Past Event

Debt and the American Dream

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” -James Truslow Adams, 1931

“It’s like the American Dream in reverse.” -President Barack Obama on the financial crisis, 2009

Statue of LibertyIn the past several years, debt and lending have become a topic of national conversation like never before. During the financial crisis of 2009, subprime mortgages and home foreclosures dominated the headlines. This March, President Obama signed a “Student Aid Bill of Rights” designed to protect borrowers: “higher education is, more than ever, the surest ticket to the middle class,” said the President.

The IHC invites you to join us as we examine the past, present and future of debt in American life in a conversation that connects economics, policy and culture.

Speakers include Amir Sufi, Chicago Board of Trade Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago and co-author of House of Debt, Terrence Young, Director of Commercial Banking at Chicago’s Urban Partnership Bank, and Annie McClanahan, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The conversation will be moderated by Anna Kornbluh, Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Some things they’ll discuss:

  • How have debt, lending and financial institutions shaped the economic and cultural life of the American middle class throughout our history?
  • How has the financial crisis changed the way we think about national identity? How has it influenced popular culture?
  • What is the role of the financial sector in driving prosperity after the Great Recession?

Amir SufiAmir Sufi is the Chicago Board of Trade Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. His recent research on household debt and the economy has been profiled in major national media outlets, and has also been presented to national policy-makers. This research forms the basis of his book co-authored with Atif Mian: House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again (2014), which was shortlisted for selection as the Financial Times’ Best Business Book of 2014.

Terrence YoungTerrence Young is Director of Commercial Banking at Urban Partnership Bank, an FDIC-certified Community Development Financial Institution that strives to make a difference by building vibrant neighborhoods and promoting economic and environmental sustainability through responsible, affordable banking products and services. Previously, Young served as Director of Commercial Real Estate at Urban Partnership.

Annie McClanahanAnnie McClanahan is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee specializing in 21st-century literature and culture. She is currently at work on a book titled “Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture.” Theorizing new modes of uncertainty and belief, character and credibility, social cohesion and collective default, “Dead Pledges” explores how cultural texts have been compelled to account for the expansion and collapse of a financialized credit economy.

Anna KornbluhAnna Kornbluh is Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research and teaching interests center on Victorian literature and critical theory. She is the author of Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form (2014), and her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in ELH, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Henry James Review, Mediations, and elsewhere.

This event is free and open to all age (Photo ID Required). However, registration is required and can be made online.

If you need a sign interpreter or require other arrangements to fully participate, please call 312.422.5580 at least 72 hours prior to the event. For parking locations near the facility, please visit

For more information, please call 312.422.5580.