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Propositions Institute in the Public Square

Our Mission

Through research, public education, civic action and policy reforms, our aim is to promote savings opportunities and incentives for Americans of modest means and to establish thrift as a broadly achievable, financially rewarding and culturally favored way of life.

Our Story

Our project began in 2005 with a scholarly inquiry into the meaning and history of thrift as an American value and practice. Back then, thrift had been nearly forgotten. Indeed, many smart people at the time argued that thrift was an obstacle to economic growth and prosperity. It was not saving and conserving, they claimed, but borrowing and spending that would produce a new post-thrift prosperity for all.

As we now know, their prediction of post-thrift prosperity never materialized. What did materialize was a mountain of debt for many families who had used easy access to expensive consumer credit to borrow and spend more than they could afford. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, however, Americans are now changing their habits. They are reducing spending, replenishing savings, and conserving energy. For the moment, thrift is back in favor.

The challenge for the years ahead is to ensure that the resurgence of thrift is not simply a short-term response to the hard times of the Great Recession but a path to sustained and broadly shared good times for the 21st century.

We are committed to working to create such a future.

Nest and Nest-Egg Initiative

The Nest and Nest-egg initiative is dedicated to exploring and promoting the best ways to strengthen marriage and thrift as broadly achievable pathways into the American middle class.

To rebuild the nest: We seek to eliminate the disincentives to marriage in law, public policy and popular culture and to strengthen marriage as the culturally favored and socially supported child-rearing institution.

To build a nest-egg: We seek to build pro-thrift institutions for those Americans who have increasingly turned to "anti-thrift" institutions such as payday lenders and government lotteries in the hopes of getting ahead.


Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead is the Director of the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity. She is the lead researcher and author of For A New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture, an Institute for American Values-led report that New York Times columnist David Brooks called "one of the most important think tank reports" of 2008. With David Blankenhorn and Sorcha Brophy Warren she co-edited Franklin's Thrift: The Lost History of an American Virtue (Templeton Press 2009). For the next few years, she will be exploring how families can get out of debt and build assets.

Dr. Whitehead was a co-director of Rutgers' National Marriage Project for nine years and has written widely on marriage, divorce, contemporary courtship and child well-being for such publications as the Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Her books include: The Divorce Culture: Rethinking Our Commitments to Marriage and the Family (Knopf, 1997) and Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman (Broadway Books, 2003). Her 1993 Atlantic Monthly article, "Dan Quayle Was Right" won an EMMA award from the National Women's Political Caucus and was featured in the 150-year retrospective, The American Idea: The Best of the Atlantic Monthly (2007).

Whitehead grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, the oldest of eight children. She attended public schools, received a BA in history from the University of Wisconsin and attended Columbia University on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. In May 1968, she and her husband left Columbia and moved to Chicago. She later attended the University of Chicago on a Ford Foundation Fellowship and received an MA and PhD in American history.

David Blankenhorn

David Blankenhorn is president of the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan organization devoted to strengthening families and civil society in the U.S. and the world.

Blankenhorn is the author of Fatherless America (Basic Books, 1995), The Future of Marriage (Encounter Books, 2007), and Thrift: A Cyclopedia (Templeton Foundation Press, 2008). He is the co-editor of eight books, including Franklin's Thrift: The Lost History of an American Virtue (Templeton Press 2009).

A frequent lecturer, Blankenhorn's articles have appeared in scores of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Public Interest, First Things, and Christianity Today. He has been profiled by the New York Times, USA Today, CBS Evening News and other news organizations, and has been featured on numerous national television programs, including Oprah, 20/20, CBS This Morning, The Today Show, Charlie Rose, ABC Evening News, and C-SPAN's Washington Perspectives.

In 1977, he graduated magna cum laude in social studies from Harvard, where he was president of Phillips Brooks House, the campus community service center, and the recipient of a John Knox Fellowship. In 1978, he was awarded an M.A. with distinction in comparative social history from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England.

Claire Gaudiani

Claire Gaudiani is Adjunct Professor at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and Senior Fellow at the Institute for American Values. Dr. Gaudiani served from 1988-2001 as president of Connecticut College and from 2001-2004 as a senior research scholar at the Yale Law School. She holds ten honorary doctorates and was awarded the Henry Rosso Medal for distinguished service to philanthropy from the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Dr. Gaudiani's is the author most recently of Generosity Unbound: How American Philanthropy Can Strengthen the Economy and Expand the Middle Class (Broadway Publications, September 2010). Her other books include: The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism (Henry Holt, 2003) and Generosity Rules! A Guidebook to Giving (iUniverse, 2007).

Charles E. Stokes

Charles E. Stokes is the Roy Bergengren Fellow at the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity. He is working on several projects for the Center, including analyzing new, national survey data on the savings habits of Americans of modest means.

Dr. Stokes's work with the Center fits within his larger research agenda of investigating and articulating how institutions influence culture, and subsequently, behavior. His studies have appeared in several peer-reviewed journals including Journal of Marriage and Family, Social Science Research, Journal of Family Issues, Review of Religious Research, and Sociological Spectrum.

Stokes earned his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin before returning to his alma mater, Samford University, as a Scholar-in-Residence. He happily resides in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and two children.

Andrew Kline

Andrew Kline is the Director of Thrift Education at the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values. Andy graduated from Dartmouth College in 1979, and Yale Divinity School in 1983, and has served for 28 years as an ordained pastor in the Episcopal Church in a wide variety of congregations. He is the author of countless sermons, newsletter articles and a few editorials, most recently, "The Decline and Rise of Thrift" in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Andy heads up the effort to develop an authoritative yet flexible curriculum with accessible resources for teaching thrift in schools, civic organizations, houses of worship and youth organizations. Along with spreading the Good News of Thrift, he currently serves as chaplain to an historic African American congregation in a challenging urban environment. He currently resides in Bryn Mawr, PA.