. Their superiors came before them.
The uses to which wealth is put. Plainly, a miser is without significant social status. Once one has obtained wealth, whether by inheritance or through the careful training and education provided by one's parents, or through one's own efforts or good fortune, there is always the problem of putting it to use.
Some persons, although they have money, do not obtain social status from its use because of the way they choose to spend (or not spend) it. While it is true that "the only practicable means of impressing one's pecuniary ability on these unsympathetic observers of one's everyday life is an unremitting demonstration of ability to pay," 37 as Veblen says, yet it does not follow that people are wise in choosing between different items of expenditure -- if it is social status they wish to obtain, or as is more often the case, to retain. Although it is probable that only a very small fraction of the population of any land is iconoclastic, many who acquire riches never learn how to put them to social class uses.
37. Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York, 1927), first published 1899) p. 87.