The golden age of unsolicited credit-card applications ended about five years ago. It must have been a relief at the post office. At least ten envelopes came each week — often with non-functioning replica cards enclosed, to elicit the anticipatory thrill of fresh plastic in the recipientโ€™s hot little hand.

For a while, I would open each envelope and carefully shred anything with my name on it, lest an identity thief go on a shopping spree in my name. But at some point I gave up, because there were just too many of them. Besides, any identity thief worth worrying about enjoyed better options than trash-diving for unopened mail.

Something started happening circa 2006 or โ€™07. More and more often, the very envelopes carried wording to the effect that approval for a new card was a formality, so act now! With the benefit of hindsight, this reads as a last surge of economic acceleration before the crash just ahead. But at the time, I figured that credit-card companies were growing desperate to grab our attention, since many of us were throwing the offers away without a second glance.

The two alternatives โ€“ turbocharged consumerism on the one hand, the depleted willingness (or capacity) of consumers to take on more debt, on the other — are not mutually exclusive. It was subprime mortgages rather than overextended credit cards that brought the go-go โ€™00s to an early end, but each was a manifestation of the system Andrew Ross writes about in Creditocracy and the Case for Debt Refusal (OR Books).

Read the full review at Inside Higher Ed.