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Publication: Conservative Review
Encouraging Thrift Just Makes Cents

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              THE CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
                   June 13, 2008
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Encouraging Thrift Just Makes Cents
By Rebecca Hagelin

Ask 10 people to define capitalism. Chances are, eight 
or nine will stress the importance of buying things.

They’re making a common mistake -- equating capitalism 
with consumerism. As our friends over at the Acton 
Institute understand, capitalism, properly understood, 
involves more than just spending. It’s an economic 
system that (to the horror of liberals) puts decision-
making power over financial matters where it belongs -- 
with free individuals, not with government.

It’s the antithesis of the central planning that 
characterizes communism and socialism. Small wonder that 
the economist Friedrich Hayek wrote: “I regard the pre-
servation of what is known as the capitalist system, of 
the system of free markets and the private ownership of 
the means of production, as an essential condition of 
the very survival of mankind.”

As our economy continues to react to the fallout of the 
mortgage madness, it’s important to understand the 
difference between capitalism and consumerism -- as a 
recent post on Acton’s PowerBlog makes clear. The seeds 
for the crisis were sown, according to Fortune magazine 
editor Geoff Colvin, when “people began to believe that 
the more they borrowed, the better off they would be. 
Their thinking went like this: With the cost of capital 
so low and asset prices rising steadily, risk was eva-
porating.”

But the party couldn’t go on forever. Eventually, Colvin 
says, consumers “began to live within their means, shutt-
ing down the profit-growth machine.”

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That’s the key point -- “within their means.” To act as 
wise stewards of our money we must decide not only when 
to spend, but when not to spend. We must make informed 
decisions about where to invest our money. For those of 
us who are Christian, it means putting biblical principles 
to work. As Crown Financial Ministries teaches thousands 
of people every year through their in-depth course on 
financial management, the Bible addresses economic issues 
with surprising frequency.

“The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the 
righteous is gracious and gives,” we read in Psalms. 
And the topic comes up often in Proverbs: “The rich 
rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the 
lender’s slave” (22:7). “A good man leaves an inher-
itance to his children’s children” (13:22). It takes 
time, but “steady plodding brings prosperity” (21:5). 
My husband and I took the Crown life-changing course 
through our church and for the first time, we dis-
covered just how much the Bible has to say about money 
and borrowing and planning for your financial future. 
Economic issues truly are moral issues.

Sadly, far too many Americans spend more than they earn 
and rely too heavily on credit cards and borrowed funds. 
And most are not saving enough (if anything) for their 
futures. 

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In 2006, as news of rising foreclosure rates began gather-
ing steam, our national savings rate hit the lowest level 
since the Great Depression -- negative 1 percent. Compare 
that to the 1.5 percent that Americans were saving in 1933. 
You don’t even have to go back that far, actually: We were 
saving 4.5 percent a decade ago. And back in the 1980s, 
the rate was in double digits, according to Peter Russo, 
a professor at Vanderbilt University.

It’s clear that we drifted badly from two bedrock American 
virtues: thrift and personal financial responsibility. 
And now that the economy is struggling, we’re all … well, 
paying the price.

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Some of the most famous sayings of Benjamin Franklin 
stress thrift -- and the foolishness of wasteful spending. 
“A penny saved is a penny earned” is perhaps the most 
famous, but there are others, such as “Buy what thou hast 
no need of, and e’er long thou shalt sell thy necessaries” 
and “He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing.” The other 
founding fathers also emphasized the importance of good 
character is sustaining a representative democracy. And 
thrift is clearly a crucial aspect of good character.

It’s also a hallmark of genuine capitalism. “One should 
be a civilized man, saving something, and not a savage, 
consuming every day all that which he has earned,” steel 
magnate Andrew Carnegie writes in his book “The Empire 
of Business.” According to him, thrift was the “first 
duty” of those who aspire to wealth.

That isn’t news to those who read the Bible, though. 
"The wise man saves for the future,” we read in Proverbs 
21:20, “but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.” 
Let’s strive -- and pray -- to conduct our future fin-
ancial affairs with wisdom.

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