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Debtor NationThe History of America in Red Ink$
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Louis Hyman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691140681

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691140681.001.0001

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An Introduction to the History of Debt

An Introduction to the History of Debt

Chapter:
(p.1) An Introduction to the History of Debt
Source:
Debtor Nation
Author(s):

Louis Hyman

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691140681.003.0001

This introductory chapter provides a history of debt. While personal lending had always existed, before 1917 it had never been legal to charge interest rates high enough to turn a profit and, equally important, lenders had never been able to resell their consumers' debts or borrow against them. In short, personal debt had never been able to be a normal business. However, personal debt assumed a new role within American capitalism once it became legal, sellable, and profitable. These developments did not occur all at once, but happened over the course of the twentieth century, beginning after World War I, and resulting as much from entrepreneurial innovation as governmental policy. Common to all these shifts were new ways of regulating and reselling debt. Indeed, regulation made legal lending possible, but its relative strength and enforcement propelled lending in some unexpected directions.

Keywords:   debt, personal lending, personal debt, American capitalism, entrepreneurial innovation, governmental policy, regulation, legal lending

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