City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance
by Anne Fleming
Harvard University Press, 2018
Reviewed by Erin Cully
The commercial streets in Flatbush are dotted with storefronts advertising rent-to-own furniture sets and appliances. Pawnbrokers and payday lenders call out to passersby, promising “dollars now” in exchange for gold or a paycheck. Many Americans are accustomed to buying consumer goods by swiping a credit card, but for low-income families in New York and elsewhere, access to credit is limited. Small-sum lenders, pawnbrokers, and furniture stores offering installment plans are often the only recourse for households whose economic circumstances threaten to deny them access to the consumption habits that have defined American freedom for most of the twentieth century. These forms of credit have a high price tag, and goods purchased can end up costing several times more than if bought in cash. Families denied access to conventional forms of credit know all too well how “extremely expensive it is to be poor,” as James Baldwin put it.
In City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance, Anne Fleming, a professor of law at Georgetown University, examines the ways in which a society that accepts the market as the fundamental basis of economic life copes with the inequalities the market creates. How, if at all, can we secure “justice under capitalism?”
This post is an excerpt from the authors' new Brooklyn Tides: The Fall and Rise of a Global Borough, courtesy of Transcript-Verlag.
Clifton Hood's In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City’s Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis
By Paul A. Ranogajec
Bowling Green, a surviving fragment of New York’s earliest days, was totally transformed in the decades around 1900. What had been a low-scale square of houses and small offices became a skyscraper-ringed urban canyon, a spectacle of corporate and state power. That spectacle resulted from a scenographic approach to architecture in which designers orchestrated buildings and spaces together as an ensemble for dramatic visual and experiential effects. Architects who worked at Bowling Green were committed to the traditional urban streetscape, but their designs also gave form to the imperatives and values of the emerging corporate-capitalist economy. That meant skyscrapers. At Bowling Green, skyscrapers and the new Custom House together reshaped the historic square, providing visible, material proof of the intensity and speed of the economy’s corporate transformation.
The New York Philharmonic Strike of 1973 is a tale that has long been waiting to be told. The sole volume to mention it, John Canarina’s 2010 history, devotes less than two pages to it. Kuan Cheng Lu presents the story here in two parts: first, an historical background on labor relations between orchestral musicians and management in the U.S., with a focus on the Philharmonic and a lead-up to the union's decision to walkout; and second, a comprehensive narrative of the strike, with commentary on its consequences and current and potential future problems in labor relations for the Philharmonic and American symphony orchestras in general. Part II will appear tomorrow.
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