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Putting self-denial on trial

Gordon Brown’s inclination to spend his way out of the recession seemed paradoxical—inspiring belt-tightening in many of us and, most recently, in himself too. His government’s latest budget has emphasised the need for efficiency savings. But is thrift a virtue—or just a smokescreen for brutal cuts when times turn tough?

The case for thrift has a long pedigree. “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants,” argued Epictetus, a 1st century Stoic. In other words, freed from the desire to acquire, you won’t be upset if you lack what others covet. Besides, tying happiness to changeable…

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