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Alison Hulme

Challenges the conventional version of economic history in which thrift is portrayed as gradually fading into the background as consumer societies take over. Argues in contrast that thrift (as frugality) has been a consistent undercurrent to capitalism and aided its survival. Points to histories of peasants, monks, revolutionaries, conservationists, environmentalists, civil rights activists, philanthropists, social protestors, and others committed to an ethos of restraint. Argues this alternative history of thrift can be mapped philosophically as a strong lineage from Aristotle’s notion of thriving, to Thomas Aquinas, to Marx, to Thoreau, and to present-day radical green movements.

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Spiritual thrift

Simplicity, sensuality and politics in Henry Thoreau

Alison Hulme

Explores Henry Thoreau’s rationale for living simply and his emphasis on spirituality and sensuality via transcendentalist and Eastern philosophy. Analysis his own relationship with both capitalism and asceticism and his complicated mix of spiritualism and materialism. Finally looks at his posthumously published manuscript – Wild Fruits – and discusses its status as a potential blueprint for collective thrift.

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Religious thrift

Puritans, Quakers and Methodists

Alison Hulme

Explores the Puritan practice of thrift and belief in predestination. Compares this to the Quaker practice of thrift for social justice and equality, and the Methodist practice of thrift based on stewardship and the responsibility to earn all one can, save all one can and give all one can. Analyses the perceived link between individual liberty and religious commitment and picks apart the individualism and collectivism embedded within religious thinking on thrift.

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Nationalist thrift

Making do, rationing and nostalgic austerity

Alison Hulme

Explains the relationship between democracy and thrift in the Second World War home-front campaigns. Looks at make-do-and-mend in the UK and Roosevelt’s ‘fireside chats’ in the US. Goes on to analyse the ways in which this era has been used by current-day politicians and institutions to create nostalgia, and argues this nostalgia is used to fuel acceptance of austerity policies.

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Alison Hulme

Explains the logic of the book, how it is thematic, rather than chronological, and attempts to explore the concept and practice of thrift via influential characters and specific eras in which it has proved a particularly potent concept. Sets up the difference between the early meaning of thrift as thriving, and its later meaning of frugality. Briefly explores the implications of this shift from ethical concerns about the human condition, to more pragmatic concerns about human habits.

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Individualist thrift

Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Smiles and Victorian moralism

Alison Hulme

Looks at the secularisation of thrift through the influence of Benjamin Franklin, and his belief that one can work one’s way into heaven; in other words that salvation can be earned. Explores Victorian writers such as Wharton and Dickens, as well as Samuel Smiles and his emphasis on individual responsibility and self-improvement. Finally, compares today’s austerity policies and emphasis on household economia to Victorian thinking and the influence of Disraeli’s One Nationism.

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Ecological thrift

Frugality, de-growth and Voluntary Simplicity

Alison Hulme

Explores ideas of de-growth and post-development and their often ecological underpinnings. Relates such ideas to increasing concerns around the Anthropocene. Ideas around collectivity and reciprocity as part of thrift are analysed and related to the idea of thriving. The Voluntary Simplicity movement is looked to as a case study of thrifty living, and its potential for genuine societal change considered.

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Consumer thrift

Keynes, consumer rights and the new thrifty consumers

Alison Hulme

Examines how the context of the Great Depression saw the beginning of consumer rights organisations. Looks at the New Deal and how it taught the American people that not only was the thrift of the Depression no longer necessary, but that it would actually harm recovery. Analyses how being thrifty went from saving, to consuming wisely and well, and how the consumer, not just the worker, was now all-important for the economic survival of a nation. Explores the influence of Keynes in this cultural change and the emergence of the citizen-consumer.

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Conclusion

Thoreau in the city

Alison Hulme

Challenges the conventional view of economic history in which capitalism is assumed as the backdrop. Argues that thrift as frugality is simply the daily reality for the majority of the world’s population; thrift (as frugality and thriving) does not constitute ‘moments’ in a smooth trajectory of capitalism; and that thrift (as thriving, and even in some cases as frugality) proves that material conditions are just as likely to result in reciprocity than maximisation. Attempts to make a small start towards re-thinking the concept of thrift, both in terms of attempting to remove it from frugality per se (as its primary principle or motivation), and in terms of attempting to prove it can be used to carve out future alternatives, not simply shore up existing systems.

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Alison Hulme

This book surveys ‘thrift’ through its moral, religious, ethical, political, spiritual and philosophical expressions, focusing in on key moments such as the early Puritans and postwar rationing, and key characters such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Smiles and Henry Thoreau. The relationships between thrift and frugality, mindfulness, sustainability and alternative consumption practices are explained, and connections made between myriad conceptions of thrift and contemporary concerns for how consumer cultures impact scarce resources, wealth distribution and the Anthropocene. Ultimately, the book returns the reader to an understanding of thrift as it was originally used – to ‘thrive’ – and attempts to re-cast thrift in more collective, economically egalitarian terms, reclaiming it as a genuinely resistant practice. Students, scholars and general readers across all disciplines and interest areas will find much of interest in this book, which provides a multi-disciplinary look at a highly topical concept.