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.
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.
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
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.
Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Smiles and Victorian moralism
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.
Simplicity, sensuality and politics in Henry Thoreau
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.
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
Keynes, consumer rights and the new thrifty consumers
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.
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.
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.