Tag: finance

Democratizing Credit: An Interview with Historian Josh Lauer

Since the consumer credit reporting agency Equifax revealed on September 7th that the personal information of 143 million Americans had been compromised in an attack by hackers, leaving more than forty percent of the population vulnerable to identity theft and damaged credit scores, questions about the responsibilities and accountability of the credit bureaus, the fairness of the credit rating system, and the vulnerability of consumers’ data have reached a new level of urgency. While Equifax has been widely criticized for its incompetent, and maybe even criminal, response to a disaster that quite possibly could have been prevented, what is at issue are not just the security practices and corporate ethics of a single company, but also, more generally, the structure and viability of the credit rating system itself. No one is in a better position to help us make sense of how the Equifax breach fits into the history of American capitalism than Josh Lauer, associate professor of media studies at the University of New Hampshire. His book, Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, which was published in July, is the first to tell the story of credit reporting in the United States, tracing its evolution from its 19th century beginnings to the regime of commercial surveillance and algorithmic calculation that tracks us today. (read more...)

Steadying the Plays: Rhetoric and Risk in the Shale Boom

“Please God, give us another oil boom. We promise not to piss it away this time.” – Popular bumper sticker in oil producing regions after the 1980s oil markets crashed In the 1970s, there was much to be celebrated for those involved in the US oil and gas industry. The OPEC oil embargo coupled with events like the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War led to a shortage of oil on the world market and precipitated a boom for US producers. This boom, however, was short lived. By 1981, world production had stabilized and oil prices had plummeted, bankrupting a significant number of producers and inspiring the use of “Please God” bumper sticker in places like Texas, Oklahoma, and Alberta. Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, the bumper sticker didn’t seem to help, and the oil and gas industry limped along. Against financial engineering and IT novelties that sent the stock-prices of energy firms like Enron soaring (Zellner 2001)—and, in California’s deregulated energy market, allowed Enron to keep itself afloat at the expense of “Grandma Millie” (C-SPAN interview with B. McLean; Oppel 2002; Roberts 2004)—the capital-intensive technologies of the oil and gas industry seemed dull and unable to capture the general public’s imagination. By 2010, however, this story had almost entirely changed. Where financial and IT services had once seemed to be at the forefront of innovation, two stock-market crashes coupled with the technological advances in oil and gas production that enabled the “Shale Boom” seemed to suggest the reverse. They seemed to suggest that creative accounting and financial engineering may make a company appear healthy— even forward thinking—but they cannot replace tangible contributions to technology and production. (read more...)