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Commentary

FRUM: Americans will continue to save

Marketplace Staff Dec 22, 2010
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Commentary

FRUM: Americans will continue to save

Marketplace Staff Dec 22, 2010
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TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: This may not be the perfect moment to mention this, what with all the holiday spending that’s going on out there, and the fact that the economy needs that spending, but we’re actually saving more now that we used to. Commentator David Frum says that’s a good thing.


David Frum: Americans are saving again. More than six cents out of every check goes unspent. A big change from the past decade when the saving rate dropped to nearly nothing.

Is the change permanent? Or will all our good resolutions dissipate with a reviving economy? We all could use a new pair of shoes.

I’ll go out on a limb here and propose, yes, I think the change will endure. Americans have passed through a searing generational experience. Nobody who lived through the crash of 2008 will ever again believe that a rising home price or stock portfolio can substitute for money in the bank.

More than 14 million Americans still owe more on their homes than their homes are worth. They have to save if they ever wish to move without defaulting on their loan. The biggest bulge of the baby boom — Americans born after 1958 — are moving into their 50s; for most of us the last clear chance to accumulate financial assets before retirement.

This President’s deficit commission may go nowhere. But I think we all sense that people who retire in, say, the 2020s, will be receiving a less generous deal from the government than people who retired in the 1990s. So we’d better prepare accordingly. International comparisons of savings rates are shaky, countries calculate these statistics in different ways. But our future may look more like the double-digit savings rates of Japan and Germany than like the profligate past, where we thought our houses would do our saving for us.

Ryssdal: David Frum is the founder of Frum Forum, and in a past life, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Next Wednesday, Robert Reich. Your thoughts, anytime.

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