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Financing the American Dream Hardcover – February 22, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0691058276 ISBN-10: 069105827X Edition: 3rd Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 3rd Edition edition (February 22, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069105827X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691058276
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,032,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Debunking what he calls the "myth of lost economic virtue"Athe notion that Americans lived debt-free until the advent of consumer credit gave rise to a kind of collective hedonism corrosive to traditional moral valuesACalder traces the uses of credit and historical attitudes toward debt back to the mid-19th century. These attitudes have always been contradictory, according to Calder, who teaches history at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. Money-ethic literature of the Victorian era, for instance, distinguished "productive credit," used to finance labor or business (a popular epigram of the period asserted that "one never becomes rich until he is in debt"), from "consumptive credit," exemplified by "shivering youths who pawned overcoats to pay gambling debts [and] sallow New York dandies with showy chains on their vest." The watershed in the history of consumer credit, according to Calder, was the 1920s, when a new method of credit, the installment plan, was popularized and legitimized by the vibrant automobile industry. Calder is at his best in these two historical periods, drawing extensively on anecdotal and literary evidence to create a lively narrative. But as Calder notes throughout his book, debt has always remained a private affair, and the hard numbers behind these trends were never collected. The absence of statistical support makes his contention that the consumer credit culture has promoted thrift and discipline less persuasive. The title is also misleading, as Calder has little to say about the history of credit in the post-World War II years and beyond. Illustrations.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This fascinating but scholarly examination of America's love affair with consumerism and consumer debt shows readers when and how the American Dream turned into what Max Weber called the "iron cage." Focusing on the years between 1890 and 1940, Calder (history, Augustana Coll.) shows how the legal, institutional, and moral bases of today's consumer credit model were established. In an epilog, Calder brings the story up to the present. Using a variety of primary sources for his research (notes are included for each chapter), he keeps a human face on his tale of credit relations. A colorful narrative style and clear, strong arguments will help readers understand this aspect of American social and economic life.ASusan C. Awe, Univ. of New Mexico Lib., Albuquerque
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey B. Webb on March 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
I used Calder's book in one of my History courses and found it to be thorough, even-handed and timely. Calder's prose style is remarkably engaging; students had no trouble navigating the text and discerning the major points. It's a gripping read, but also tremendously informative as well. If you have time to read only one book on the development of consumerism and consumer values, this is it. In fact, I have read few books that I consider a better "window" on the shaping of modern American culture.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Justin D. Siebenhaar on March 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Calder book is an appealing read. I must agree with other reviews that this is usually not a very interesting subject, finance and credit, but Calder presents it in an interesting matter that can be quite witty at times. The reader will see how Victorian money management ideas of the past were largely accepted passively by most but only actually followed by few. Credit has existed since before this countries foundation argues Calder and he details the progression of credit systems to present times.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Arnette Hawkins on September 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Calder covers what can be a dry subject in an interesting manner. He follows the history of consumer credit from the early 19th century up to the period of the New Deal. The book discusses the evolving attitudes toward credit and debt and the products that eventually revolutionized the system of consumer credit. It is well documented and illustrated. A surprisingly good read for what can be a boring subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. B. Younce on June 2, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
wonderfully written and researched history of personal finance/consumer credit in the U.S. Author does not appear to have any particular political axe to grind.
It is amazing to see the history recorded in this book being repeated today. Would highly recommend this book to anyone attempting to make sense of the progressive movement's regulation
of consumer financial products.
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Format: Paperback
Something there is that does not like a consumer loan. Indeed, for a long time the idea of such credit created a sensation of discomfort, insecurity and even shame. Americans harbored a natural hostility to such practices since they tend to ensnare the buyer into schemes that are onerous. Being in debt had the stigma of indicating a lack of self-restraint and character.

This attitude toward debt long dominated. But, beginning in the early twentieth century, popular resistance to consumer credit gradually diminished. Lendol Calder's Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit is a fascinating chronicle of how this hostility was overcome. His analysis covering the late-nineteenth century to the Great Depression provides insight into a consumer culture that has led us to the present plight of an economy built upon and sustained by debt.

It is a story that is not only about loans but about money, social attitudes and relationships. With the Industrial Revolution, the concept of money itself evolved. The world moved from a more personal relationship-based economy to today's impersonal money economy. Banking shifted from a conservative commercial institution catering to industry to a more consumer-oriented business dedicated to financing the American Dream. Government's role increased as it became involved in expanding and guaranteeing money supply and offering its own credit schemes.

While the scenario was complex, there was one simple catalyst that brought about this transformation. This was the development of the installment method of financing. Calder claims that "The installment plan was to consumer credit what the moving assembly line was to the automobile industry.
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