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Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit

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Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Once there was a golden age of American thrift, when citizens lived sensibly within their means and worked hard to stay out of debt. The growing availability of credit in this century, however, has brought those days to an end--undermining traditional moral virtues such as prudence, diligence, and the delay of gratification while encouraging reckless consumerism. Or so we commonly believe. In this engaging and thought-provoking book, Lendol Calder shows that this conception of the past is in fact a myth.

Calder presents the first book-length social and cultural history of the rise of consumer credit in America. He focuses on the years between 1890 and 1940, when the legal, institutional, and moral bases of today's consumer credit were established, and in an epilogue takes the story up to the present. He draws on a wide variety of sources--including personal diaries and letters, government and business records, newspapers, advertisements, movies, and the words of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and P. T. Barnum--to show that debt has always been with us. He vigorously challenges the idea that consumer credit has eroded traditional values. Instead, he argues, monthly payments have imposed strict, externally reinforced disciplines on consumers, making the culture of consumption less a playground for hedonists than an extension of what Max Weber called the "iron cage" of disciplined rationality and hard work.

Throughout, Calder keeps in clear view the human face of credit relations. He re-creates the Dickensian world of nineteenth-century pawnbrokers, takes us into the dingy backstairs offices of loan sharks, into small-town shops and New York department stores, and explains who resorted to which types of credit and why. He also traces the evolving moral status of consumer credit, showing how it changed from a widespread but morally dubious practice into an almost universal and generally accepted practice by World War II. Combining clear, rigorous arguments with a colorful, narrative style, Financing the American Dream will attract a wide range of academic and general readers and change how we understand one of the most important and overlooked aspects of American social and economic life.

Synopsis:

Once there was a golden age of American thrift, when citizens lived sensibly within their means and worked hard to stay out of debt. The growing availability of credit in this century, however, has brought those days to an end--undermining traditional moral virtues such as prudence, diligence, and the delay of gratification while encouraging reckless consumerism. Or so we commonly believe. In this engaging and thought-provoking book, Lendol Calder shows that this conception of the past is in fact a myth.

Calder presents the first book-length social and cultural history of the rise of consumer credit in America. He focuses on the years between 1890 and 1940, when the legal, institutional, and moral bases of today's consumer credit were established, and in an epilogue takes the story up to the present. He draws on a wide variety of sources--including personal diaries and letters, government and business records, newspapers, advertisements, movies, and the words of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and P. T. Barnum--to show that debt has always been with us. He vigorously challenges the idea that consumer credit has eroded traditional values. Instead, he argues, monthly payments have imposed strict, externally reinforced disciplines on consumers, making the culture of consumption less a playground for hedonists than an extension of what Max Weber called the "iron cage" of disciplined rationality and hard work.

Throughout, Calder keeps in clear view the human face of credit relations. He re-creates the Dickensian world of nineteenth-century pawnbrokers, takes us into the dingy backstairs offices of loan sharks, into small-town shops and New York department stores, and explains who resorted to which types of credit and why. He also traces the evolving moral status of consumer credit, showing how it changed from a widespread but morally dubious practice into an almost universal and generally accepted practice by World War II. Combining clear, rigorous arguments with a colorful, narrative style, Financing the American Dream will attract a wide range of academic and general readers and change how we understand one of the most important and overlooked aspects of American social and economic life.

Synopsis:

"At last--an accessible and scholarly history of the American consumer's best friend and worst enemy."--James Grant, author of Money of the Mind and editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer

"Lendol Calder is the first scholar in the field of modern U.S. social history to describe and analyze the century-long (1820s through 1920s) evolution of the incidence of debt, the availability of credit, and the prevailing attitudes toward both, as keystones to understanding twentieth-century changes in U.S. consumer cultureÖ. The quality of writing in the book is exceptional."--Otis A. Pease, University of Washington

"Calder has produced a book that will not only add to what we know about 'consumer culture,' but will also force business historians to rethink the relative importance to the rise of consumerism of management innovations and advertising. Calder shows clearly that there is a third source of consumerism: installment credit."--William R. Childs, Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Credit, Consumer Culture, and the American Dream3
Pt. 1Getting Trusted: Debt and Credit before Consumer Credit35
Ch. 1Beautiful Credit! The Foundation of Modern Society37
Ch. 2Debt in the Victorian Money Management Ethic74
Pt. 2Getting the Goods: The Making of a Credit Revolution109
Ch. 3Small-Loan Lending and the Rise of the Personal Finance Company111
Ch. 4Hard Payments: The Rise of Installment Selling156
Pt. 3Getting Credit: The Legitimization of Consumer Debt209
Ch. 5From Consumptive Credit to Consumer Credit211
Ch. 6Consumer Credit in the Great Depression262
Epilogue291
Notes305
Index365

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691074559
Author:
Calder, Lendol G.
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Author:
Calder, Lendol G.
Location:
Princeton
Subject:
United States - General
Subject:
Finance
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
Economic History
Subject:
Consumers
Subject:
American history
Subject:
Economics
Subject:
Business-History and Biography
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
January 2001
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
College/higher education:
Language:
English
Illustrations:
19 halftones
Pages:
400
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 20 oz

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Related Subjects

Business » Accounting and Finance
Business » History and Biographies
Business » Marketing
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture
History and Social Science » Economics » General
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General

Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit Used Trade Paper
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$6.95 In Stock
Product details 400 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691074559 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Once there was a golden age of American thrift, when citizens lived sensibly within their means and worked hard to stay out of debt. The growing availability of credit in this century, however, has brought those days to an end--undermining traditional moral virtues such as prudence, diligence, and the delay of gratification while encouraging reckless consumerism. Or so we commonly believe. In this engaging and thought-provoking book, Lendol Calder shows that this conception of the past is in fact a myth.

Calder presents the first book-length social and cultural history of the rise of consumer credit in America. He focuses on the years between 1890 and 1940, when the legal, institutional, and moral bases of today's consumer credit were established, and in an epilogue takes the story up to the present. He draws on a wide variety of sources--including personal diaries and letters, government and business records, newspapers, advertisements, movies, and the words of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and P. T. Barnum--to show that debt has always been with us. He vigorously challenges the idea that consumer credit has eroded traditional values. Instead, he argues, monthly payments have imposed strict, externally reinforced disciplines on consumers, making the culture of consumption less a playground for hedonists than an extension of what Max Weber called the "iron cage" of disciplined rationality and hard work.

Throughout, Calder keeps in clear view the human face of credit relations. He re-creates the Dickensian world of nineteenth-century pawnbrokers, takes us into the dingy backstairs offices of loan sharks, into small-town shops and New York department stores, and explains who resorted to which types of credit and why. He also traces the evolving moral status of consumer credit, showing how it changed from a widespread but morally dubious practice into an almost universal and generally accepted practice by World War II. Combining clear, rigorous arguments with a colorful, narrative style, Financing the American Dream will attract a wide range of academic and general readers and change how we understand one of the most important and overlooked aspects of American social and economic life.

"Synopsis" by ,

"At last--an accessible and scholarly history of the American consumer's best friend and worst enemy."--James Grant, author of Money of the Mind and editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer

"Lendol Calder is the first scholar in the field of modern U.S. social history to describe and analyze the century-long (1820s through 1920s) evolution of the incidence of debt, the availability of credit, and the prevailing attitudes toward both, as keystones to understanding twentieth-century changes in U.S. consumer cultureÖ. The quality of writing in the book is exceptional."--Otis A. Pease, University of Washington

"Calder has produced a book that will not only add to what we know about 'consumer culture,' but will also force business historians to rethink the relative importance to the rise of consumerism of management innovations and advertising. Calder shows clearly that there is a third source of consumerism: installment credit."--William R. Childs, Ohio State University

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