Tackling the paradox of thrift

One of the structural problems facing the UK economy is that people have been borrowing too much and saving too little. As a result, vast numbers of people have been living on credit and accumulating large debts, and many people have little in the way of savings when they retire.

So should the government or Bank of England be encouraging people to save? Not according to Charles Bean, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England – at least not in the short term. While acknowledging that people should be saving more over the long term, he argues that the main purpose of the historically low Bank Rate since the beginning of 2009 has been to encourage people to spend, thereby boosting the economy. In other words, if the purpose of a loose monetary policy is to increase aggregate demand and stimulate the economy, then what is needed is increased consumption and reduced saving, not increased saving.

In the following webcast, Charles Bean gives his views about interest rates and counters the criticism that savers are being pid too little interest. He argues that for many the solution is to start drawing on some of their capital – not a solution that most savers find very appealing!

Bank of England: savers should eat into cash Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (27/9/10)

Savers told to stop moaning and start spending Telegraph, Robert Winnett and Myra Butterworth (28/9/10)
Bean Says Bank of England Trying to Get Reasonable Economic Activity Level Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Gonzalo Vina (27/9/10)
Spend, spend, spend, demands Bank of England deputy governor Investment & Business News , Tom Harris (28/9/10)

International saving data (see Table 23) Economic Outlook, OECD
AMECO on line (see tables in section 15.3) AMECO, Economic and Financial Affairs (European Commission)
Economic and Labour Market Review (see Table 1.07) National Statistics


  1. What is meant by the ‘paradox of thrift’?
  2. Reconcile the argument that it is in the long-term interests of the UK economy for people to save more with the Bank of England’s current intention that people should save less?
  3. Is there a parallel argument about fiscal policy and government spending (see the news item The ‘paradox of cuts’?)
  4. What are the determinants of saving?
  5. Look at the data links above and compare the UK’s saving rate with that of other countries.
  6. What has happened to the UK saving rate over the past four years? Attempt an explanation of this.