Borrow: The American Way of Debt, by Louis Hyman (2012)

Genre: Nonfiction
Interest Level: Adult
Borrow The American Way of DebtThis book is for those of us who watched the collapse of the housing market in the U.S. in 2007/08 with dismay. Aimed at layreaders, it’s a lively and informative look at the development of consumer debt in Western society. Hyman, an historian from Baltimore (where I happened to be when I picked this one up), examines how consumer debt evolved from a decidedly shameful human activity to a mainstay of the modern economy, becoming a commodity like steel or corn. By the early 21st century, the commodification and securitization of debt (two concepts he explains nicely) meant eager investors wanting to “buy” debt pressured bankers and lenders into finding borrowers to take on debt. That debt was in many forms, from credit card debt to sub-prime mortgages to home equity loans. (An interesting aside – at first, most home equity loans were taken out to fund home renovations. By the mid-2000s, debt consolidation was the primary motive for dipping into equity). From 1981 to 1991, the number of credit card holders in the US increased four-fold. It was, as Hyman puts it, a house of credit cards. And because the debt was sold and not carried by the bank, there were no consequences to the lenders when they irresponsibly marketed to high-risk and often naive borrowers, who, perhaps predictably, began to default. A short (200 pages) and fascinating examination of how we got from there to here, with a too-brief, in my view, examination of where we should try to go next. I’d also like to see an index – there was none in the e-edition I read, and it was very frustrating not to be able to look up Fannie Mae and GMAC as I moved through the book.
More discussion and reviews of this title: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12964806-borrow

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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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