vanity capital
n. Goods or services purchased to enhance the buyer's self-esteem or status.
Of course, when the student paper pointed out such a large vanity capital expenditure in a year when the University was begging to increase tuition, a budgetary emergency emerged which forced the University to cut all funding to the paper.
—numerobis, “Are university administrators in a war against education?” (comment), Pharyngula, March 02, 2016
What used to be known as conspicuous consumption has now morphed into what has been dubbed 'gratuitous signalling'. Vanity capital, according to the man who coined the term, is the monetisation of narcissism, and thanks to social media, its spoils can be instantly uploaded to invoke instant envy.
—Suzanne Harrington, “Capitalising on vanity — an industry worth €3.4 trillion,” Irish Examiner, August 07, 2015
Vanity capital is essentially just a name for all the stuff you can buy to feel good about yourself.
—“Vanity capital: the growing market in envy and narcissism,” The Guardian (London), May 12, 2015
2015 (earliest)
In a room at the Neues Museum in Berlin stands a bust of Queen Nefertiti, solitary and proud — a paragon of beauty from 1340 B.C. Indeed, her name means “the beautiful one has come” and it is our favorite work of art in the world, almost perfectly preserved. It is also a perfect example of the timelessness of "Vanity Capital" over the ages.
—Ajay Singh Kapur, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, April 21, 2015