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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Creative Crime of Thrift

Via Nate P. on the Distributist yahoogroup. G. K. Chesterton on the creative crime of thrift:

…that the whole system was directed towards encouraging or driving the worker to spend his wages; to have nothing left on the next pay day; to enjoy everything and consume everything and efface everything; in short, to shudder at the thought of only one crime; the creative crime of thrift. It was a tame extravagance; a sort of disciplined dissipation; a meek and submissive prodigality. For the moment the slave left off drinking all his wages, the moment he began to hoard or hide any property, he would be saving up something which might ultimately purchase his liberty. He might begin to count for something in the State; that is, he might become less of a slave and more of a citizen.

Nate comments:

They say (a bit jokingly) the people who are most likely to get promoted in a job are those with a huge mortgage (because the company owns you if you are in debt). Notice that government gives you a tax deduction if you put yourself into debt (home mortgage deduction). But if you save up money, don't take on debt, then you don't get any benefit. The system is set up to get you to work and keep working.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Kevin. I used it as the start of a short post of my own: "The role of consumerism in class oppression"

November 04, 2005 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ever read "The Tightwad Gazette"? It's one of my favorite newsletters on being thrifty. It was compiled into a couple of books I believe.

Anyways, another great post. Will be keeping tabs here. You keep up the good work - your link has been added ;).

November 05, 2005 12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a look at Keynes's "The Economic Consequences of the Peace" - it's available on the internet. The introductory part has a very nice discussion of how the save/invest and other stuff worked in the pre-1914 global economy. Also have a look at a true reading of the meaning of the children's rhyme "Pop goes the Weasel" to see the actual predicament of the urban working class in Britain in the long 19th century.

November 05, 2005 3:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And after mastering thrift there is the question of what to do with the benefits?
1) avoid debt - this is a no brainer.
2) save - but this one is tricky. Many saving instruments don't keep up with the inflation rate. Many don't pay enough "interest" to even keep up with the govt. figures on inflation (ie to avoid a net loss of money for saving it!). And I have no doubt that the real inflation rate is much higher. Worse any "interest" income is taxed as income even though it may actually represent a net loss when inflation is taken into account (ie when reality is taken into account). It seems the only instruments that make it possible to break even and pehaps even profit from savings are those with some risk such as stock investments (as mutual funds or whatever). Then there is always the option of putting money into real property. But with half the country at least in a real estate bubble, due in many ways to govenment policy, the cost of such things in many places has risen to absurd levels that in no way reflect real worth.
3) don't work and live off savings - this is far and away the best option after paying off debt and saving a little. However, it often entails entering the job market again after the money is gone and having to smooth over from some interviewing idiot why you were absent from your profession for a year or two (oh heaven forbid!). Not usually an insurmountable obstacle but annoying.

November 05, 2005 9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KC, on checking those links I found you left out some important context. The quotation refers to the constraint enforcing full consumption in Soviet Russia; there was merely a tendency that way and not an absolute barrier in capitalism generally. (Of course, it was undoubtedly impossible for all workers to be thrifty - it would be a fallacy of composition to infer that.) This does make it more consistent with Keynes's observations, and some similar ones about workers "boiling down [pay] cheques" for booze in Australia, recorded by Trollope; he describes what happened when one worker kept his cheque where he couldn't be tempted to boil it down.

November 06, 2005 3:35 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Nice post, Brad.

I've got a collection of Tightwad Gazette articles, Rebellion, and it's good stuff.

Joannne--I think one partial solution to the savings problem is to make capital investments: improving your home-site in ways that will reduce your need for a future income stream.

Peter--My own reading of the Chesterton piece was that he meant it to apply equally to Soviet communism and corporate capitalism.

November 06, 2005 4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KC, as I read it, Chesterton wasn't comparing ideals but those enviroments actually existing in his day - the partly developed corporate capitalism that still retianed primitive elements, and also the soviet system. Among those, it was only the soviet approach that fully ruled out individual escape via thrift. The capitalist approach offered hope, but of course in so doing it kept on side far more than could ever actually benefit from the few real opportunities of social mobility. But real chances there were; it was just the fallacy of composition that spread the offer more widely than was realistic. But I'll have to re-read the material more carefully, just in case I missed something, which I think you should too.

November 08, 2005 1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, 'thrift' may just serve as a conduit via which we might hope to purchase not only our freedom but another's slavery. No specific value is left untainted by the value placed on humanity within any particular system.

November 08, 2005 4:05 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I forgot to mention how annoying I find the need to "explain gaps in employment history." I think another reason for it is employers tend to shy away from anyone who can AFFORD to be unemployed for extended periods. If you don't really NEED that job, then you haven't "got your mind right."

November 08, 2005 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good comments all. With NAFTA, CAFTA and all the other global treaties driving our standard of living down to that in the Third World, we are rapidly approaching the point where the American worker doesn't have functional wages: that is, the ability to buy back the product he/she creates. In the Third World, there has never been a functional wage since the pre-colonial, small farming era. Keep blogging! Melinda

December 28, 2005 1:18 PM  

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