The New American Thrift, Vol. 87

The New American Thrift, Vol. 87

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Excerpt from The New American Thrift, Vol. 87: The Annals, January, 1920

For many years prior to the Great War the term thrift carried to the minds of many Americans several unfortunate connotations. It was frequently associated with parsimony, niggardliness, miserliness and other traits which every liberal and generous-hearted American properly thought very unbecoming to one who shared the bounteous resources, the great opportunities and freedom of the Western World. But the tremendous struggle which threatened not only to shackle the Old World, but even to rob the New World of its cherished liberties brought home to our people a new conception of thrift, in fact, an appreciation of true thrift and a realization of the fatal consequences of clinging to old misconceptions.

Many realized for the first time that it was a matter of life and death to thousands of soldiers and of civilians also, whether they wasted or whether they conserved food and fuel; whether by demanding non-essentials they diverted labor, materials and machinery to making these non-essentials, or whether they freed this labor to fight in the trenches or to supply those who fought, or to feed and clothe those who supplied the fighters. We learned of our economic unity and interdependence as never before, we saw that the real army consisted not only of the men in uniform, but of the entire people who supported them. Anybody who wasted or misdirected the use of labor or materials or machinery or land or any other productive factor was a public enemy for, by so doing, he weakened the forces in the front lines or, what was just as important, the great civilian army behind the trenches.

Food that went to the garbage pail and labor that was idle represented only the most obvious kind of waste. Brain, brawn, material and equipment that were misdirected, that were used for second-class purposes when they could have been used for first-class purposes, were to that extent wasted. On the proper use of these capacities and resources hung not only the life and death of the soldiers and civilians but, also, the progress of civilization itself.

Thrift was thus impressively shown to Americans in its true light. Instead of suggesting stinginess, it came to connote proper use, the use of means in such a way as to achieve the greatest results. It was closely associated with effectiveness, loyalty, patriotism, victory. It took a new place, an exalted place, its true place in popular estimation.

Though the call for thrift, that is, the proper use of capacities and resources, was more dramatic and insistent during the war than it is in peace time, nevertheless, its importance for the long run happiness of the race was no greater then than it is now. It is true that economies and sacrifices that were needed then would not be justifiable now. Proper use always implies adjustment and adaptation to existing circumstances and conditions, and this requires that an eye be kept on the future all the while.

Man is so constituted that he has a recurring series of wants.

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