The rise of America’s debt culture has fueled impressive levels of consumption but proven to be unsustainable. Combined with poor oversight of risky credit products, including mortgages and credit cards, it played a role in the advent of the Great Recession. A group of scholars have been convened by the Institute for American Values to consider the question of what comes next. What’s the upside to welcoming the return of a culture of thrift?
In their new report, they remind us that “thrift is the ethic of wise use. The root of thrift is thrive.” There are some values at play here, such as industry, frugality, and stewardship, which may generate collective benefits if adopted widely. As the authors of the report write:
Indeed, for much of our history, thrift has provided a way forward for aspiring Americans of every rank and description. It has pointed the way to saving and security… It has urged us all to conserve, repurpose, save, act as good stewards of small amounts and sums, and protect our natural environment… For generations, thrift was a core value in creating a wiser citizenry and a more broadly shared prosperity.
In making the case for thrift, the report lays out 20 propositions that paint the picture of what a new thrift culture can do for our families, our neighborhoods, our economy, and our planet. Here they are below in brief, but check out the book for a fuller discussion and be sure to glance at the long and diverse list of signatories (of which I am but one).