Monday, October 20, 2008

Buy Now, Pay Later

Ever so timely, Virginia Postrel writes in the Atlantic, making The Case For Debt. Perhaps most interesting is her focus on the panic factor, noting that the concern over consumer debt has been with us ever since credit markets expanded to include the non-wealthy. Postrel quotes Hillel Black, author of "Buy Now, Pay Later."

Currently about one hundred million Americans are participating in the buy-now, pay-later binge. Furthermore, they can, if they wish, do anything and everything on credit. Babies are being born on the installment plan, children go through college on time, even funerals are paid for on what the English quaintly call “the never never.” Through debt people are buying hairpins, toothpaste, mink coats, girdles, tickets to baseball games, religious medallions, hi-fi equipment, safaris in Africa … The result has been a consumer credit explosion that makes the population explosion seem small by comparison.

Black's book, an indictment of the expansion of consumer credit, was published in 1961. Apparently consumer debt, like immigration and problems with the younger generation, are the sorts of issues that persist through time, defying rational analysis.


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