Thrift and Prosperity

Stephen Innes

in Thrift and Thriving in America

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199769063
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199896851 | DOI:
Thrift and Prosperity

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The paradoxical result of Puritan thrift, to which observers since Weber have repeatedly pointed, and of which the Puritans themselves were acutely aware, was how what started out as a deeply pious attitude toward the methodological practice of godly accumulation eventually seemed to lead to a highly effective, but ultimately worldly, technique for material acquisitiveness. How, in other words, did the Puritans ever come to produce Benjamin Franklin? This chapter addresses this question by locating part of the answer in the unique social and cultural circumstances of Puritan New England that allowed for the fullest implementation of the Puritan politics of virtue, and of the creation of key institutions that reinforced compliance to this politics within the Puritan community. Thrift and thriving were as much public as private matters. The chapter underscores the centrality of social criticism among the Puritans as a form of social control, paying special attention to the ways they treated economic success with suspicion, if not equating it with spiritual and moral failure. Beginning with the Puritan jeremiad, this tradition of critique continues in both religious and secular formulations down to the present.

Keywords: Puritan thrift; virtue; thriving; social criticism; social control

Chapter.  10441 words. 

Subjects: Economic Sociology

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