The speculator and the rentier

In his now famous book, ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’, the American advertising executive James Webb Young (pictured) writes about two broad groups of people as originally described by Vilfredo Pareto:

“Now, we all know men of whom we have said: “He never had an idea in his life.”

That saying brings us face to face with the first real question about this subject. Even assuming that there may be a technique for producing ideas, is everybody capable of using it? Or is there, in addition, some special ability for producing ideas which, after all, you must be born with-like a color sense or tone sense, or card sense?

One answer to that question is suggested in the work of “Mind and Society”, by the great Italian sociologist, Pareto.

Pareto thought that all the world could be divided into two main types of people. These types he called, in the French, which he wrote, the speculator and the rentier.

In this classification, speculator is a term used somewhat in the sense our word “speculative.” The speculator is the speculative type of person. And the distinguishing characteristic of type, according to Pareto, is that he is constantly pre-occupied with the possibilities of new combinations.

Pareto includes among these persons of this speculative type not only the business enterprisers – those who deal with financial and business schemes – but those engaged with inventions of every sort, and with what he calls “political and diplomatic reconstructions.”

In short, the type includes all those persons in any field who can not let well enough alone, and who speculate on how to change it.

The term used by Pareto to describe the other type, the rentier, is translated into English as the stockholder – though he sounds more like the bag holder to me. Such people, he says, are the routine, steady-going, unimaginative, conserving people, whom the speculator manipulates.

Whatever we may think of the adequacy of this theory of Pareto’s as an entire explanation of social groups, I think we all recognize that these two types of human beings do exist. Whether they were born that way, or whether their environment and training made them that way, is beside the point.”

Hey. I’m Alex Murrell. I'm a Planner at Epoch Design in Bristol where I help deliver highly creative, innovative and effective pack, instore and online communications for some of the world’s biggest FMCG brands. Want to know more? You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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