Why did America embrace consumer credit over the course of the twentieth century, when most other countries did not? How did American policy makers by the late twentieth century come to believe that more credit would make even poor families better off? This book traces the historical emergence of modern consumer lending in America and France. If Americans were profligate in their borrowing, the French were correspondingly frugal. Comparison of the two countries reveals that America's love affair with credit was not primarily the consequence of its culture of consumption, as many writers have observed, nor directly a consequences of its less generous welfare state. It emerged instead from evolving coalitions between fledgling consumer lenders seeking to make their business socially acceptable and a range of non-governmental groups working to promote public welfare, labor, and minority rights. In France, where a similar coalition did not emerge, consumer credit continued to be perceived as economically regressive and socially risky.
Gunnar Trumbull is the Philip Caldwell Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He received his AB from Harvard College in 1991 and his PhD in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000. He has served as a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy and a Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. His research focuses on consumer politics in Europe and America. His previous books include Consumer Capitalism: Politics, Product Markets and Firm Strategy in France and Germany (2006) and Strength in Numbers: The Political Power of Weak Interests (2012).
1. Introduction; 2. Commercial banks and consumer credit in the United States; 3. Banks against credit: consumer finance in France; 4. American retailers and credit innovation; 5. Selling France on credit; 6. Credit and reconstruction; 7. The politics of usury; 8. Credit for being American; 9. Deregulation and the politics of over-indebtedness; 10. Consumer credit and American liberalism.