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Learning Center Experience
By Heather Luea, Academic Department Chair Published September 2014
One of the most frequent questions from
students is whether savings or spending drive the economy. The simple answer
The actual answer is much more complicated. Too much savings can depress
economic activity in the short run but drive economic growth in the long run. Too
much spending accelerates the economy in the short run but can lead to
inflation and slower economic growth in the long run. Let’s take a closer look.
Borrowers and savers meet in the loanable funds market. Borrowers
can include households, corporations, and even the government. Savers include
anyone or any entity, including foreign governments, who want to invest in a
savings instrument. For example, if an investor purchases a corporate bond,
that investor is a saver and the company is a borrower in the loanable funds
market. The company may use those bond funds to finance an expansion or
purchase capital equipment. When the company makes these purchases, gross
domestic product (GDP) increases. These transactions translate into economic
activity, which drives the economy in the short run. In addition, because these
funds were used to make capital investments or investments in the resources
used to produce goods and services, long-run economic growth is also impacted. Borrowing
these funds would not have been possible without savings dollars, and spending
those funds would not have been possible if borrowers were not willing to
borrow. In this case, both savings and spending drive the economy. But what
happens if the investor decides to spend the money she would have used to
purchase a corporate bond?
When a consumer makes purchases, GDP increases in the
short run. In fact, we often see the quarterly fluctuations in economic
activity being driven by consumer spending, which is the largest component of
GDP. However, the impact on GDP is short-lived. These purchases, while
increasing current economic activity and driving the economy in the short run,
has no long-run impact on economic growth. It does not increase the
productivity of the country, so it does not have a lasting effect. Consumer
spending is necessary to stimulate the economy in the short run and deter it
from slipping into recessions, but in the long run, it won’t directly increase
a country’s ability to produce goods and services.
Traditionally, personal savings rates have been low in
the U.S. and in recent years have climbed to around 5 percent (BEA, 2014). Is
this sufficient savings to drive economic growth in this country? Where does
the U.S. get savings dollars if households are not willing to save? The answer
lies with foreign investors. When domestic savings is not adequate to meet the
demand of domestic borrowers, borrowers will turn to international investors to
obtain funding. This seems like a simple solution to the borrowing problem, but
there is another issue. All borrowed funds, whether borrowed from domestic or
international investors, must be repaid. During repayment, borrowers’
consumption is likely to fall, which decreases economic activity. Therefore,
borrowing may have negative effects on the economy in the long run.
As you can see, there appears to be a balance between
savings and spending that drives current economic activity and leads to longterm economic growth. So, should you save that
next dollar or spend that next dollar? Which is better for the economy? The
answer is: both!
“PERSONAL INCOME AND OUTLAYS, JUNE 2014;
REVISED ESTIMATES 1999 THROUGH MAY 2014” Bureau of Economic Analysis. http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/pi/pinewsrelease.htm. Accessed:
August 12, 2014.
Heather Luea is an academic
department chair at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are
solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.
The contents of this article are
presented for informational purposes only. Always check with a
professional regarding any questions you may have regarding financial services.
By Cynthia Waddell, PhD, CPA, CFE
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By Stanley W. Self, CFE
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