by Robert D. Manning
No interest for one year! No annual fee! No minimum payments for six months! And, if you want to believe Robert Manning, there's no way out of the debt that we find ourselves in, as individuals and as a country. Credit Card Nation combines debt of every kind--consumer, corporate, and governmental--and creates a vast landscape of profit-spewing lenders and struggling debtors present at every level of economics. Appalling statistics set readers off on a depressing journey: the years between 1980 and 1994 saw annual consumer charges skyrocket from $170 billion to $581 billion, with the average household carrying over $4,000 in revolving debt. Accompanied by the erasure of nearly $100 billion in corporate debt and tremendous tax cuts for ever-merging conglomerates, the end of the 20th century seems to be just the beginning of an overwhelming cycle. While Manning's book is extensively researched, it is also extremely readable. Individual stories of junk bondsmen, corporate raiders, and middle-class consumers are threaded throughout the pages of charts and statistics, with a few surprises. While most media would have us believe that students who rack up charge accounts are totally irresponsible, the reality is that some of these students are helping their families with cash-advance loans to make mortgage or insurance payments. Emphasis is also placed on the tremendous advertising budgets of credit card companies: Manning comments on "how quickly the cultural norms have changed in the Credit Card Nation," we see a poster insisting "money can't buy you love, but a credit card can get you started." This is not a self-help book, and Manning has no 12-step program for debtors at any level. Credit Card Nation simply tells it as it is. --Jill Lightner
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