National Review / Digital
The $5 Problem
The scandal of Americans’ Third World net worth


An examination of Americans’ household balance sheets uncovers something to discourage everyone: For those with preferences for minimalistic government and a maximally free economy, the disastrous state of our private finances must force some skepticism about the traditional conservative belief that people are, if sufficiently incentivized, capable of making rational long-term decisions about their own economic affairs. For those better disposed toward the welfare state and government intervention in the economy, the same data should inspire a great deal of skepticism about the ability of well-intentioned political steering to produce results that are something other than catastrophic, especially for the least well-off among us. We are collectively many trillions of dollars — $6.6 trillion, according to a recent Senate report — short of the savings we will need to maintain our standards of living in retirement, which will necessitate a greater reliance upon Social Security, itself more than $20 trillion short of what it needs to fund its promised benefits.

First, the big picture: In terms of median adult wealth, Credit Suisse calculates that the United States, at $38,786 per adult, is a relatively poor performer, not only lagging small outliers such as Luxembourg ($153,967) and Switzerland ($87,137), but also well behind Japan ($141,410), Italy ($123,710), and Canada ($81,610) — with barely 20 percent of the median wealth of category leader Australia ($193,653). It is tempting to draw facile conclusions about macroeconomic policies from these rankings, but both Scandinavian social-welfare states such as Sweden ($41,367) and the freewheeling capitalists in Singapore ($95,542) enjoy higher median wealth than does the United States, which comes in at No. 27 on the world rankings.

November 25, 2013    |     Volume LXV, No. 22

  • Our drift toward an imperial presidency.
  • Can he make it on the national level?
  • The scandal of Americans’ Third World net worth.
  • Thoughts on the use and abuse of ‘establishment.’
  • A report from Professor Hobsbawm’s memorial service.
Books, Arts & Manners
  • James Rosen reviews The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, by Larry J. Sabato, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, by James L. Swanson, and The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, by Peter Savodnik.
  • James Piereson reviews JFK, Conservative, by Ira Stoll.
  • Ramesh Ponnuru reviews Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade, by Clarke D. Forsythe.
  • Thomas S. Hibbs reviews Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, by Terry Teachout.
  • Ross Douthat reviews 12 Years a Slave.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .