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Borrow: The American Way of Debtby Louis Hyman
Synopses & Reviews
In this lively history of consumer debt in America, economic historian Louis Hyman demonstrates that today’s problems are not as new as we think.
Borrow examines how the rise of consumer borrowing—virtually unknown before the twentieth century—has altered our culture and economy. Starting in the years before the Great Depression, increased access to money raised living standards but also introduced unforeseen risks. As lending grew more and more profitable, it displaced funds available for business borrowing, setting our economy on an unsustainable course. Told through the vivid stories of individuals and institutions affected by these changes, Borrow charts the collision of commerce and culture in twentieth-century America, giving an historical perspective on what is new—and what is not—in today’s economic turmoil.
A Paperback Original
"Credit is both a ticket to good times and an economic cancer in this savvy history of consumer debt. Economic historian Hyman takes readers from the 19th century, when household borrowing was considered immoral and illegal, to our current reliance on ubiquitous consumer borrowing as economic engine and marker of middle-class respectability. It's a story of unsung but crucial innovations in the plumbing of the economy: mass mortgage lending and securitization, which caused as much mischief in the Great Depression as in today's subprime crisis; auto-loan operations that turned carmakers into giant banks; the fraud-ridden construction of the Visa and Mastercard credit card networks. Intelligently analyzing both the economics and the social meaning of debt, Hyman grounds these developments in commercial imperatives and an evolving consumer culture, and links them to deeper economic upheavals. Credit fueled growth, he argues, but it also generated instability and asset bubbles, and corroded America's productive capacities: as consumer lending became more profitable than actually making things, corporations poured their money into financing credit and killed off their manufacturing operations. Stocked with colorful personalities and trenchant insights, Hyman's lucid, entertaining, and timely treatise illuminates the murky processes by which debt became the troubled center of economic life. Photos." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Louis Hyman attended Columbia University, where he received a BA in history and mathematics. A former Fulbright scholar and a consultant at McKinsey & Co., he received his PhD in American history in 2007 from Harvard University. He is currently an assistant professor in Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, where he teaches history.
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