The paradox of thrift

If one person saves more, then it will increase that person’s consumption possibilities in the future. If, however, everyone saves more, and hence spends less, then businesses will earn less and are likely to respond by producing less if the decline in aggregate demand continues. Hence if a country saves more, people could be worse off. That’s the paradox of thrift.

There is considerable debate around the world at the moment about the desirability of austerity policies. The debate has become more intense with the worsening economic outlook in many European countries and with the election in France of François Hollande who rejects many of the austerity measures of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

But can further stimulus be given to aggregate demand without causing a further worsening of countries’ public-sector debt positions and causing a fall in confidence in financial markets? And how would that impact on investment?

And in the meantime, as the economic outlook darkens, people are trying to save more, despite low interest rates. The paradox of thrift seems to be getting more acute. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)


How National Belt-Tightening Goes Awry New York Times, Robert J. Shiller (19/5/12)
Japan disease is spreading: High risk and low returns Firstpost (India), Vivek Kaul (17/5/12)
The Solution can not be More Debt Huffington Post, Jill Shaw Ruddock (29/5/12)
Crediting debt Breaking Views, Edward Hadas (30/5/12)
Green investments can overcome the paradox of thrift New Statesman, Dimitri Zenghelis (7/6/12)
Austerity has never worked Guardian, Ha-Joon Chang (4/6/12)
The False Choice Between Austerity And Growth Forbes (24/5/12)
It’s not a case of austerity v stimulus for Europe Guardian, Paul Haydon (1/6/12)


UK households’ saving ratio: series NRJS ONS
Household saving rates for OECD countries StatExtracts: OECD


  1. Why may we be experiencing a paradox of thrift at the current time?
  2. What are the arguments for the use of fiscal and monetary policies to expand aggregate demand at the current time?
  3. What are the arguments against the use of fiscal and monetary policies to expand aggregate demand at the current time?
  4. Can economic growth be stimulated by a redistribution of aggregate demand and, if so, in what way?
  5. Can green investment overcome the paradox of thrift?
  6. To what extent are demand-side and supply-side policies (a) complementary; (b) contradictory? Or, to put the question another way, to what extent may policies to encourage growth in the long term damage growth in the short term and vice versa?