This article discusses comparative consumer bankruptcy in the con-text of the international spread of consumer credit capitalism and its ac-companying social cost, overindebtedness. The article outlines the con-tours of regulation of credit markets and overindebtedness within Europe, the influence of the U.S. idea of the “fresh start” on recent changes in European debt-adjustment laws and continuing contrasts with the U.S. approach to bankruptcy. As consumer debt increases in Europe and elsewhere, these differences between continental European and North American approaches to bankruptcy might be explained by the path-dependence of legal institutions, cultural differences, or the political in-fluence of interest groups. The article is skeptical about cultural expla-nations of difference and suggests the value of an analysis that is sensi-tive to political economy and history. It also argues that future comparative research should focus on overindebtedness rather than bankruptcy.
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