The New (Forced) Frugality

by Charles Hugh Smith
Of Two Minds

There are only two ways to survive a decline in income and net worth: slash expenses or default on debt.

In post-World War II America, the cultural zeitgeist viewed frugality as a choice: permanent economic growth and federal anti-poverty programs steadily reduced the number of people in deep economic hardship (i.e. forced frugality) and raised the living standards of those in hardship to the point that the majority of households could choose to be frugal or live large by borrowing money to enable additional spending. Either way, rising income and net worth would raise all ships, frugal and free-spending alike.

For everyone above the bottom 20%, frugality was viewed as a sliding scale of choice: if you couldn’t increase your income fast enough, then borrow whatever money you needed. If you chose to be frugal, in moderation (i.e. clipping coupons and shopping for the cheapest airline seats, etc.) this was viewed as admirable fiscal prudence; if pushed beyond moderation then it was dismissed as counter to the American spirit of everlasting expansion: tightwad is not an endearment.

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