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American Misfits and the Making of Middle-Class Respectability$
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Robert Wuthnow

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780691176864

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691176864.001.0001

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Excessive Profits

Excessive Profits

Wealth, Morality, and the Common People

(p.187) Chapter Six Excessive Profits
American Misfits and the Making of Middle-Class Respectability

Robert Wuthnow

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses how the wealthy provided a contrasting category—an “other”—that offered ordinary, nonwealthy Americans ways to think about who we were by discussing who we were not. The wealthy had what everyone else presumably wanted: money, power, lavish homes, the wherewithal to live in luxury. They could be the standard to which ordinary people aspired, the best evidence that the American Dream could be attained. However, popular discussions frequently set them apart negatively. Their wealth and power seemed excessive, undemocratic, perhaps immoral, and at times harmful to the well-being of society. Criticism increased during economic crises and when concentrated wealth seemed to be accumulating at everyone else's expense. Critics said the wealthy were greedy, shallow, unfair, manipulative, perhaps guilty of fraud, and on occasion guilty of profiteering. The criticisms also reflected ideals to which ordinary people were expected to adhere.

Keywords:   profiteering, profiteers, American middle class, nineteenth century

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