While most of the focus on financial innovation gone awry has been on Wall Street wheeler-dealers, the multibillion-dollar boom in “alternative financing” for the working poor is more fascinating. Gary Rivlin rivets readers with the characters who cooked up what he calls “Poverty Inc.” — and the activists who’ve fought them. “There seemed to be no shortage of ways entrepreneurs had devised for getting rich working the easy-credit landscape,” he writes, but Rivlin pays close attention to the $8 billion payday lending business. Arguments boil down to useful service versus usury, but in the end, as one pro-regulation Republican said, “you can’t hear the stories without having it tug at your heart.” Free enterprise is no match for a lady who borrowed $500 and ended up paying $10,000 in fees and losing her house. — DAVID LIDSKY
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