Abstract: This paper describes certain central aspects of the operation of the consumer bankruptcy system in the United States. It combines government data with the investigators' empirical data from two large studies done over a decade to explore two types of questions. The first area of investigation relates specifically to bankruptcy policy. The object is to identify the categories of persons principally served by the consumer bankruptcy system and to determine if suggestions of widespread abuse of that system by debtors are well-founded. The paper reports that the system is used primarily by the middle-class. It also reports that there is no evidence of widespread abuse. The second area of investigation is explanation of differences in the operation of the system in different regions of the country, differences that have persisted over twenty years despite major changes in legal rules and economic conditions. The paper argues that these differences are not explicable in terms of formal legal rules or a simple economic model and that a better explanation of the data is that the differences are the product of a "local legal culture" in each region.