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Whatever Happened to Thrift?: Why Americans Don't Save and What to Do about It Hardcover – June 24, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's a much bemoaned fact that Americans who fail to sock money away in savings accounts and investments risk severe hardship once they hit retirement age or fall on tough times. What's far less obvious is how to turn these overspenders into savers. Wilcox draws insights from economics and psychology to tackle this challenge in his slim but sensible volume. His analysis of our prodigal ways is slight—a historian or cultural critic might have handled this question with more depth and aplomb—but his policy prescriptions are comprehensive, insightful and well argued. Wilcox explores radical measures, such as replacing the income tax with a consumption tax, as well as simple and easily implemented programs such as automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans and requiring more fee disclosure from investment firms. He observes that current incentives skew toward the wealthy and highlights ways to give lower-income Americans access to savings vehicles like mutual funds. As Wilcox wisely notes, there's no magic bullet for America's savings crisis, but a patchwork of practical solutions, small and large, could significantly increase workers' long-term financial security. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“With vivid examples from everyday experience, Ronald Wilcox pulls together the best thinking from economics, finance, psychology, and policy analysis on how we can return our nation and ourselves to the path of saving.”—J. Mark Iwry, Nonresident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution and Research Professor, Georgetown University
(J. Mark Iwry)

"Savings is the engine that powers people’s future. Unfortunately, Americans don’t do enough of it. This book captures the essence of the problem and quickly turns to the opportunity for individuals and business leaders to take steps that can make the future brighter for all of us."—Michael D. Fraizer, CEO, Genworth Financial
(Michael D. Fraizer)

"Failure to prepare for retirement is directly related to overspending and low savings rates, says Ronald Wilcox. . . . He suggests the failure of profligate North American Baby Boomers to save means they will eventually pressure governments to introduce 'measures that transfer wealth from the people who have saved responsibly to those who have not.'"—Jonathan Chevreau, Financial Post
(Jonathan Chevreau Financial Post 2008-05-14)

"A surprisingly witty guide to a gloomy subject: the complete inability of the world's richest nation to save."—Pat Regnier, Money Magazine
(Pat Regnier Money Magazine 2008-06-01)

"Mr. Wilcox has an enviably lively prose style and an admirable commitment to brevity. . . . Much of what he says is both correct and valuable. A conscientious reader could easily secure a comfortable retirement by taking his advice to heart."—Steven E. Landsburg, Wall Street Journal
(Steven E. Landsburg Wall Street Journal 2008-06-05)

"There is much in Whatever Happened to Thrift? worth thinking about-interesting stuff, and sufficiently well written to be accessible to any reader."—Irwin M. Stelzer, Weekly Standard
(Irwin M. Stelzer Weekly Standard 2008-07-28)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300124511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300124514
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,209,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is not the type of book I typically read. However, once I started reading it I found the writing style engaging and the book well organized.

At a time when the government is sending all Americans generous stimulus checks along with instructions to "spend, spend, spend" Wilcox points out the importance of savings at both a national and a personal level.

According to the author, the widening income gap between the very wealthy and everyone else is a contributing factor to the historically low levels of savings in America.

Wilcox goes on to talk about various policies that both governmental and corporate leaders can adopt to encourage savings. While Some of these policies such as a consumption tax and a partial privatization of social security suggest a conservative agenda, the book reads more as a common-sense analysis than a political screed.

Wilcox's writing style makes subject matter that would ordinarily be both depressing and dry very readable. I found it an entertaining, if depressing, read that made me personally insecure in my savings and will hopefully have the same affect on our nation's leaders.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long been intrigued to find an explanation for Pareto's law. Wilfred Pareto, the Italian economist, found interesting phenomena when he researched who had most of the income and wealth in Italy in the early 1900's. He was surprised to find that 20% of the population had 80% of the income or 80% of the wealth. He found the same phenomena when he researched England in the late 1800's. This phenomenon has come to be called the Pareto Rule...or the 80:20 Rule.

If you check the USA today, you will find Pareto's Rule is still alive and well. 20% of the population has about 80% of the income and about 90% of the financial wealth.

I have been interested in finding out why this phenomenon has held across 3 countries for over 100 years. I have searched for why 20% of the people save and invest their money versus spending it all.

Wilcox starts out his book disproving what he calls 2 cocktail party theories for why Americans don't save more.

His first cocktail party theory is that Americans don't save enough because of easy access to credit cards. He argues that most Americans handle credit cards responsibly.

His second cocktail party theory is that American's don't save enough because greedy U.S. corporations overwork Americans.......and therefore we spend recklessly with the little free time that we have. He argues that other societies work more hours per year and they save more.

Wilcox then places most of the causation for America's low savings rates on two linked factors. He contends that Americans are driven to keep up with the next door Joneses in terms of buying things versus saving. He then argues their has been a huge increase in income inequality in the US from 1980 until 2003.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought and enjoyed. Its well written and covers the subject from beginning to well. A suggested end. The topic of "thrift" or "rate of household savings" can be rather dry or can focus on purely scholarly thoughts. This book strikes a balance between an easy read and a thoughful discourse that requires a little thought before you turn the page.

I urge others to buy this book and then pass it only to others for them to read.
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Format: Hardcover
The professor identifies the many complex reasons why Americans don't save enough in the first half of the book. In the second half he provides practical solutions. If they were all implemented it hard to believe that Americans over time would not become more thrifty. Professor Wilcox is pessimistic about the difficulties of changing American culture. But perhaps this deep and long once-in-a-hundred-year recession (in not depression) caused by excessive spending on housing will give thrift an opening and allow it to creep into the culture. That might be the only positive thing that comes out of this disaster. Recently there were record declines in retail sales. A clear sign that thrift, driven by fear, is getting a foot-hold, at least in the short run. The author struck just the right balance. Not too technical. Not too simple.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is valuable because it discusses how the psychology of money influences how we spend it, how we save it, etc. The policy recommendations are based on these psychological factors and most seem sound. It was a pretty easy read and was definitely worth buying.
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Format: Hardcover
This book really opened my eyes to the importance of saving. This was the first time I really grasped how individuals' lack of savings can adversely affect the nation as a whole. Wilcox's style is entertaining, and he always illustrates concepts with an interesting example or personal story.

More important, Wilcox made me realize the tricks I've been playing on myself that can sabotage my financial future. I'll never think about money the same way again.

This is a perfect book for anyone who's concerned about the savings crisis or wants to save more and make better investment choices. Parents should buy it for their children who are in college, recently employed or starting a family - and then read it themselves. This book is a wealth of information for people at all stages of life.

This is NOT the same old personal finance advice you've heard before. Wilcox's advice is uniquely tailored because he draws from research in many fields (psychology, economics, finance, etc.) to give readers useful information about one topic - how to save more money.
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