By Donncha Marron (auth.)

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Additional resources for Consumer Credit in the United States: A Sociological Perspective from the 19th Century to the Present

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In passing the Egan Act, the New Jersey legislature specifically sought the advice and assistance of Ham and Russell Sage in the drafting of the legislation, signifying again the importance of expertise to the process of government (Robinson and Nugent, 1935: 103). Based on their reputation, their accumulated knowledge, their documented analysis, and social scientific credentials, the employment of Ham and his Russell Sage division by state authorities produced an alliance. The former could realize their ambitions of combating the loan shark problem through liberalizing usury ceilings while the latter could intervene to secure the common welfare, aiding sizeable elements of the working classes entrenched in expensive debt.

Now its fulfillment by the individual stemmed not just from the contractual nature of the agreement but the repetitive sequencing of payments constituting a despotic mechanism substituting for, rather than supporting, the selfgovernment of the individual. As social investigator Henry Mussey described it, “[t]heir methods are copied after those of the large dealers, but necessarily involve more severity, because they deal with a less responsible class of customers, and are themselves of a lower grade of business training and ethics” (1903: 15).

The borrower is encouraged to form the savings habit, and many of our depositors are those who were once borrowers, a fact that emphasizes the perfect understanding existing between The Economy and its patrons. (Ham, 1912: 3) In terms of a response to the perceived loan shark “evil,” remedial lending can be seen as an attempt to counter existing lenders by targeting the same elements of the population, paralleling their operations and imitating their mechanisms. It did so, however, under a philanthropic spirit that sought to relieve the difficulties of the poor for what was held to be their best interests and the interests of the common good rather than exploiting them for profit.

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