On the Machiavellian Virtue of Parsimony

It's sufficient to focus on being frugal, stingy, and parsimonious

In a freedom-loving market culture such as ours (21st century capitalism), frugality and stinginess are often seen as idle curiosities. But when used as an ideological cornerstone, parsimony has little to do with reusing dental floss or eating bone marrow. It's no coincidence that Machiavelli praises parsimony as a virtue in The Prince. Businesses must reduce cost to survive in the marketplace and animals must conserve energy to survive in the wild. The attitude of carefree consumption that virtually everyone is indoctrinated to assume today may not last. In the long term, ideologies solidly based on parsimony will have a distinct competitive advantage.

Due to a series of unlikely coincidences I was brought up in a rich family that practiced parsimony like a religion. As a child, I don't recall ever seeing a situation in which lack of money prevented us from getting what we wanted. My family would sometimes stay in a 5 star hotel and sometimes in the most run-down motel and I did not understand the difference in prestige. They were the same to me. After all, both places have roughly the same amenities. There's a TV and hot water. Neither place has any toys to play with, so what does a child care? My parents would choose what seemed like the best deal. As a result, I never learned to associate "comfort" with having useless material junk like everyone else.

I lived in a big house growing up, but I never knew that this symbolized socio-economic status. My classmates lived in townhomes or small houses, but I assumed that those places couldn't be cheaper because my parents never spent more money than necessary. Rock bottom price was consistently applied as the sole criterion for every purchase. I often didn't see the price of big ticket items, so I couldn't see any contradictions in their ways. My parents made everything seem logically consistent, so I embraced their ways.

There were tons of toys that I wanted and if I waited until Christmas, I'd eventually get everything I asked for. My parents never let me feel that there was something I couldn't have. Once I grew up, material things had become boring to me. My savings rate today is 90%. I only spent a few years of my life working.

There may be other people in the world who are as parsimonious as me, but I've never met any. I can't tell because parsimony alone doesn't mean you'll try to look for others like you. But I think you would because no matter how often people claim not to be concerned with material things, their actions contradict their words all the time. I think you'd go crazy spending too much time associating with people who need all these useless things.