Sheldon Garon is the Nissan Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Princeton University. A specialist in modern Japanese history, he also writes transnational history that spotlights the flow of ideas and institutions. His book Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves (2012) examines the linked histories of saving and spending over the past two centuries in Japan, Europe, other East Asian nations, and the U.S. Previous publications include The State and Labor in Modern Japan (1987); Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (1997); and The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West (co-edited). He is currently writing a transnational history of “home fronts” in Japan, Germany, Britain, and the United States in World War II.
Americans generally regard saving as purely an act of individuals. They further view Japan's high household savings rate as divergent from Western norms. Instead this historical study spotlights how governments and groups-Western and Asian alike-have actively promoted popular thrift in the modern world. Several chapters analyze the evolution of savings-promotion in Japan, from 1840 to 2000. Official campaigns, savings associations, schools, and housewives' magazines played key roles in forming a "culture of thrift" that persists in the Japanese people's current reluctance to consume. Japanese savings policies were influenced by foreign models, and would influence others. Thus three chapters examine savings-promotion in Europe, the U.S., and Asia. Nineteenth-century European states and reformers encouraged saving through postal savings, savings banks, and education. In the two world wars, Europeans likewise mounted savings campaigns, which continued after 1945. Though individually thrifty in 1900, Americans have since diverged from both Europeans and Japanese. American developed their own economic culture (of consumption), which resisting government savings campaigns. Recently, several Southeast and East Asian states have launched Japanese style campaigns.