The Decline of Thrift

I really like this passage from The Decline of Thrift in America about the Victorian black leader, Booker T. Washington: "Washington went on to build his own Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and, declaiming that thrift and toil and savings were the highway to progress and equality, he gained a reputation as black America's leading orator. Washington climaxed the Yankee missionary gospel of thrift and piety to black America. Individuals and civilizations who succeeded were those who saved time and money, Booker emphasized in his Sunday evening Tuskegee chapel talks: 'We cannot get upon our feet, as a people, until we learn the saving habit; until we learn to save every nickel, every dime and every dollar that we can spare.' Saving money required self-control, the ability to say no: 'I want you to be able to go by a store and, as you notice the things in that store -- whether candy or spring hats, or whatever it is that attracts you -- to be able, notwithstanding the fact that you have the money in your pockets to buy, to exercise a self-control that will enable you to pass these things by and save your money to invest it in a house.' Saving should not be postponed until after marriage; all young people should save: 'Resolve that no matter how little you may earn, you will put a part of the money in the bank. If you earn four dollars a week, put two dollars in the bank. If you earn ten dollars, save four of them. Put the money in the bank. Let it stay there. When it begins to draw interest you will find that you will appreciate the value of money.'"

"Booker's message of economic self-sufficiency was shared by virtually all black leaders at the turn of the century. Professor W.E.B. Du Bois spoke for black capitalism and savings bank frugality. Religious leaders, such as Reverend E.C. Morris, president of the National Baptist Convention, advised: 'Let every man among us get a home, improve it, and then add to that a good bank account. Go into the unbroken forest, buy forty, sixty or a hundred acres of land, build a house, move into it and stay there until the last dollar of the purchase price has been paid. Never come to town, except on business, and then to sell rather than to buy. Let the politician, the office-seeker and the merchant look for you, instead of you looking for them."

The author explains how America began to lose the value of thrift in the 1920s. The 19th century championed it. He goes into detail giving the history of thrift. I don't have time to even summarize what he says, but I will quote one passage to give you a flavor of how people in the past valued thrift. He writes, "The YMCA ran a program in cooperation with bankers. The Y, which had added thrift to its religious concerns during the war, continued to support the cause through a National Thrift Week in January, declaring thrift a fundamental part of character development: 'The Association has come to see that habits of wastefulness and extravagance rot character. They make a man poor, they rob him of his judgement, steal his health and undermine his integrity. Most of the evils that beset and ruin the individual go back to the gaining, dividing and use of money.'"

Victorian virtue of thrift

One tactic of Satan to destroy the world was to take away the Victorian values (or virtues as they called them). One of the deepest held virtues was thrift and paying as you go. By making homes leased with mortgages Satan was able to take away the security of women in having a debt-free home. This is a major cause of women leaving the home and for divorce. Satan creates a tense atmosphere where there is little safety. By corrupting the self-discipline of saving and living debt-free, Satan created a hyped atmosphere in the 1920s that led to a thinking of get rich quick and in 1929 the stock market crashed leading to a protracted depression that led to FDR starting the alphabet soup agencies such as the ponzi scam of the misnomer Social Security. From every angle Satan destroyed every virtue of the Victorians in the 20th century.

Again, I can't emphasize enough that the Victorians were not perfect. But they were on the right track on many basic issues. Father was to elevate them even higher by having them teach these values to the world. Instead Father had to start at the bottom. A good book on the destruction of the virtue of thrift is David Tucker's The Decline of Thrift in America. He writes,"Faith in hard truths from the age of scarcity had faded amid the prosperity of the twenties. 'We are living in the midst of that vast dissolution of ancient habits,' Walter Lippmann observed in A Preface to Morals (1929). The culture -- schools, pulpit, and press -- no longer pressed the importance of foresight and savings upon the young. The National Education Association had abolished its Committee on Thrift in 1925 and sales of Horatio Alger novels had declined so sharply that in 1926 the publisher ceased to reprint these nineteenth-century celebrations of industry, frugality, and thrift."

"Character and morality were no longer required for success. Public morality had broken from the old-style inspirational oration that had always restrained the self .... Popular speakers of the 1920s could no longer be expected to speak from within religious restraints." The author goes on to criticize"the amoral orator of the new success ethic, Dale Carnegie" who is into"personality, style, and psychology -- rather than character and morality. In the popular culture, success had little to do with character and morality .... Certainly, islands of belief in the old values still existed; the prohibition amendment remained in force with the support of rural and small town values. But in advertising, psychology, literature, and religion, the culture of self-restraint had lost its dominance." This is what Stephen Covey says in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People although he hasn't the guts to mention Carnegie by name and to give the values people are to live by. Covey is amoral in his popular secular best sellers. The only modern motivational speaker who will mention traditional values is Zig Ziglar. Even he is pretty weak on explaining them and emphasizes technical things like goal setting and time management like all the rest. I love motivational speakers, but they need to give right values.

In The Return of Thrift: How the Coming Collapse of the Middle-Class Welfare State Will Reawaken Values in America, Phillip Longman gives some excellent insights into how government has destroyed our economy and spirit. He not only gives good theoretical arguments but gives stories of real people to illustrate his points. He begins with this example to show the absurdity of impersonal bureaucracy to help people. "It was the kind of story that sets conservative radio talk show hosts to howling. Uncle Sam, a congressional report revealed, was regularly mailing benefit checks to forty indigent alcoholics, in care of their local Denver liquor store. The tab came to $13,000 a month, most of which, no doubt, went straight for Colt 45 and Thunderbird."

"How could this be? Well, the Denver drunks were entitled, it turned out. The Social Security Administration had deemed all forty alcoholics to be 'disabled' by virtue of their 'illness." These men lived on the streets and got this income from the branch of government called Supplemental Security Income (SSI), an entitlement program that pays benefits to the poor and disabled. In 1993, SSI paid out $1.4 billion to 250,000 addicts. Very few are required to seek any kind of treatment. Some are dealers with a criminal record. He writes, "This sort of government benevolence, remarked the director of a Denver homeless shelter, amounted to nothing less than 'suicide on the installment plan."

The writer teaches that middle-class Americans take more unearned money from the government than genuinely poor people. He writes, "Middle-class Americans know and think a lot these days about addiction. The bookstore shelves groan with self-help titles about overcoming dependency, whether to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sweets, speed, sex, and even romantic love. The concepts and cliches of recovery programs ('denial,' 'co-dependency,' 'twelve steps,' 'stinking thinking') now pervade the popular culture -- even our humor. 'Denial ain't no river in Egypt,' Stuart Smalley jokes on 'Saturday Night Live.' Never before in our history has the stigma associated with addiction and dependency been stronger."

"With one huge exception: dependency on government benefits."

"During the Great Depression and even as recently as the 1960s, the biggest problem met by social workers in the United States was convincing down-and-out Americans to overcome the 'humiliation' of accepting a helping hand from government. Today every American -- rich, poor, and middle class -- knows he or she is entitled to a plethora of social benefits as a matter of 'earned right .... This book will confront middle-class America's $2 billion-a-day addiction to entitlements."

He writes, "Middle-class Americans have plenty of reason to be alarmed and angry about the degree of welfare dependency in today's poorer neighborhoods. But don't scapegoat 'those people' on the other side of the tracks for running up your taxes or the national debt. Certainly they are part of the problem, but the rest of us are a far bigger part. In 1990 fully 75 percent of all direct outlays for federal entitlements went to families earning $20,000 or more annually. Even families earning $50,000 or more, it turns out, are major consumers of the welfare state."

Previous Home Next