Anglo-Saxons: Natural Spendthrifts?

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Should American and British citizens blame their reckless spending on houses and consumer goods in the lead-up to the financial crisis on their nationality?

When it comes to spending money freely, William Underhill argues at Newsweek, the Americans and the British are world leaders:

For years, Americans had been saving only 2 or 3 percent of their income, compared with 10 percent or more in European and Asian countries. The British, in turn, amassed even larger amounts of personal debt. By 2008, average household debt had reached 183 percent of annual disposable income, the highest level of any major economy.

While there are signs that people in both countries are becoming thriftier in their savings and credit card use, Underhill isn't convinced. For example, he explains, "Americans have pared back their personal debt ... But skeptics point out that much of the overall decline has come as a result of home foreclosures and defaults on credit-card debt, hardly an indicator of improved habits of personal finance."

Ultimately, however, Underhill rejects the notion that generations of consumers in The United Kingdom and The United States "have grown up with the idea of instant consumer gratification and the credit culture that comes with it" because of American or British culture:

Carmen Reinhart, a University of Maryland economist who has studied the debt history of many different countries, says habits of spending, saving, and going into debt have little to do with national traits. It's not moral turpitude that breeds profligacy, she says, but easy access to credit ... In other words, it's not a return to sobriety and rectitude that will keep the credit-crazed out of the red. A tougher line on lending just might do the trick.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.