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(Re)introducing David A. Moss

posted by Buce

Allow me to showcase a book here that deserves more attention than it gets from bankruptcy scholars. It came out back in 2002 but for whatever reason, it passed more or less unnoticed in our corner of academe. The book is When All Else Fails by David A. Moss.  The subtitle is: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager. It's a fascinating study of what Moss calls "a potent and pervasive form of public policy in the United States." Moss discusses obvious risk management devices like worker's insurance and social security, but also others you might not think of at first blush like products liability law and management of the money supply.

I emailed Moss last year while I was resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute, inviting him to join us for one of our podcast interviews. He politely begged off. Too bad: it would have been fun to introduce him to the bankruptcy sodality. In any event, for our purposes, the most directly relevant chapters of his book are one on the history of the bankruptcy discharge, bracketed in parallel with another on the rise of the limited liability company. Moss shows how 19th-century public policy debate treated both bankruptcy and limited liability as protection for entrepreneurs (duh!)--but how the arguments were never really the same.

Students of the recent uproar over bankruptcy reform might be intersted in Moss's long view of the matter (which, concededly, long preceded the 2005 Amendments to the Bankruptcy Code).

Even before the enactment of the first federal bankrautpcy statutes in 1800 and 1841, Americans had long displayed a penchant for forgiving or otherwise relieving distressed debtors, particulaly in the midst of economic crisis. Although the motivations and mechanisms of debtor protection have evolved considerably over the years, the American tradition of shifting default risk away from borrowers has exceptionally deep roots. Indeed, the United States has long distinguished itself as a nation with a special fondness for debtors. (126)

I always tell my students that I have lived through at least nine of the last four recessions.  As a regular reader of the Housing Bubble Blog, it often occurs to me to wonder whether our current (relatively) severe view of debtor protection will survive the day when the economy gets thrown under a bus.

Here's a book link.


Jack is absolutely right about Moss's work. He is scheduled to be a guest blogger for Credit Slips at the end of the month, and we look forward to having his contributions for all the reasons Jack mentions.

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