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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Finland is taking a novel approach to fighting the recession: a national ad campaign urging people in this time of crisis to spend. Some posters feature a demonic-looking piggy bank and the words, Don't feed the recession. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports on whether the idea is likely to take hold.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Before we get to the ad from Finland, just think how contrary this is to everything your mom told you. For instance, here's an ad running right now in the United States, which urges the exact opposite: Feed the pig. Message: Saving is good.

(Soundbite of FeedThePig.org advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Welcome to today's lottery drawing.

(Soundbite of lottery balls shuffling)

Unidentified Announcer #1: And today's winning numbers are...

(Soundbite of lottery ball)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Not yours...

(Soundbite of lottery ball)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Not yours, and another number that's..

(Soundbite of lottery ball)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Not yours.

(Soundbite of FeedThePig.org advertisement)

Unidentified Announcer #2: When it comes to having money, don't rely on luck.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer #2: Brew your own coffee at home instead of buying that latte; brown-bag it to work instead of ordering in. Go to feedthepig.org for more...

KESTENBAUM: By contrast, the ads running in Finland argue, no, no, no. Brewing coffee at home, bringing your lunch? That kind of behavior can be hell for the economy at a time like this, because if you don't buy that coffee, the coffee place can't hire as many workers; the shop can't pay the rent on the store; then the landlord is in trouble, etc. Economists actually have a phrase for this: the paradox of thrift. It's just not something that usually turns up in ad campaigns. The ads were put together by an advertising agency in Finland called Bob Helsinki. Mika Sarimo is the CEO there. He says yes, as a kid, he had a piggy bank with Donald Duck's Uncle Scrooge on it.

Mr. MIKA SARIMO (Chief Executive Officer, Bob Helsinki): Yeah, they had him sitting on a little container, and you were able to put money there. That's what I had.

KESTENBAUM: And here you are with a campaign that features a pig with little devil ears.

Mr. SARIMO: Yeah. That's how it goes, you know?

KESTENBAUM: Sarimo says his agency launched the campaign because Finns were cutting back on spending, even people who had steady jobs.

Mr. SARIMO: We felt that we are just drifting towards a more difficult situation, and there was an idea from one of our founding partners that, why don't we create a campaign which is kind of against the recession?

KESTENBAUM: Government officials have signed on, and the evil piggy bank is on posters. There are related TV ads. It's a national campaign urging people not to overreact. Could this work? Kent Smetters at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business says in theory, yes, but in practice, probably not. It only works if everyone does it, and barring some sort of incredible act of faith and patriotism, people will act in their own self-interest and save.

Dr. KENT SMETTERS (Insurance and Risk Management, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania): This is really what we call the prisoner's dilemma, this - where everybody could be better off if everybody moved. But in fact, not everybody is going to move. In fact, nobody is going to move.

KESTENBAUM: OK, maybe Finland will surprise you, and they collectively, as a country - there are only 5 million people there, they're pretty educated - you know, maybe they could all just get together and do it.

Dr. SMETTERS: That would be a surprise, and as an economist, I'd love to be able to study that as a case study. Maybe in a family of five, but in an economy of 5 million, I think it's unlikely.

KESTENBAUM: The truth is Finland can't just fix itself, because the world's problems are Finland's problems; the country exports a lot. But the dueling-pig ads pose a deeper economic question, which is this: What is the right level of savings? Kent Smetters says in his opinion, sorry, Finland, the friendly U.S. pig is right, the one that says, feed me. Finns don't save a lot, and neither do Americans. A few years ago, the U.S. savings rate dipped negative, meaning we spent more than we earned.

Dr. SMETTERS: During the last year, after the housing prices have come down, saving rates hit a high - by high, I mean relative to the last several years - of about 2.5 percent. And that is still much lower than what it should be. It really should be closer to 10 percent on a gross income level.

KESTENBAUM: There is debate about what the right number is, but some saving is definitely essential for the economy. When you save money at a bank, those dollars can be loaned out to someone else, which is how the economy grows. It is possible to save too much, but Smetters doesn't think that will be a problem in the United States. David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can see the dueling pig ads for yourself. Go to the Planet Money blog at npr.org/money.

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