Thursday, July 25, 2013

Status emulation as a change agent

Veblen's most scathing critique of the human condition was reserved for the social practice of status emulation.  He believed that humans were at their most ridiculous when they attempted to ape their "betters."  At one point he wrote that status emulation is second only to the instincts of survival—and sometimes not even in second place.  (His pet example for this concerned folks would go outside on cold days in dress clothing like suits that would protect them from the elements for but a few minutes.  "Well dressed but ill clad" was how he put it.)

But if status emulation is so powerful, is there any reason why it could not be used for human progress?  And in fact the overwhelming majority of social change in the last 150 years has come about just that way.  I mean politically, we have not advanced much since Jefferson or Paine.  But technologically, we live in a completely different world.  And in many of the technologically driven social changes, status emulation was a driving force.  The new technology was expensive (it always is) so to achieve success, it had to gather the attention and favor of the rich.  And once the rich gave something the thumbs up, could mass production be far behind?  This strategy has been far more effective than revolutions.

Enter the Tesla.  Elon Musk understands the strategy of marketing first to the trend setters.  So he figured, if I must sell my car for $80,000, it must be as good or better than the other $80,000 cars out there.  Here's the problem—there are some damn fine cars in that price range.  Building something better than a Lexus LS is a tall order.  This is especially true if you've never built a car before.

And yet, Tesla seems to have pulled it off.  Consumer's Reports gave the Model S a 99 out of 100.  Turns out, the tools to make a world-class luxury car are available on the open market.  The expertise seems to be available as well.  Toyota made millions of cars before they produced the Lexus LS.  And yet according to CR, Tesla made an LS-quality car their first try.  Absolutely amazing!  Check out the advanced robotics Tesla is using in the clip below!

And by following this strategy, Musk and Tesla have done something extremely important for electric cars—they made them cool to own.  Let the status emulation begin.

1 comment:

  1. Tesla has done it with their new technology – The all electric sports car. While this may be the ultimate answer to environmentalists and tree huggers alike, the norm is yet to catch people’s fancy. With hybrids being the first choice for me, EVs are a secondary option. While we wait to see the ultimate result, I wish there would me some engine noise as accompaniment with the Tesla.
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