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Thrift and Thriving in AmericaCapitalism and Moral Order from the Puritans to the Present$
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Joshua Yates and James Davison Hunter

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199769063

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199769063.001.0001

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Thrift and Waste in American History

Thrift and Waste in American History

An Ecological View

Chapter:
(p.508) 21 Thrift and Waste in American History
Source:
Thrift and Thriving in America
Author(s):

J. R. McNeill

George Vrtis

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199769063.003.0021

This chapter discusses the history of how Americans have wrestled with the competing social visions of economic growth and ecological thrift. On the one hand, the story of waste is a story of American exceptionalism: endowed with unusual material abundance, technical know-how, and political freedom, Americans created “a cultural format in which endless consumption rivaled spiritual grace as the path to worthiness and fulfillment.” Yet, in contrast to what they call the “cornucopian vision,” there arose a concern for ecological conservation and protection that would eventually give birth to the modern environmental movement. Nature and culture form a double helix in American history, causing the perennial struggle between thrift and profligacy to swing decidedly in favor of the latter. Still, the American propensity for excessive wastefulness provoked periodic backswings in the direction of careful husbandry, the repercussions of which are still at work today in the greening of thrift.

Keywords:   American culture, economic growth, ecological thrift, exceptionalism, environmental movement

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