The history of banks has long been told by those who, basically, believe in them. From the canonical works of Rondo Cameron and Richard Timberlake to more contentious contributions like those of Naomi Lamoreaux, Stephen Haber, and Charles Calomiris, banks figure as enormously valuable instruments of economic development, even if their origins are parochial and their operations are notoriously unstable. Against this background, Mehrsa Baradaran’s recent book, How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy, makes a refreshing break. It’s not that Baradaran doesn’t believe in banks. Rather, she believes they are profoundly limited by their own profit- driven logic. That logic makes them congenitally ill equipped to serve as much as half the American population (139). Given that failure, we are obligated to think beyond our current complacency about the way we organize credit and...

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