Has Anything Changed in the Past Century? Revisiting Graue's "The Social Cost of Bad Debt"
In a seminal paper, Erwin Graue (1939) provides an institutional analysis of the causes and consequences of personal bankruptcy protection in the United States during the period 1900-1937 when bankruptcy procedures were guided by the Federal Bankruptcy Act of 1898 (the Law was revised in 1938). This paper revisits the Graue study in the context of the current recession using a simple institutional economic framework. Consistent with Graue, we begin shortly after the implementation of the Bankruptcy Abuse Protection and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) and follow its evolution to the present time. Our analysis suggests that, since passage of BAPCPA, both total filings and Chapter 7 filings decreased significantly, however temporarily. Moreover, Chapter 7 filings as a percentage of Chapter 13 filings also temporarily decreased. These results are not only consistent with Graue's analysis, but also demonstrate that the institutional characteristics of bankruptcy law have a profound impact on the decision to file for bankruptcy and the chapter under which a petitioner files.
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