The Decline of Thrift in America: Our Cultural Shift from Saving to Spending

The Decline of Thrift in America: Our Cultural Shift from Saving to Spending

The Decline of Thrift in America: Our Cultural Shift from Saving to Spending

The Decline of Thrift in America: Our Cultural Shift from Saving to Spending

Synopsis

This unique history studies the concept of thrift as a driving cultural and economic force in America. From the beginning of our nation's history, with the Puritan and Protestant work ethics, through the 1950s, thrift was considered an important virtue, both with regard to the moral fiber of the country and as a support for its continuing economic well-being. In the past few decades, however, a new ideal of spending and consumption undercut the old morality, until by the end of the Eisenhower era thrift had become an outmoded concept. The direct result of this has been a declining savings rate and enormous budget deficit, Tucker argues, and has placed America on a road of economic decline.

Excerpt

Americans' long-running affair with the virtue of thrift apparently ended in the affluent 1950s, when we killed the concept and removed the term, if not from dictionaries, at least from current language, textbooks, and reference books. By then, the theory and practice of thrift had been in decay for at least a generation. Advertising, consumer credit, and a self-indulgent psychology had been eroding the practice since the 1920s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s had provided economists with a reasonable justification for relabeling thrift as the contemptible vice which threw sand in the gears of our consumer economy. By the 1960s, even the public schools had dropped the teaching of frugality and thrift.

In the generation since declaring thrift obsolescent, Americans have shown little remorse. And yet the energy crisis of the 1970s and the decline of industrial productivity that has demoted Americans from first to no better than a slipping sixth place in per capita income has led a few opinion makers to talk of a "Toyota shock" turning attention to Japanese industrial productivity, education, and occasionally even to their rates of national saving. In the 1970s, the Japanese saved some 20 percent of their income while we banked about 6 percent. In the 1980s . . .

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