As an anthropologist, you acknowledge culture is a fluid concept in relation to geography or nation state. The US of the 1950s was a different culture and country than the US of 2008. This isn't necessarily bad, it is just a fact, you can never step in the same stream twice. So lets take a look at the US back in 1959 when there were a mere 148 million of us running about vs the 307 million today. We were a younger country median age 29.4 vs 36.8. Men got married at age 22.5 and women at 20.2 in 1959 on average vs. 27.5 and 25.5 today. check out 1959 vs today snapshot here.
This younger US was also saving a lot more. Here is a graph and data of this change over the years. For all of the griping and fighting over taxes they have been fairly banded. This is BEA data so your mileage may vary.
Here is the data:
and source link to the BEA.gov. I had to do a little work with a population adjuster.
My point with all of this is that behavior and cultures change over time. The long term investor should watch these ebbs and flows in culture. If we saved as much as the adults in the 1960's the average person would be saving roughly $3,900 per family member. That is the average, the median figure is lower. It is important to note that this data uses averages and that medians probably tell a lot more about group experience as high end incomes are more responsive to tax and investment policy.
A high savings rate in the midst of a recession could give us the Japanese problem of the 90's with a lack of domestic consumer consumption to get us out of the mess we got into.
Better fire up the export engine and fuel it with cheap dollars. Inflate our way out of this.
P.S. Please don't let the sovereign wealth funds in on this. We need them to keep buying our paper based assets.