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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.


“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: #3,197,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Hedlund on June 13, 2008
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: Paperback
The first thing to notice is that there is no question mark, meaning that professor Wilcox thinks he knows the answers. Maybe he does. Starting by saying there are no simple answers. He advances a plethora of reasons and in my opinion he selects the wrong ones. Aware of the multitude of government disincentives to save he is mesmerized by his psychology colleagues into overestimating the importance of anchoring and manipulation of default choices. Keeping up with the Jones's was very apt when J.K Galbreath wrote 'The Affluent American' in 1958. It's much less significant now.

Wilcox exhibits expertize showing measurement methods of savings by National Incomes and Product Accounts (NIPA) and Flow of Funds (FOF). But after a good start the book deteriorates quickly. Data shows declining savings rate from 1975 to 2006, with rich saving a larger percentage of income than the poor. Not much of a surprise. Consumer credit is an effect rather than a cause and overwork by greedy corporations is a myth. He does point out that policy makes for cheap money and asks whether we are doing anything right.

The book deals with mutual fund fees and SEC disclosure policy, getting far removed from the topic of thrift. It's more in the nature of investment advice than anything to do with thrift. In condescending manner the author thinks that his readers might have trouble converting annual charges to a monthly reckoning. He's behind the time in store labeling which no longer incorporates a price tag. Suggestions for public policy changes amount to wishful thinking hubris advice to government.

Suggestions to encourage a reversion of the US to a thrift mentality are mostly wishful thinking, overlooking the active hostility of government monetary and fiscal policy a well as propaganda.
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