Essay: The Fall and Rise of U.S. Frugality

Deep in his recent State of the Union speech, which was mostly devoted to world affairs, the President inserted a two-word sentence of great domestic import: "Eliminate waste." It is likely that a good many Americans reacted to this presidential plea for conservation, as they would to any other, with a silent question: Who—me? Such bewilderment is understandable. The truth is that during the nation's rush to mid-century prosperity the notion of individual frugality practically went out of business. "Prodigality is the spirit of the era," Social Critic Vance Packard declared in The Waste Makers 20 years ago. There has been...

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