SOC 87 Consumer Credit and Society


Tuesdays 9:30-11:20

(One-unit freshman seminar)

Akos Rona-Tas

SSB 414



Office Hours:



T Th 12:30-1:30



SSB 488


We are in the midst of a deep credit crisis. Homes are being foreclosed, personal bankruptcy is on the rise. Over 80 percent of you carry at least one credit card and the average balance on those cards is over $2000. We live in a society where the consumption of material goods is one of our principal pursuits supported by an elaborate system of consumer credit. This class will discuss how consumer credit developed and how it works today.

In this course, we will watch documentaries and read articles and book chapter and one book (available from the UCSD bookstore) on consumerism and consumer credit in this country. To pass this course, you have to come to class, participate in the discussion, do the readings and pass a short final quiz at the end. The quiz is going to ask you about content covered in the movies and the readings. For those of you interested in further reading I have listed a few other titles.


The course web site with links is


April 13

Consumer Society




Affluenza [videorecording] / producers, John de Graaf, Vivia Boe ; writer, John de Graaf


April 20

Consumerism and Credit



The Overspent American Why We Want What We Don't Need / [Videorecording]: With Juliet Schor


Required Reading:

The New Politics of Consumption Debate in the Boston Review, Summer 1999, pp.1-26.


Recommended Reading:

Galbraith, John Kenneth, The Affluent Society

Veblen, Thorstein, Theory of the Leisure Class available on line at

Marx, Karl, Capital, Chapter 3 on Commodity Fetishism, on line at

Shor, Juliet, The overspent American : upscaling, downshifting, and the new consumer New York, NY : Basic Books, c1998.


Lecture notes on consumerism in the US


April 27

Credit Cards and the Credit Industry



Priceless! Homer Simpson pitches MasterCard. Link to the commercial.




The Secret History of the Credit Card, PBS Frontline (available on line)


Required Reading:

Evans and Schmalensee, Paying with Plastic Chapters 1 (pp.1-18) , Chapter 2 (pp.19-36) , Chapter 4 (pp.61-84), Chapter 5 (p.85-110). Available electronically through the library.


Recommended Reading:

Mandel, Lewis, The Credit Card Industry, A History

Ritzer, George, Expressing America: A Critique of the Global Credit Card Society

Manning, Robert D. Credit Card Nation: The Consequences of America's Addiction to Credit


Lecture notes on credit cards in the US


May 4

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Bankruptcy


�I don�t
 know what we�ll do when our adjustable-rate mortgage resets.�
 by Frank



Required Reading:

Robert J. Shiller, The Subprime Solution. Princeton University Press (available at the Bookstore)


Michelle J. White. 2007. Bankruptcy Reform and Credit Cards. Journal of Economic Perspectives


Recommended Reading:

Ross, Stephen L. and John Yinger. The color of credit : mortgage discrimination, research methodology, and fair-lending enforcement. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2002.

Sullivan, Teresa A. The fragile middle class : Americans in debt / Teresa A. Sullivan, Elizabeth

Warren, Jay Lawrence Westbrook. Publisher New Haven: Yale University Press, c2000 pp.11-26



Final Quiz