Newstalgia Reference Room - The Credit Boom - a 1966 documentary on the boom in credit card debt and how credit cards are changing the way we live . . .even then.
October 14, 2010

Ad For American Express in 1966 - The Dope Man went legit.

Funny times, these. Funny times always, it seems. In 1966 the big worry was getting into too much debt, too much easy credit and all those hidden fees. Oh yes, and all those bankruptcies, and foreclosures and pending legislation to make lending institutions actually explain why it's not really what it says on the statement.

Even in 1966 the writing was on the wall. The phrase "Deficit Spending" started coming into play and credit cards were feared to take the place of cash very soon, that we would soon turn into a debtor nation and that our personal debt was climbing by the minute.

This documentary, produced by CBS News as part of their CBS Reports series from March 15, 1966, attempts to shed some light on the growing concern.

Alexander Kendrick (CBS News): “As it enters its sixth year of unbroken, unprecedented prosperity, this country is going through a gigantic credit explosion. The fallout could be hazardous. For though the economy has expanded, and living standards have risen, private debt is increasing at a faster rate than personal income, personal savings or Gross National Product. Bankruptcies are on the rise. Mortgage foreclosures have doubled in five years. The credit situation has become especially pertinent because, as the Vietnam War begins to put one boom on top of another, the warning signals are up against inflation. Restraint is the new watch word. The new economics of deficit spending, of which consumer credit is a clear reflection, was created to overcome depression. But many economists dispute that it is necessarily valid for maintaining affluence. The present consensus seems to be that massive credit is useful and beneficial, but that the system has grave inadequacies. That interest rates are higher than they need be. That the people who need credit the most find it hardest to get on terms they can afford. That the patchwork of state and federal regulations tends to favor the lender over the borrower. That we would be on a sounder basis if people had a more accurate idea of the cost of credit. There is no sign that the house of credit cards will collapse. But it is recognized that, if a recession comes, the vast debt will make recovery slower and more difficult. But behind the economic questions lies a moral one which is widely evaded; can too much credit, too easy access to material comfort, lead to a blurring of personal and national values, and shouldn’t such values be part of the Gross National Product too?”

It's interesting that, 44 years ago we had all the warning signs. But like the fine print on the credit application, we just didn't bother to see them. And that we react with shock when everything spirals out of control speaks to our Great National Denial. And how we're convinced a snap of fingers changes everything just like magic.

And we do the same things over and over again. Insanity? Could be.

(note: The sound quality on this post is a bit crappy because the source was someone's home made tape with a microphone in front of the TV. I limited it and cleaned it up as much as possible, but it's still a little crappy - so I apologize at the outset - G.S.)

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