When Luxury Becomes an Economic Issue: The Luxury Quarrel of the 18th Century

By Arnaud Diemer

The condemnation or glorification of luxury is a classic and recurrent question in the history of political ideas. Today, it continues to generate a set of conflicting emotions. In order to understand this debate, we chose to immerse ourselves in the history of economic thought and, more specifically, in the quarrel over luxury that occurred during the Enlightenment. If luxury is immoral, it is not necessarily detestable, as it participates in the circulation of wealth, supports a certain industry, and stimulates trade. The different positions of philosophers (Mandeville, Condillac, Montesquieu, Hume, Rousseau) and economists (Melon, Quesnay, Smith, Say) seem to reflect more a change in the systems of values (the interest and the useful versus vice and virtue) than a real challenge of luxury consumption.
JEL Codes: A11, A13, B11, B12, B30


  • Hume
  • Mandeville
  • Melon
  • luxury
  • moral
  • utility
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