Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit

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 er

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