Since I finished reading "The Undercover Economist", I've moved on to "A History Of The World In Six Glasses". So far it is excellent, and it introduced me to new term: conspicuous consumption. I love it! I perfectly describes so many things you see in modern life... From designed clothes, flashy cars, palatial homes, to snobby wine collectors and Whole Foods addicts. (Myself included)
If it's new to you too, Wikipedia has a good overview of the term here, and a related topic: Veblen goods.
Speaking of wine, I encountered term in the chapter of "Six Glasses" dealing with this drink. I didn't really appreciate how much ancient Greek and Roman attitudes to wine have influenced our modern views - very interesting!
Wine snobbery abounds nowadays... And since reading the two books above, I'm beginning to feel that I need to push back.
I've been on a"rare wine" mailing list for a while now, and have bought a fair amount from them. Their wine blurbs often make amusing reading, being laden with "wine speak", pretentious descriptions, insider references to other snooty wines (e.g. "the poor man’s Clos de Pape or a more rugged Vieux Donjon"), and frequent spelling mistakes (that ruin the snooty image they're trying to create!)
There are obviously many factors in determining wine prices, e.g. prices for California wines. Supply and demand, cost of production, etc. But it seems a large part is also the perceived snob value of the wine - People think: "If it is expensive, then it must be better, and it also will impress people more, so I'll buy it." In most cases I'm sure people wouldn't be able to tell their $100+ wine from a $15 or cheaper one.