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?  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, Beyond Our Means highlights the role of institutions in shaping habits of saving and spending, and 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. A specialist in modern Japanese history, he also writes transnational history that spotlights the flow of ideas and institutions among the U.S., Japan, and European and Asian countries. His new book, Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves (Princeton University Press) examines what Americans might learn from East Asian and European nations whose public policies have vigorously encouraged citizens to save. Publications include The State and Labor in Modern Japan (1987), Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (1997); and the co-edited volume, The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West (2006). He is a frequent commentator on the historical dimensions of contemporary developments.

This is a free public event, but RSVPs are requested.



  • Sheldon Garon

  • Kent Hughes

    Public Policy Fellow
  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project