Poor Richard's Principle: Recovering the American Dream through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, & Money

Citation: 
Wuthnow, Robert. Poor Richard's Principle: Recovering the American Dream through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, & Money. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Abstract: 

Drawing on published literature, historical texts, and an extensive survey of the U.S. labor force, Wuthnow examines the moral values and feelings which underlie U.S. material life. He concludes that the American dream is in trouble because national economic life has lost its moral underpinnings. In the past a common moral perspective guided the way people in the United States thought about life and work, and this was grounded in participation and responsibility in the community and family. Now, many find themselves engaged in a struggle for survival, frenetically juggling commitments to their work and family, and their public and personal lives. Using firsthand accounts from people in all walks of life, Wuthnow observes that work and money cannot be understood in terms of economic theories alone, but are inevitably rooted in people's self- concepts and in the symbolic rituals and taboos of everyday life. Examining these cultural understandings of work and money, the author offers a foundation for methods to bring moral reasoning more fully to bear on economic decisions. He re-visits moral perspectives prominent earlier in America's history, showing how they were set aside with the development of economistic thinking. Wuthnow also argues that most people in the United States bring their values to bear on their economic decisions, but often do so implicitly and unconsciously. He offers an analysis of how moral restraint can once again play a prominent role in guiding national economic decision-making. (SM)

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