"Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves"

Professor Sheldon Garon, Department of History, University of Princeton, New Jersey

Chair:                 Professor Glenn D.Hook, University of Sheffield School of East Asian Studies

Commentators:   Professor Janet Hunter, London School of Economics and Professor Alan Brinkley,

                          Columbia University

Date:  Friday 24 February 2012, 4pm - 5.45pm
Venue:  The Tapestry Room, Firth Hall, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TD
Event type:

National Institute of Japanese Studies Annual Distinguished Lecture

Please note it is not necessary to reserve a place and all are very welcome to attend this Lecture.  Please see speaker and commentator profiles as below.

Abstract of Sheldon Garon’s Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves. (or While East Asia and Europe Save).

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, the book highlights the role of institutions and moral suasion in shaping habits of saving and spending.  From Europe to Japan, 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.  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 frequently appears in the media, commenting on the historical dimensions of contemporary developments. 

Professor Janet Hunter

Janet Hunter is Saji Professor of Economic History, LSE, and Head of the Economic History Department. 
Her research interests lie in the economic development of Japan with particular reference to the late 19th and
early 20th century. Her major publications include: History of Anglo-Japanese Relations, 1600-2000: Economic
Relations (with S. Sugiyama, 2001) and Women and the Labour Market in Japan's Industrialising Economy: the
Textile Market Before the Pacific War (2003; Japanese edition, 2008); The Historical Consumer: Consumption and
Everyday Life in Japan, 1850-2000 (with P.Francks, 2011). She has also worked on the development of the postal
service in Japan, and is currently researching on the economic impact of natural disasters, focussing in particular on
the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

Professor Alan Brinkley

Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1991.
He served as University Provost from 2003 to 2009 and as chair of the Department of History from 2000 to 2003.
In 1998-99, he was the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University, and in 20011-2012 is the
Pitt Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge.

 His published works include Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression (1982), which won the 1983 National Book Award; The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (1995); Liberalism and Its Discontents (1998); Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2009); The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century (2010), which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and which received the Sperber Prize and the Ambassador Book Award; John F, Kennedy (forthcoming 2012); and two American history textbooks:  American History: A Survey (1982 and subsequent editions), and The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People (1992 and subsequent editions).  

 He was the recipient of the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize at Harvard in 1987 and the Great Teacher Award at Columbia in 2003.  He is chair of the board of trustees of the Century Foundation, chair of the board of trustees of the National Humanities Center, and a trustee of Oxford University Press.  He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.