Why we want luxury items

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anyone who plays computer role-playing games understands the mystic appeal of set loot.

Yes. This. So much yes. I caught myself refusing to break the armor set in the Witcher 3, even though there is no set bonus.

Also, anyone who has ever tried using cheat codes to get money in RPGs understands why wealth and happiness only correlate to a point.

Yet, these games don’t teach us anything about poverty - you (almost) never need to eat or sleep or pay rent…


What an interesting use of the word “we.” Would the author’s point be weakened if he used the more honest “I?” Why yes - yes it would.


No kidding. This “We” guy sounds like an asshole.


Ah; but RPGs are in fact highly morally edifying!

You know the saying “never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”?

Thanks to the simple; but elegant, “kill people and take their stuff” gameplay model; players are sure to spend more or less the entire game walking in the shoes of their former enemies! It’s really a profound encouragement to moral engagement and reflection.


It seems to me that higher end items often have superior design and a more pleasing aesthetic than their lower cost alternative. Obviously this is a generalization and lower cost items in some cases do have better design but that seems the exception rather than the rule.
Quality seems to be a common touchstone for luxury brands as well. Sure, some luxury brands are complete crap but on balance the build quality of high end items seems more focused towards long term use over inexpensive disposability. Men’s clothing seems a good example of this. Several higher end brands appeal to me not due to how they look or that they carry some cache but because after a couple of decades they still hold together well.


Meh, I don’t want a “luxury” anything, and a big reason is that it makes me a more likely target for thievery.


I have a young boy, even if I had the money to blow on ‘luxury’ items, I wouldn’t. We can’t have nice things for another 12 years or so. Then again, by nice things, I’m not talking about anything extravagant here, just the ability to use glassware made of, you know, glass and crockery that wasn’t picked up at $15 for four place settings.

I’m trying very hard to think of anything I tote around all day that might qualify, the best I can do is my coffee mug. It’s hammered stainless steel, it looks cool, I care not to name where it came from, and it was gifted me. Possibly my old car, but it was an entry-level luxury brand model and I fell in love with its curves, I didn’t pick it because it was luxury badged. Well made though, she’s almost 14 years old, and still very solid.

@milliefink: I’m in no rush to paint the eaves on my house for similar reasons.


Yes. I actually find plenty of decent glasses and mugs and dishware at Goodwill. But then, a good set of four place settings would be almost impossible to find there. Good thing my occasional guests don’t care any more than I do about matching dishes, ha.


Is that a BMW M1?

What a cool piece of car history.

It’s an Alfa Romeo. But you are correct that the M1 is a cool piece of car history.

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None of those things are luxury. Luxury doesn’t mean “well made.” It literally means “the state of great comfort and extravagant living.” Buying boots that are all leather, real metal, and with quality glue means you bought “good boots.” Buying boots where the metal is studded with diamonds and gold flake and the inside is lined with ermine fur? That’s a luxury good.

A leather purse? A leather purse with a bunch of Cs or MKs or LVs with a 40% markup over the same good without said printing?

The argument itself makes it sound like someone was reading too much Derrida. It ignores the fact that new luxury items perform well. People with tons of money tend to buy luxury items because they do not perceive a difference in value for money (a $1000 wallet is an inconsequential purchase and therefore it is no different from a $15 wallet). Others then consume conspicuously to present the social idea that they too are similarly well-off, which reinforces the “value” of the brand. The brand has a history; the items themselves do not. People buy Burberry so they can feel, and give the impression to others, that they own a Burberry item. The item itself is meaningless in this context, other than the fact that it exists and is owned by the individual as a representation of the brand.

Bloom’s argument is that the social elements are not critical to the “want” of luxury items. However, without the social elements, the existence of luxury items disappears. For example, there are many very, VERY high end luxury items that are unbranded. These goods can only be purchased on a custom basis, and do not exist on Fifth Ave. There is no coveting for these items among “regular” people as there is no real brand. For an obvious example, consider the clothes worn by celebrities during awards ceremonies – most items are custom-designed and custom-made for a single person by someone who only works with celebrities. They do not sell goods in high-end shops. Thus, there is no social cachet nor is there any real knowledge of who these people are or what the goods mean. As such, the type of luxury for those items changes – someone trying to buy “the dress Jennifer Lawrence wore that night” cares that Lawrence wore it. Even the purchase of a copy is only a pleasurable experience due to the fact that Lawrence wore the original. Ultimately, the idea of pleasure is too base – most humans acquire goods based on some measure of pleasure already, whether it is luxury or not.


I consider luxury items to be those which emit the most light. So a decent light bulb is far more luxurious than any Prada or Rolex. But it is not a very significant factor for me, since beyond a certain amount I actually see less.



Well, I was correct at least in that it looks very Italian.

Not interested in that crap’ola, at all.

Except that he doesn’t make this argument. In the popular mode of the social sciences, Bloom starts out very strongly challenging the ideas that have come before, but ends with a whimper of “and, so I think I’ve maybe given enough evidence that we might want to think about, in some ways, incorporating this idea too…Not to say that others were wrong, only a fool would say that, but maybe I’m right too? maybe right enough that you should buy my book?” And even in his strong opening, he only ever argues that the picture is incomplete.

I take issue with a few comparisons he draws, like the idea that the luxury arms race can’t be reduced without losing the game, just as a country can’t reduce it’s defense spending without risking invasion (uhhh, Costa Rica much?) but, again, as a sociological writer, it’s unclear how much he even endorses these ideas.

The most problematic is the way he discussed strong evidence for sentimental attachment in familiar and self made objects and extrapolates this to luxury brands. It’s a stretch, at best. He also fails to really define (as others have poitned out) just what he considers luxury goods to actually be. The definition feels all over the map. He tips his hat also, to the shifting of culture and the importance of historical context, but the rest of the article feels very sloppily pop-evolutionary-psychology peppered with literary sayings that feel true but are untested.

Again, though, close enough for a waffling, hemming and hawing sociological conclusion.

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Elegant as it may be, I prefer the older version from the earliest RPGs, “kill people, eat them, and take their stuff.”


As any good Ebay seller will tell you, throw in a few lines (true or not) about how this particular spoon saved your life in that fire you had in '04 or whatever, and your previously $2 spoon becomes a $22 spoon.


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I think it’s attention seeking. People want a fancy car because others will look at it.