In her book In Cheap We Trust, author Lauren Weber deftly lays out America's bipolar relationship with thrift. At times, the message of 'economic virtue' from Franklin's Poor Richard and the asceticism of Calvinism have convinced us to pinch our pennies. When the economy grows sluggish, however, we are called upon to spend what we have (and more) to drive recovery. Her exploration of the paradox of thrift is the most interesting aspect of this book.
Weber weaves together a narrative tracing the tidal motion of our love/hate affair with cheapness, tracing it all the way back to the founding of the nation. She brings to life a number of interesting characters to illustrate the duality. Standing in for the excesses of cheapness is Hetty Green, which the Guinness Book termed the world's great miser-- her son lost a leg because she insisted on finding a free clinic, although she was a millionaire. Henry Ford makes an appearance as an advocate of spending, exhorting young men to "Spend your money on yourself; get all the experience you can. Don't try to save and be a miser."
Eventually Weber brings the question of cheapness back to her own life, and at that point the book takes a misstep into the fringe realms of dumpster diving and freeganism. Those who share her values of minimal consumption will find her personal journey familiar; those who don't might find her arguments lack an appreciation for alternate views.
Weber's writes beautifully, and In Cheap We Trust gives a comprehensive look at the concept of cheapness in the U.S. Since the book retails for $24.99, perhaps the author won't be too upset if I were to suggest checking your local library for a copy.
Book review: In Cheap We Trust