Overspending as a Public Issue
We can use the sociological imagination to look at the problem of overspending and credit card debt as a public issue-a societal problem. For example, Ritzer (1998) suggests that the relationship between credit card debt and the relatively low savings rate in the United States constitutes a public issue. Between 1990 and 2000, credit card debt tripled in the United States while savings diminished. Because savings is money that governments, businesses, and individuals can borrow for expansion. lack of savings may create problems for future economic growth. The rate of bankruptcies in this country is a problem both for financial institutions and the government. As corporations "wrtte off" bad debt from those who declare bankruptcy or simply do not pay their bills, all consumers pay either directly or indirectly for that debt. Finally, poverty is forgotten as a social issue when more-affluent people are having a spending holiday and consuming all, or more than,they can' afford to purchase. Some practices of the credit card industry are also a public issuc:-(Ritzer. 1998). In a study of credit card use: among college students, the sociologist Robert D. Manning (1999) found that students are aggressively targeted through marketing campaigns by credit card companies even though it is an accepted fact that some of the students will.ruin their credit wbiJe still in college Taking a walking tour of most large university campuses at registration time provides ample evidence of aggressive credit card marketing to students (and sometimes to faculty and staff). Card offers are on or near campus tucked into school newspapers, and distributed by area bookstores that sell texts and school supplies. Solicitation letters begin arriving in students' mailboxes early in the freshman year. As graduation time approaches, seniors, are regaled with letters of "congratulations" from the credit card industry and one last appeal to get a "lifestyle" credit card that benefits the school's alumni association with a small contribution when purchases arc: charged on the card, The problem has grown so great that some in the credit card industry have acknowledged it is a problem. As one bank vice president stated, "I've seen customers who've had as many as 13 Visas and MasterCards .... Banks are guilty in tbat they make credit too easily available" (ABA Ballking loumal; 1990: 42)
As these examples show. Mills's The Sociological In Intltool (l959b) remains useful for examining issues in the twenty-first century because it helps integrate micro level (individual and small group) troubles with compelling public issues of our day. Recently. his ideas have been applied at the global level as well.