Coming Event: The Real Story about Investment and Savings

Back in January, I promised to start running lunchtime events on interpreting economic statistics in the new global economy.

I’m ready for the first one– “Lunch at PPI: The Real Story about Investment and Savings.” The blurb is below–and when we say seating is strictly limited, we mean it. RSVP to

Lunch at PPI: The Real Story about Investment and Savings

Dr. Michael Mandel will lead a lunch forum for journalists and policymakers to discuss key trends in U.S. and global savings and investment, with the goal of identifying potential story ideas and policy opportunities. Topics will include why investment in physical, human, and knowledge capital is essential for the future of the U.S. economy, and an examination of why the government data measuring savings and investment are woefully incomplete and misleading. Dr. Mandel is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, formerly award-winning chief economist at BusinessWeek. Strictly limited seating.

Date: March 21
Time: 12 noon
Progressive Policy Institute
1730 Rhode Island Avenue NW Suite 308
Washington DC 20036

National Savings at the Lowest Level Since the Depression

In a recent NYT article entitled “Americans Are Finally Saving. How Did That Happen?” Ron Lieber wrote:

 This was the year of the return to financial sobriety — if you judge such things by the nation’s personal savings rate

 Most other journalists and economists have take the same position–that Americans have reacted to the recession by saving more.

But for the U.S. economy as a whole, the savings rate has not gone up–it’s actually fallen .

What we see here is that the net national savings–the sum of personal, corporate, and government savings, net of depreciation–has been plunging rather than rising .  The net national savings rate fell to -2.5% in the third quarter of 2009, its lowest level since the  Great Depression.  That’s astounding low.

What’s going on here? As this chart shows, savings in the private sector has been on the rise, including both household and corporate savings, as most people believe.  

But the government is running such big deficits that they swamp the savings gains in the private sectors.

Here’s another way of putting it: The government is borrowing a lot of money and transferring it to the private sector, through fiscal and monetary stimulus. The private sector is using some of those transfers to boost savings.  But on net,  the country’s savings rate as a whole is falling.

No financial sobriety here.

Note: These charts use savings net of depreciation. The same analysis holds using gross savings. Also, for the purposes of these charts, I have ignored the various adjustments to the official savings rate that I have made in previous articles.

Edited 1/5/10: Slight changes to chart language to clarify calculation.