The Economy: Highly Volatile Paper

On August 1, 1970, the ABC Corp. promises to pay to the order of bearer the sum of One Million Dollars . . .

If the name were an individual's, that would sound like the sort of marker a winning gambler might pick up in some fantastic, high-stakes crap game. In fact, it is a similar form of IOU—a sample of the unsecured and loosely regulated kind of corporate credit known as commercial paper. Until the collapse of the Penn Central, commercial paper was the nation's fastest-growing type of credit, but now it has become a prime source of financial...

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