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Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Smiles and Victorian moralism

Puritans. Besides, as the nineteenth century progressed, this specifically religious motivation for thrift became more aligned to a general sense of social morality typified by Victorian middle-​class attitudes. As Yates and Hunter put it, Puritan thrift gave way to ‘classic thrift’ –​an emphasis on the morality of the individual’s financial behaviour (2011). They argue that it was at this moment that ‘thrift and this [pan-​Protestant] ethical sensibility gradually detached themselves from the Puritan providentialist cosmology that originally underwrote them. Thrift in

in A brief history of thrift
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which thrift has been used by those with influence to enhance or rally against capitalism(s). A by-​product of this shift from thrift as thriving (ethical thrift), to thrift as frugality (moral thrift) is that (with a few exceptions) it has gradually been prised away from actually belonging to people as a practice of everyday life that can be used wilfully, tactically and sometimes as resistance. Instead, it has become rationalised as part of socio-​economic arguments made by early capitalists, religious thinkers who tied their beliefs to capitalism and middle-​class

in A brief history of thrift
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Keynes, consumer rights and the new thrifty consumers

) and upon its publication immediately inspired a political mass movement in which ‘Bellamy Clubs’ were set up to discuss and put into action the book’s ideas. Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), whilst broadly aligned to Marxist thought in some ways, was in others a treatise in favour of individualism in that he saw conspicuous consumption as un-​American because it encouraged the working and middle classes to copy the style of the upper classes rather than seek their own social status, prestige and happiness. Yet the combination of these three

in A brief history of thrift
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Thoreau in the city

thrifty; and to engage them in a collective process that empowers those who cannot afford to be (for whom thrift is simply normality). Thoreau’s issue with Brook Farm was precisely that, and whilst his answer may have at first appeared individualistic, by the end of his life he had attempted to come up with an alternative collective thrift that bypassed the mechanisms of capitalism and challenged economic inequality. So, to return thrift to thriving is not simply about the personal happiness of the middle-​class few, but about equality. Thrift (as both thriving and

in A brief history of thrift
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Simplicity, sensuality and politics in Henry Thoreau

. His main concern about the state of the society around him is that it breeds not material but spiritual and intellectual poverty (Marx, 1964:33). Similarly, Newman argues that Thoreau directs his criticism at the influence of greed of the middle and upper classes, making the object of concern for him not the working class, but the ‘potentially salvageable bourgeois slave driver of himself, who single-​mindedly pursues material wealth and disregards the duty to the poor’ (Newman, 2003:527). Whilst these points are valid to an extent, it is important to recognise that

in A brief history of thrift
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Frugality, de-growth and Voluntary Simplicity

have experienced enough in order to voluntarily simplify! Even its own members acknowledge this. As a result, the movement is overwhelmingly white and middle-​class. Both Elgin and Mitchell’s (1977) and Linda Pierce’s (1996–​ 1998) studies found simplifiers to be almost entirely Caucasian, female, highly educated, living in urban or suburban areas, and in their thirties or above with no children living at home. In the Pierce study, 64 per cent were married but 61 per cent had no children living at home. As Schor points out, it is also the case that many voluntary

in A brief history of thrift

consumption was the major driver in the consumer revolution and it was therefore the rich who led the revolution as their spending provoked the consumer desire of the middle classes, and theirs in turn that of the lower classes. For McKendrick et al., social emulation saw the pursuit of luxuries rather than ‘decencies’, and decencies rather than necessities (1984:98). They attribute this emulation to the onset of fashion in the middle of the eighteenth century and the speed with which trends suddenly started changing with regularity when previously they had remained stable

in A brief history of thrift
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prevailing ethical codes, social mores and political regulation, for ‘markets’ constrain as well as enable. The social and political dimensions of market processes – inequality, fairness, power, uncertainty, status – all influence the range and nature of what takes place in the market context. More deeply still, the acceptance of market processes and the rhetoric with which they are described and assessed tell us a great deal about different kinds of market society. The rhetoric, discourses and doctrine of the market In the middle of the twentieth century, a substantial

in Market relations and the competitive process

pernicious system. More, (and here Polanyi’s line is similar to that of Schumpeter), the depression had weakened the support of the middle classes, and even business, for the system, and was leading them to look to taming it or transforming it so that it was less brutal. Both authors saw the economic system of market capitalism as profoundly influencing the nature of broader society and politics. Schumpeter saw the effects as largely positive, as encouraging individual creativity, freedom and independence. Indeed, he associated the institutions of modern science with

in Market relations and the competitive process

highs ever since.43 Globally, the past few decades have seen stagnation in the incomes of the Western middle classes and the very poorest (in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa), while the incomes of the very richest in the West and the middle classes of fast-growing developing countries such as China have gained.44 The story of income inequality over this period is a result of the interplay of complex global and national forces. Unfortunately, a lack of conceptual, geographic, political and historical analysis means that the neoclassical framework often fails to

in The econocracy