consumer debt, financial literacy, quantitative literacy, quantitative reasoning, credit cards, fringe banking, social issues


The topics of credit cards, mortgages, subprime lending, and fringe banking are rich sources of problems and discussions for classes focused on quantitative literacy. In this theme book review, we look at four recent books on the consumer debt industry: Credit Card Nation, by Robert Manning; Maxed Out, by James Scurlock; Collateral Damaged, by Charles Geisst; and Broke, USA, by Gary Rivlin. Credit Card Nation takes a scholarly look at the history of credit in America with a focus on the genesis and growth of the credit card industry up to the turn of the 20th century. Maxed Out also examines the credit card industry, but its approach is to highlight the stories of individuals struggling with debt and thereby examine some of the damaging effects of credit card debt in the United States. Collateral Damaged is a timely exploration of the root causes at the institutional level of the credit crisis that began in 2008. Broke USA focuses on high-cost financing (pawn shops, payday loans, title loans), describing the history of what Rivlin calls the "poverty industry" and the political and legal challenges critics have mounted against the industry. Each of these books has something to offer a wide variety of quantitative literacy classes, providing scenarios, statistics, and problems worthy of examination. After reviewing each of the four books, we provide several examples of such quantitative literacy applications and close with some thoughts on the relationship between financial literacy and quantitative literacy.



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