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The indebted man 

You owe it! About moral and financial debt
Forfatter: Mikkel Thorup
Forlag: Klim (Danmark)
Being indebted has become our time of being human.


What is the reason why so many people refrain from changing society, thinking critically, and coming together in new communities? What is the reason why so many countries in the so-called rich part of the world are pursuing the same cutbacks and socially and humanly have come to resemble each other immensely? 

The answer to these two questions can be traced back to the same thing: financial debt. The low growth over the past several years has caused politicians to "save" the social economy through credit, mortgages and debt reduction. While efforts were previously made to raise loans, one must today make a conscious effort not to owe: "Debt and indebtedness are a social necessity for almost everyone." Debt has strengthened the market as a deity, while at the same time it just steals our lives.

Your fault!

The basic story in media and among politicians about debt and debt crisis is about short-term irresponsible consumption: You have lived above capacity, the orgy is over, now comes the bill, pay! Not a word about speculative debt, that the cause of the crisis is often neither private nor public debt, that greed is not the right explanation for why most people do what they do. 

Whether it is micro-loans in Bangladesh that enslave women or start-up projects for web designers in Copenhagen – the logic is the same.

In writing the cultural history of debt, Mikkel Thorup makes it unclear why an economic mindset, especially in the last 30 years, has come to permeate the entire political climate and human existence in every corner. He shows how the economy through debt succeeds in colonizing our entire lives. That its success story is based on a mix of economics and morals, hypocrisy and moral wrongdoing: on the one hand, borrowing and increased consumption are encouraged, on the other you are chased wildly if you cannot pay off your debt yourself, guilty as you is in its abundance. The financial crisis and market management of the community's institutions are not seen as the very cause of the problem, but merely an opportunity for increased debt management.

The forms of debt

Debt exists in many forms, such as moral debt, debt among friends, between parents and children, debt to society, to God. While moral debt is unpayable, financial debt is just something that ends with repayment. But the two intertwine. Nietzsche described the debt obligation as rooted in a moral conceptual world of "guilt", "conscience" and "duty". What matters is the sense of guilt that he detects in the contractual relationship between the creditor and the debtor. Today we say: Credit is good, debt is shameful. It is this mix of morality and economics that throws a veil over the whole debt issue. On the one hand, the individual consumer who lives above capacity is shamed, on the other, it is the economic form of debt that today colonizes the other debt relationships. 

Here we meet the structural problem of debt, which is tainted by politicians and opinion makers: that debt is a tool of power for the working society, and that debt thus molds a human view and a way of life that seizes our entire existence. Debt is a way to keep people going. Debt governs your life, you're jumped on a train that just runs, there's no time to jump off, and it's your own fault. Debt, for example, prepares the student for a life where there is no time to stop and think, change study, take Sabbath years, thus: there is only one life as a consumer. If education were to pave the way for self-education, it is today focused on business
life and job management a culture of discipline for consumer economics.

Debt globalization

We are shaped into debt man just as we are formed into work man, family man, faith man et cetera. French philosopher Gilles Deleuze already predicted in his 1980s control analysis the debt man as the subject that runs across all institutions, but what he did not foresee, Thorup writes, was that debt subjectivization would extend to the world's poor. Banks and politicians have made debt (borrowing) a driving force for development and changed our focus on work by describing the release of human potential in purely economic terms. Everyone is perceived as a resource, including the poor. It involves financial investment and financing in positive terms about job creation rather than labor, contractor rather than employee. Man must be made equal to capital. 

It's about creating an investment climate (Thorup), turning dead capital into living, unproductive into productive. Whether it is micro-loans in Bangladesh that enslave women or start-up projects for web designers in Copenhagen – the logic is the same. The private debt ends up stifling any recovery. Nevertheless, what Thorup is referring to is the reduction of public debt that dominates the debate, even if it aggravates the economic recovery and the private debt situation. While the individual is being scolded in the role of consumer, banks help in their role as debtors and protected creditors. 

Debt is self-discipline

We know the stories of the many Americans who, after the crisis, had to move from house to house; or the one about the English students who walked the streets in 2009 after the introduction of increased student fees. Denmark and Norway are not quite there yet, but we are well under way, as Thorup writes. Also here at home, we are well on the way to moving wealth creation from the production to the financial sector, from ordinary profit to debt (interest income, rental income) and thus get a population subject to work, money, obedience to the few others. Here we are at a central element of the debt economy: indebted man becomes the prevailing way of being human. 

Thorup quotes Italian Maurizio Lazzarato, who has written an entire book on debt and the changing human view: find jobs, the time spent adjusting to the criteria dictated by the market and business. Debt involves life discipline and a way of life that requires 'work on the self'. ”A work that involves new forms of addiction, new stressors, new types of isolation and loneliness. 

Leadership becomes self-management and constant self-evaluation guided by an economic language: Can it pay off; I do it well enough; how do i upgrade myself further? Debt and time work together. You think of yourself in timeframes: Is my ego in line with my future self? While Marx described capitalism's relationship to time through the worker's productive hours of work linked to the workplace, the time analysis of debt economics is linked to the individual's risk taking and thus the financial valuation of risk. Taking on costs and risks becomes a way of thinking about your future life in economic terms. 

cutback State

Over the past 30 years, debt management has been used to reduce the welfare state, which is now too expensive. You replace taxation of companies with debt relief. In short, democratic control of the social economy has been abandoned for the benefit of the market, transforming organizations and institutions into instruments of market interest. What is called "politics of necessity" or even "economic realism" or what is heard in the mantra "it must be possible to work" is that "debt must be repaid, for any hint of anything else, is the first step to the inevitable: an anarchy of lazy and pleasure sickness that becomes a tyranny of the rich and productive ». But what is called "realism" here is, in fact, a democratic settlement in which citizenship rights are replaced by creditors' right over assets. "Credit democracy is when the community and its citizens, debtors as well as borrowers depend on continued indebtedness to live the life they want to live." 

You are not a loan, but a life

At the core of all debt is addiction. Debt resistance is therefore about getting rid of addiction and getting your life back. Debt forgiveness, jubilee, release year, or grace year have a long history of moral-religious forgiveness. Living a life independent of debt has always been crucial to actually having the time and quiet to create one's own life. Debt addiction and theft of the future were also crucial to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Debt necessity only leads to labor and growth pressures. Steen Møller, the founder of Freiland (Djursland), says: “It has all become a job and an economy. We are working hard for us to be productive, rational and focused. ”Nor is the debt economy linked to a sustainable society. "Debt only leads to increased growth demands that strain people (stress, fatigue) and nature (pollution, resource depletion), as debt is basically a promise of future production." 

Banks and politicians have made debt (borrowing) a driving force for development

Freiland and other initiatives are examples of people who want to take control of their own lives, pursue dreams, work voluntarily, even without pay. In the surrounding community, on the other hand, if you want to 'be an adult and have a home, you must also take out a loan that is so large that you will never get to own your own home, but in reality will be a tenant with the bank the rest of his life ». 

In 2014, students in Chile objected to student lending practices and the struggle for free education. Activist Tapia stole a pile of debt securities from the university administration, after which he burned them. Debentures for $ 500 million went up in smoke, the ash pile was exhibited at an art museum. Burning debt securities was an original act of freedom. The debt certificate is the "clock form of addiction signs". Perhaps it is precisely this playful profanation (sanctification) of money that we need to realize how much debt management sacrifices our lives to an empty deity called capitalism.

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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