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Publication Title

Washington University Law Quarterly

Abstract

As American families sink deeper into debt, they have endured nonstop criticism from multiple quarters. Economists and sociologists have set the pace, describing families’ collective lust for goods they could easily forgo. Powerful politicians and the popular press have picked up the theme, chiding families for their profligate ways. The accusations are sharp, the assertions are confident and unambiguous, and the tone of condemnation is unmistakable.

The Over-Consumption Myth may be little more than an fairy tale, but it has the power to maroon families—both emotionally and financially— just when they most need support. And it has the power to distract families who need to focus hard on their own vulnerabilities. Changes are needed to increase the safety of the middle class, both at the government and at the personal level. Modest changes that are not radical or exorbitantly expensive could increase the security of the middle class. But change requires a consensus that something is wrong. So long as Americans can be persuaded that families in financial trouble have only themselves to blame, there will be no demand to change anything. In order to get on with the difficult business of making America once again safe for middle class families, the Over-Consumption Myth must be laid to rest for good.

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