A spendthrift (also called profligate) is someone who spends money prodigiously and who is extravagant and recklessly wasteful. The origin of the word is someone who is able to spend money acquired by the thrift of predecessors or ancestors.

Historical examples of spendthrifts include George IV, Ludwig II, and Marie Antoinette. The term is often applied sarcastically in the press as an adjective to governments who are thought to be wasting public money. William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress displays in graphical form the downwardly spiraling fortunes of a wealthy but spendthrift son and heir who loses his money, and who as a consequence is imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and ultimately Bedlam.

Legal issues

The modern legal remedy for spendthrifts is usually bankruptcy. However, during the 19th and 20th centuries, a few jurisdictions, such as the U.S. states of Oregon and Massachusetts, experimented with laws under which the family of such a person could have him legally declared a "spendthrift" by a court of law. In turn, such persons were considered to lack the legal capacity to enter into binding contracts. Even though such laws made life harder for creditors (who now had the burden of ensuring that any prospective debtor had not been judicially declared a spendthrift), they were thought to be justified by the public policy of keeping a spendthrift's family from ending up in the poorhouse or on welfare.

Such laws have since been abolished in favor of modern bankruptcy, which is more favorable to creditors.


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