1/2/11 at 8:00 AM
By rights, the careless consumers of the developed world should be in a chastened mood. After all, it was their binge spending on houses and consumer goods—fueled by credit and mortgages from recklessly indulgent banks—that helped bring the world to the brink of financial disaster back in 2008. Americans and the British, in particular, were done in by their free-spending ways. For years, Americans had been saving only 2 or 3 percent of their income, compared with 10 percent or more in European and Asian countries. The British, in turn, amassed even larger amounts of personal debt. By 2008, average household debt had reached 183 percent of annual disposable income, the highest level of any major economy.