Culture of Credit

Rowena Olegario
A Culture of Credit: Embedding Trust and Transparency in American Business

“In a circular dated 1858, the Mercantile Agency...estimated that 157,394 village and country stores owed an average of $14,500 each to city jobbers, an aggregate value of nearly $2.3 billion. The amount of trade done on credit could be several times the capital resources of a business.” (26)

“The conventional wisdom found its way into
Walden (1854) when, criticizing the heavy mortgages under which most farmers labored, Thoreau declared that ‘what has been said of the merchants, that a very large majority, even ninety-seven in a hundred, are sure to fail, is equally true of the farmers.’” (37)

The Mercantile Agency “relied on a network of ‘correspondents,’ including sheriffs, merchants, postmasters, and bank cashiers for its information. Attorneys, however, made up the bulk...” (49)

“As capitalist values spread in the United States and more people became drawn into the credit economy, outward appearance, or ‘reputation,’ took on extraordinary significance. So, too, did the anxiety that appearances could be manipulated: ‘Reputation, rather than character--to
seem, rather than to be,’ fumed the Daily Illinois State Journal in 1856, ‘has become the ultimate aim of too many in all departments of business and professional life.’” (80)