If the financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that Americans save too little, spend too much, and borrow excessively. What can we learn from East Asian and European countries that have fostered enduring cultures of thrift over the past two centuries? Beyond Our Means tells for the first time how other nations aggressively encouraged their citizens to save by means of special savings institutions and savings campaigns. The U.S. government, meanwhile, promoted mass consumption and reliance on credit, culminating in the global financial meltdown.
Many economists believe people save according to universally rational calculations, saving the most in their middle years as they plan for retirement, and saving the least in welfare states. In reality, Europeans save at high rates despite generous welfare programs and aging populations. Americans save little, despite weaker social safety nets and a younger population. Tracing the development of such behaviors across three continents from the nineteenth century to today, this book highlights the role of institutions and moral suasion in shaping habits of saving and spending. It shows how the encouragement of thrift was not a relic of indigenous traditions but a modern movement to confront rising consumption. Around the world, messages to save and spend wisely confronted citizens everywhere--in schools, magazines, and novels. At the same time, in America, businesses and government normalized practices of living beyond one's means.
Transnational history at its most compelling, Beyond Our Means reveals why some nations save so much and others so little.
Sheldon Garon is the Nissan Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Princeton University. He is the author of Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (Princeton) and coeditor of The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West.
"Garon makes a powerful case that savings isn't about culture. It's policy. . . . You'll think about savings policies differently after [you] pick up a copy of Beyond Our Means."--Christopher Farrell, economics editor of Marketplace Money
"Professor Garon offers brilliant scholarship, engaging reading, and some practical insights for dealing with our current financial crisis worldwide. An insightful and provocative book that . . . will be a unique and important volume for historians, policymakers, and the general public."--Claude Ury, San Francisco Book Review
"How the Anglo-world came to live 'beyond their means . . . while the world saves' is the big question of Sheldon Garon's fascinating book. It could not be more timely. Readers who worry that it might be too technical, do not fear. This is a history of flesh and blood, as Garon reclaims the topic from the economists. Facts and figures are surrounded by real people and rich illustrations that convey how passionate societies came to be about saving. Postal saving has never been so sexy."--Frank Trentmann, BBC History Magazine
"Garon's policy recommendations could help shift the national trend towards saving more and position Americans towards greater financial health."--Worth
"[O]ne of the world's leading authorities on the history of saving."--Joshua Rothman, Boston Globe
"[A] fascinating new book. . . . Garon believes the tide can turn, and offers some levelheaded policy suggestions for how America can restore a lasting balance between spending and saving."--Larry Cox, King Features Weekly Service
"[A] very important book for critics of capitalism. . . . Garon explains in an ambitious book that roams across centuries and continents . . . why much of Europe and Asia embraced, and stuck with, a savings culture while the US first adopted and then abandoned one. It's intriguing social history."--Stephen Matchett, Australian
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: The Origins of Saving in the Western World 17
Chapter 2: Organizing Thrift in the Age of Nation-States 48
Chapter 3: America the Exceptional 84
Chapter 4: Japanese Traditions of Diligence and Thrift 120
Chapter 5: Saving for the New Japan 143
Chapter 6: Mobilizing for the Great War 168
Chapter 7: Save Now, Buy Later: World War II and Beyond 194
Chapter 8: "Luxury is the Enemy": Japan in Peace and War 221
Chapter 9: Postwar Japan's National Salvation 255
Chapter 10. Exporting Thrift, or the Myth of "Asian Values" 292
Chapter 11. "There IS Money. Spend It": America since 1945 317
Chapter 12. Keep on Saving? Questions for the Twenty-fi rst Century 356
Selected Bibliography 435
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Sheldon Garon: