23 September 2010

The good news is that Americans aren't spending

Many politicians and economists alike are decrying the fact that Americans have rediscovered thrift. After a decades-long binge of maxing out their credit cards, American consumers are deciding to put a little more in the bank, or under their mattresses, or wherever.

Americans' personal savings rate had dropped from around 10 per cent in the 1970s to zero by the time the recession hit, but has now been over five per cent for almost two years. Before the recession, Americans bought on average 16.6 million vehicles a year. The forecast for 2010 is 12 million, and passenger cars have largely replaced SUVs and pickup trucks. Of course, much of the reduced spending is due to unemployment; nonetheless there seems to be a mood of thrift in the country and it seems to be increasing. While promoters of endless growth complain that all this saving will not help lift the economy out of recession, those who believe there are limits to growth are encouraged. The Earth is finite after all.

Although most economists believe this is temporary and Americans will eventually return to their free-spending ways, it is possible, remotely perhaps but possible nonetheless, that Americans, and the rest of us, will come to our senses before we consume ourselves into environmental collapse.

Well ... we can always dream.

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