Thrift and self-control

In a previous post I noted that thrift is something of a forgotten virtue. But in the day of Calvin Coolidge, it was most assuredly not forgotten, and the president was its spokesperson and champion. Here is a brief presidential statement that White House secretary Slemp sometimes sent out in response to requests from the general public:

It is not so much what we earn today as what we save today that determines our position tomorrow. The people of past ages did not fail to work, oftentimes they put forth great effort, but what they produced they at once consumed. They did not get ahead. They made no progress. There came a time when they began to accumulate a surplus. From that hour civilization began to appear. The foundation of it all was thrift. On it was built character. It is the test of the power of self-control. Out of self-control by the individual grew the principle of self-government by the people. But the basis of it all is thrift. No man is so poor that he cannot begin to be thrifty. No man is so rich that he does not need to be thrifty. The margin between success and failure, between a respectable place in life and comparative oblivion, is very narrow. It is measured by a single word, THRIFT. The man who saves is the man who will win.

Interestingly, especially to me as a psychologist, is that there has been a growing amount of evidence linking self-control to a number of desirable outcomes and competencies. The famous “Marshmallow Experiment” conducted by the Stanford team of Walter Mischel simply gave small children a choice of one marshmallow “right now” or more marshmallows at a later time. Those children who by means of various strategies were able to resist the lure of the single marshmallow showed, upon testing more than a decade later, significantly better results on a number of cognitive and social competencies. What else is thrift but the postponement of pleasure and consumption towards later, and greater, rewards? And what does it say about the prevailing culture today, which not only does not encourage thrift, but actively encourages the opposite – getting into debt for the immediate gratification of some wish, thereby jeopardizing the future?

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