Abstract: In Credit We Trust: Lending, Borrowing, and the Building of America

Rowena Olegario


Americans and their political leaders have always been willing to rely on credit to achieve their economic and political goals. Because of this, credit has long served as a focal point for larger moral, social, and political questions. From Alexander Hamilton's first Report on Public Credit (1790) to the federal government's unprecedented intervention in the banking system in 2008, Americans have confronted a perennial set of questions about credit. Some of these debates were similar to those occurring in other countries; others were distinctively American. I trace four key problems faced by lenders, businesses, regulators, political leaders, and households across the course of U.S. history: 1) how and whether to control people's access to credit, 2) how to reconcile people's differing attitudes about credit's social and political consequences, 3) how to accommodate to the risks inherent in a credit-reliant economy, and 4) how to assess creditworthiness.