Thrift and Thriving in America: Capitalism and Moral Order from the Puritans to the Present

Overview

Thrift is a powerful and evolving moral ideal, disposition, and practice that has indelibly marked the character of American life since its earliest days. Its surprisingly multifaceted character opens a number of expansive vistas for analysis, not only in the American past, but also in its present. Thrift remains, if perhaps in unexpected and counter-intuitive ways, intensely relevant to the complex issues of contemporary moral and economic life.

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Thrift and Thriving in America: Capitalism and Moral Order from the Puritans to the Present

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Overview

Thrift is a powerful and evolving moral ideal, disposition, and practice that has indelibly marked the character of American life since its earliest days. Its surprisingly multifaceted character opens a number of expansive vistas for analysis, not only in the American past, but also in its present. Thrift remains, if perhaps in unexpected and counter-intuitive ways, intensely relevant to the complex issues of contemporary moral and economic life.

Thrift and Thriving in America is a collection of groundbreaking essays from leading scholars on the seminal importance of thrift to American culture and history. From a rich diversity of disciplinary perspectives, the volume shows that far from the narrow and attenuated rendering of thrift as a synonym of saving and scrimping, thrift possess an astonishing capaciousness and dynamism, and that the idiom of thrift has, in one form or another, served as the primary language for articulating the normative dimensions of economic life throughout much of American history. The essays put thrift in a more expansive light, revealing its compelling etymology-its sense of "thriving." This deeper meaning has always operated as the subtext of thrift and at times has even been invoked to critique its more restricted notions. So understood, thrift moves beyond the instrumentalities of "more or less" and begs the question: what does it mean and take to thrive?

Thoroughly examining how Americans have answered this question, Thrift and Thriving in America provides fascinating insight into evolving meanings of material wellbeing, and of the good life and the good society more generally, and will serve as a perennial resource on a notion that has and will continue to shape and define American life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Thrift is sometimes taken to be the most obvious and boring of the virtues. But that is only because we rarely stop to think about it, or are content to honor it-if we honor it at all-with words rather than deeds. These fascinating essays should challenge such complacency. They have the same effect on the reader that Socrates' relentless inquiries had on his interlocutors: they overturn all unreflective notions about thrift, and demonstrate that its meaning for us is inseparable from what we believe about the proper ends of human existence."-Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

"Why people save, and how much, and when, is a subject of continuing importance to economists, and it is getting more so over time as many countries' populations are aging. Not surprisingly, others have important insights on these questions as well. This new volume brings together scholars from a variety of disciplines, including eminent historians such as Joyce Appleby and Daniel Walker Howe, to share their insights on "thrift" in a specifically American setting. Reading these essays will usefully broaden the perspective of anyone interested in saving behavior."-Benjamin M. Friedman, William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University, author of The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth

"The credit crunch may signal the end of the Consumer Society and the dawn of the Age of Thrift. If so, Thrift and Thriving will restore not only the fortunes of economic sociology but the neglected legacy of moral economy. Opening up new insights into American history around the language of virtue, Yates and Hunter have assembled a dazzling collection of essays."-Bryan S. Turner, Presidential Professor of Sociology, The City University of New York

"[T]his volume enables the other contributors to range over an impressive swath of intellectual territory. The intellectual free range extends across disciplinary boundaries as well: from history and religion to economics and women's studies."-CHOICE

"An important and exciting book for scholars of all periods of American history. One reason for this is the contributors' willingness to make big claims and cover big periods and themes in American history... Individually or paired, these essays would make excellent readings for graduate and undergraduate students in a wide variety of fields." —Reviews in American History

"With thrift at low ebb, this text is timely. The twenty-four contributors to this volume—noted scholars who hail from a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences—refrain from issuing a rousing jeremiad that calls Americans back to the homely virtue of scrimping. Instead, they offer cultural histories of capitalism that revolve around debates concerning the value and meaning of thrift."-Journal of Social History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199769063
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/29/2011
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 1,191,801
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Joshua J. Yates is a Research Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia and Director of the Program on Culture, Capitalism, and Global Change at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture.

James Davison Hunter is the LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory at the University of Virginia. His many writings are all variously concerned with the problem of meaning and moral order in a time of political and cultural change in American life.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1
Introduction: The Question of Thrift, James Davison Hunter and Joshua J. Yates

Part I: The Emergence of Thrift in Early America, 1630-1880
Chapter 2
The Controversial Virtue of Thrift in the Early American Republic, Daniel Walker Howe
Chapter 3
The Prehistory of American Thrift, Deirdre McCloskey
Chapter 4
Saving Grace and Moral Striving: Thrift in Puritan Theology, James Calvin Davis and Charles Mathewes
Chapter 5
Thrift and Prosperity, Stephen Innes
Chapter 6
Moderation in the First Era of Popular Consumption, Joyce Appleby
Chapter 7
Spreading the Gospel of Self-Denial: Thrift and Association in Antebellum America, Kathleen D. McCarthy
Chapter 8
African Americans, Slavery, and Thrift from the Revolution to the Civil War, Patrick Rael

Part II: The Modernization of Thrift: Years of Transition and Transformation, 1880-1950
Chapter 9
The Modernization of Thrift, T. J. Jackson Lears
Chapter 10
Thrift and Moral Formation, James Davison Hunter
Chapter 11
The Virtue of Consumption: Challenging Thrift in an Age of Transition, Lawrence B. Glickman
Chapter 12
Thrift and Advertising, Jennifer Scanlon
Chapter 13
Hard Payments: Consumer Credit and Thrift, Lendol Calder
Chapter 14
Mass Philanthropy as Public Thrift for an Age of Consumption, Olivier Zunz
Chapter 15
Immigrants and Thrift, David M. Reimers
Chapter 16
Saving for Democracy: Thrift, Sacrifice, and the World War II Bond Campaigns, Kiku Adatto

Part III: Thriving After Thrift? Prosperity & Crisis since 1950
Chapter 17
Why Do Americans Save So Little and Does It Matter?, Robert H. Frank
Chapter 18
The Rise and Fall of "Collective Thrift": Social Insurance, Economic Planning, and the Decline of Modern American Liberalism, Steven Fraser
Chapter 19
Middle-Class Respectability in 21st Century America: Work and Lifestyle in the Professional-Managerial Stratum, Steven Brint and Kristopher Proctor
Chapter 20
Thrift in the Other America, Wilson Brissett
Chapter 21
Thrift and Waste in American History: An Ecological View, J. R. McNeill and George Vrtis
Chapter 22
Disputing Abundance: The Antiglobalization Protest Movement and Our Changing Natural Imaginary, Joshua J. Yates
Chapter 23
Conclusion: Thrift & Thriving: Toward a Moral Framework for Economic Life, Joshua J. Yates and James Davison Hunter

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