Poor Richard's Principle: Recovering the American Dream through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, and Money

Poor Richard's Principle: Recovering the American Dream through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, and Money

by Robert Wuthnow
     
 

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The American dream is in serious danger, according to Robert Wuthnow--not because of economic conditions, but because its moral underpinnings have been forgotten. Here Wuthnow examines the struggles in which American families are now engaged as they try to balance work and family, confront the pressures of consumerism, and find meaning in their careers."Through dozens

Overview

The American dream is in serious danger, according to Robert Wuthnow--not because of economic conditions, but because its moral underpinnings have been forgotten. Here Wuthnow examines the struggles in which American families are now engaged as they try to balance work and family, confront the pressures of consumerism, and find meaning in their careers."Through dozens of citizens who talked with him, Wuthnow records the continuing stresses in modern economic life.... [The] model of an ideal life, Wuthnow maintains, evolved before the Civil War into two schools of social thought, which he calls Oascetic' and Oexpressive' moralism.... Wuthnow's impressive body of polls and interviews convinces us that both of these modern traditions remain powerful influences in American life today."--Richard Parker, The New York Times Book Review"In this sociological tract for our times, Wuthnow reconsiders the nature and meaning of the American dream in the late twentieth century. This book goes much further than merely recounting the manifold failings of American economics and culture in the pursuit of happiness.... Wuthnow perceives a moral vacuum at the core of American society, and recommends that Americans systematically revisit the cultural imperatives of an earlier age to reinvent the paradigm of personal success in late capitalism. An important and timely work."--The Virginia Quarterly Review

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers of this heavy tome could be forgiven for echoing H.L. Mencken's classic riposte: "Down With Uplift." Wuthnow has paraded an extensive series of case histories chronicling all the strains of our timesfamily breakdown, disaffected children, financial insecurity, unhappiness in the workplace and much more. The author's credentials are impressive: director of the study of American religion at Princeton university. However, the bromides he offers to address these problems are a vague mixture of spiritualism and moral regeneration. Wuthnow has drawn heavily on the thoughts of Benjamin Franklin, including a portion of the title from his most famous work. Which is ironic for a work on morality, as Franklin was a well-known reprobate in his day. (Oct.)
Library Journal
According to Wuthnow (American religion, Princeton Univ.), "the American dream is in serious danger, not because of economic conditions, but because its moral underpinnings have been forgotten." From this premise, Wuthnow uses the results of 2000 surveys to determine what is going on in society today. He thoroughly traces the concepts of work and morality through the years up to the present, looking at who works, policies governing work, and the effects of political economists and economics. Today there is pressure at the workplace because working hard yields the material gains that in turn become the focus, rather than family, community, or religion. Some people are beginning to rethink the American dream in an effort to bring back those older values, and Wuthnow tells us why and how this is taking place. He provides a readable, thought-provoking, and scholarly tome that will appeal to students, general readers who watch current trends in economics and labor, and specialists and scholars in the field.-Steven J. Mayover, Free Lib. of Philadelphia
Review The Virginia Quarterly
In this sociological tract for our times, Wuthnow reconsiders the nature and meaning of the American dream in the late twentieth century....An important and timely work. -- The Virginia Quarterly Review
Kirkus Reviews
A lengthy study of American workers and their relationship with money, though it lacks the spark of Wuthnow's foster father, Benjamin Franklin.

Wuthnow, a noted professor of religion (Princeton; God and Mammon in America, 1994, etc.), here conducts extensive interviews with Americans to reveal what he sees as a disparity between work, money, and spiritual health. Some of the interviewees raise interesting points. One claims that the difference between a salary of $30,000 and $70,000 is minimal; it's the move from $12,000 to $30,000 that counts. Another, a wealthy lawyer, assuages his fear of spending too much by compulsively turning out lights. All of those interviewed complain that they feel distant from family and values. Wuthnow's main point, which he illustrates with heavy-handed quotes and the story of Franklin, is that a more moral pursuit of money is needed. His theory—that a moral orientation to economics allows a worker a measure of choice—is a good one. The American Dream, he argues, has drifted more into a steady drone of endless work, and only an infusion of values can save it. However, while Wuthnow quotes a good deal of statistics, it's not clear why he thinks this amoral trend in the American economy has happened. He gives a number of examples of workers caught by golden handcuffs (they earn a lot, but they spend as much as they earn, so the cycle is endless), with the not-so-subtle implication that it is the lack of moral direction in their job choice that has led them astray, rather than the fact they don't save any of their earnings. His particular brand of Judeo-Christian morality is hardly a balm to people who simply can't manage money.

Though the book is rather plodding and offers vague philosophy instead of action, it does raise important questions about the internal life of the American worker.

The New York Times Book Review - Richard Parker
Through dozens of citizens who talked with him, Wuthnow records the continuing stresses in modern economic life.... [The] model of an ideal life, Wuthnow maintains, evolved before the Civil War into two schools of social thought, which he calls 'ascetic' and 'expressive' moralism.... Wuthnow's impressive body of polls and interviews convinces us that both of these modern traditions remain powerful influences in American life today.
From the Publisher
"Through dozens of citizens who talked with him, Wuthnow records the continuing stresses in modern economic life.... [The] model of an ideal life, Wuthnow maintains, evolved before the Civil War into two schools of social thought, which he calls 'ascetic' and 'expressive' moralism.... Wuthnow's impressive body of polls and interviews convinces us that both of these modern traditions remain powerful influences in American life today."—Richard Parker, The New York Times Book Review

"In this sociological tract for our times, Wuthnow reconsiders the nature and meaning of the American dream in the late twentieth century. This book goes much further than merely recounting the manifold failings of American economics and culture in the pursuit of happiness.... Wuthnow perceives a moral vacuum at the core of American society, and recommends that Americans systematically revisit the cultural imperatives of an earlier age to reinvent the paradigm of personal success in late capitalism. An important and timely work."The Virginia Quarterly Review

The New York Times Book Review
Through dozens of citizens who talked with him, Wuthnow records the continuing stresses in modern economic life.... [The] model of an ideal life, Wuthnow maintains, evolved before the Civil War into two schools of social thought, which he calls 'ascetic' and 'expressive' moralism.... Wuthnow's impressive body of polls and interviews convinces us that both of these modern traditions remain powerful influences in American life today.
— Richard Parker
The Virginia Quarterly Review
In this sociological tract for our times, Wuthnow reconsiders the nature and meaning of the American dream in the late twentieth century. This book goes much further than merely recounting the manifold failings of American economics and culture in the pursuit of happiness.... Wuthnow perceives a moral vacuum at the core of American society, and recommends that Americans systematically revisit the cultural imperatives of an earlier age to reinvent the paradigm of personal success in late capitalism. An important and timely work.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691028927
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
08/05/1996
Pages:
445
Product dimensions:
6.53(w) x 9.61(h) x 1.34(d)

What People are saying about this

Contributes significantly to our understanding of the major disjunctions of contemporary social life.
Robert Jackall
Contributes significantly to our understanding of the major disjunctions of contemporary social life.
Robert Jackall, Williams College

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