History of Thrifty

September 29, 2009 | By | Reply More

If you want to study the history of thriftiness (and the lack thereof), check out “Saving Yourself,” an article by Daniel Akst that appears in the Wilson Quarterly. One of the key figures in Akst’s article is Thorstein Veblen:

Thorstein Veblen, the peripatetic Norwegian-American economist (he died in 1929, shortly before the great crash that might have brought him grim satisfaction), is best known today for his theory of conspicuous consumption, which argued that a lot of spending is just a wasteful attempt to impress. In effect, Veblen explained consumerism in terms of status and display, bringing evolutionary ideas to bear on economics and consumer behavior to powerful effect. Reading Veblen is a little like reading Freud or Darwin, albeit on a smaller scale: Do so and you’ll never look at the world in quite the same way again.

As you might imagine, the iconoclastic Veblen took a dim view of all the conspicuous consumption around him, regarding it as a species of giant potlatch in which competitive waste had run amok. You might call Veblen’s the voice of thrift, and it is still heard today from leftist intellectuals who, from their tenured pulpits and Arts and Crafts homes, reliably denounce the spending of others. The truth is that nobody listens to these people, except to submit to their periodic floggings as a kind of penance for sins we have no intention of ceasing.

Where are we now? Akst points out some good news:

Conspicuous consumption, like tobacco, has fallen into social disrepute, a change that removes some of the pressure felt by many families to keep up with the Joneses (who may well have been foreclosed by now).

Akst ends his article with lots of avuncular advice on surviving our current and future materialist downsizing. A lifetime thrifty person, Akst is not pessimistic: “Thrift is far from the worst thing we can have thrust upon us.”

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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