The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

Upcoming Event: Beyond Our Means

Published:  December 1, 2011
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Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves by Sheldon Garon

On December 13th, the Asset Building Program is pleased to welcome author and professor Sheldon Garon to speak about his new book, Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves. You can join us in person at 4:00 p.m. on the 13th or online for the live webcast (registration is not required for the online webcast).

Professor Garon’s book explores the ways in which Americans’ savings habits diverge from people in other high-income countries around the world. Economists theorize that saving over a lifetime looks like an inverted U. In this model, children save little since they are financially dependent on family. Financial independence and adulthood signal a dramatic uptick in savings, as adults (hopefully) earn enough to live and put some money away for the future. As adults transition into retirement age, they stop saving and begin to deplete what they have stored up over the years. In reality, however, saving behavior varies across space and time, often defying logic and rational thought.  For example, economists would expect that people living in countries with lower retirement benefits would save at high rates because they know they cannot count on that form of support in old age. A comparison of European and American savings rates, however, shows that Europeans, who have more robust social welfare programs to rely on, actually save at higher rates than their American counterparts. Garon looks at savings trends and institutional support for saving across three continents over several centuries to try to explain this paradoxical behavior. As he notes in a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, systems have played an instrumental role in shaping behavior. He writes, “rather than democratize saving, the American system rapidly democratized credit.” The preponderance of credit has shaped American saving habits and expectations, frequently in a way that diminishes retirement security for many Americans.

Ray Boshara, Senior Advisor with the Federal Reserve Board of St. Louis, will offer his take on the book, and Justin King of the New America Foundation will serve as moderator. A reception will follow the event, providing an opportunity for more discussion with the author and colleagues on the issues presented. 

If you or your organization is on Twitter, follow the Asset Building Program @AssetsNAF for up-to-date information about this and future events and news from the savings and asset building world. 

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