"Taking himself seriously, so you don't have to."

Part I: Debt

Part I: Debt

 

Debt shackles us. We bring debt upon ourselves for the proposed purpose of betterment, for faith in a future life of more specific trades, knowledgeable work, higher social standing, higher wages, and a better future for our progeny. It is useful for those who can afford to push it upon others. For those that take it on, it is useful as well. Useful, right? What is not to like about it? Some people make money (the benefit of which is slowly degrading), and some people get capital. You need the return? If there were not the incentive, would you not invest? Would you simply sit and do nothing with your money? Eat at expensive restaurants and watch the opera? Do it. Everyone else will get along without your money. We’ll make this world so that all lives are sacred, so that standing does not play a part in necessity, so that all are given living quarters, all given food to live, all human beings given a chance. It can be done. You have done good work.

 

Certain credit has been too easily accessible for the knowledge gained (US college, being that debt for which I am familiar) for it to translate to a not-so-easily accessed occupation. There is an obvious disconnect, be this true. How has it come about? There are people who make a lot of money from those who can hardly afford it and do not benefit from loans of any kind. There is no guarantee of “7 years labor”, as if the best we could hope for is indentured servitude. It is not the debtors’ fault, necessarily, they are merely playing the game that we have been playing for a very long time, and there is no fault of theirs that they are good at it. (The privileges that they enjoy may make one envious, especially in a country where people are meant to be treated equally.)

 

Albeit, debt is an economic fact, and would exist within any form of government with money. Regardless of what kind of political system with which we entertain ourselves, it would be present to stifle those subjugated by it. Why is it so bad?

 

Debt tethers one to a post from which it is very difficult to escape. It is a cage that traps the one that enters. One could imagine it as a siren from the Odyssey, enticing any sailor who hears their song to leap from the ship and swim toward the beautiful wailing, and drown in the process. The allure of money is exactly that: an allure. Money itself is the egg-basket, of course. The one thing that each and every one of us strives for, because it provides precisely what we want: freedom. It can do this in large amounts. It allows one to build that house or plot of land where you can do as you wish, to buy that car that can take you places, to buy that slice of pizza to keep you satisfied for a time. To pay others to do jobs that you would rather not, giving one free time to do what one really wants to do.

 

This is the insidious nature of loans and debt. In the process of acquiring one kind of freedom so desperately sought, one loses another. Take, for example, student loans. If one wants a real education, as most of us do, we need to take out a loan to carry us through that education. So we can learn without worry, perhaps so that we can perform well in a career that provides more money in the long run. Suppose, for example, that that career for which you took those loans, for which you spent your adult life up to that point precisely for the purpose of educating yourself, has suddenly dropped off the job market. Suppose there is no longer such a desperate need for “life coaches”. What can you do? Left with 50,000 in debt, no career in sight, what are the options? The more adventurous (though devious among us), might skip the country, drop off the radar, and embark upon their “life coaching”from underneath a bridge. But for most, they are left struggling, unable to pursue what they wish and what they were trained for (granted that for which they trained was worth training for!), but must find other means that sap what it best within them.

 

The system simply does not afford for contingencies. Many are left destitute, and required to work a menial job. Not that that’s all so bad, certain jobs must be done. But the education toward the intended end is wasted, and that debt requires the person to do something wholly averse to his character, and in the prime of his life, at that.

 

Where this person would have done something much better for society, in that they would have “life coached” perfectly, they would have been the best of their breed, matters none. There is no ground from which they can rise above, because they are already in a hole, and one that will require more strength to get out of than they could utilize best.

 

Add to this the fact that many of these students who take on this debt are mere children, completely unaware of how finance, society, or the world actually works, makes this a terrible injustice of its own sake. Now let’s look at the results from both ends:

 

From the side of the debtor, that student that took out the loan, we find that they may have a despairing existence. They have squandered what is best within them, have more regrets with every passing day, and will be more unjust in their future relations, being that they fear exchanges that much more, and fear society, fear their own shadow, for they did it to themselves, of all things. And if you say, “Well, that’s the way the world works, and it’s best they learn quick.” The thing is this: it does not need to work like that. Masochism does not make a healthy society. Hurting another to further your own gains, regardless of your attitude toward it, harms someone.

 

From the side of the debt giver, what you have is financial gain from financial gain. You have usury. You have mountains of expendable currency, the closest thing to which we may value1, stacked and propped, flowing by the millions into the baskets of someone who has a pile of it laying behind them. And what have they done to justify their acquisition? Moved around some paper? Handled some of the cash? Counted it out? Told someone they owed them? Punched in the amount on a computer? Arbitrarily assigned some rate of return? “Yes,” you say? Well tell me then, what are these things? Do they produce something? Does one learn anything significant? Certainly, one “makes” money. But tell me, when one can “make” money, when it is the object of one’s work, does it have any value at all? I can cut up some strips of paper and make some people believe it means something, but I do not. A “money tree”? Do you know what that would mean? Money loses its value. In order for currency to work, it must represent something. In the case of the debt giver, money represents only their propensity for money. In our present system, some people get paid to count money. They’re called bank tellers. Don’t let me be misunderstood, this is actually work, and they should be compensated for it. But the “owners” of those banks? And those that pretend to do something on Wall Street when they gamble on the price of corn tomorrow? Just what are they producing? Nothing. For what are they justified a reward? They produce nothing, except, perhaps, excitement. And they provide nothing, unless they can prove themselves to be worthy as some sort of higher noble class, capable of creating culture, steering the economy in the right direction, critiquing when necessary, and being willing to engage in the greater society, with these truths laid out wide open (and if the culture of the last 50 years is any indication of their ability to do this, as evidenced by the patronage in “post-modernism” and other such nonsense, they are doing a terrifically awful job of that). Short of real culture, they are nothing but glorified consumers, and the fattest of the bunch, sucking the freedom from others for nothing but wasteful endeavors. They might as well use their money to hire some ditch-diggers to bury it at the bottom of a coal mine and immediately start back upon it. Or corner the market on vanity and burn it in a bonfire.

 

Simply put, this situation cannot exist for too much longer. We have seen signs of it breaking, and we have not taken the hint. It will break on its own. It is an impossible system to maintain, and it will break sooner than later. When it does, when it finally does, it will be much worse than any “recession” or “depression” or any of those funny words economists like to use. It will be complete and total economic destruction, that will probably coincide with our depletion of fossil fuels (but WITHOUT coincidence), and it will destroy our society and take with it any hopes of returning to the wealth and future hope that we presently enjoy.

 

To summarize the effect of individual debt: it prevents “undertakings”. It is indentured servitude (requiring one to spend the best years of one’s life toiling). Freedom, in its most basic form and all others more advanced, is restricted. The most innovative ideas are not pursued for reliance on conservative slow toil, and (to those who after many years of toil now find themselves in possession of some capital) in remembrance of those days, averse to repeating them, now deny more innovative ideas for the risk involved.

 

There is a question, however: is it true that this system that requires that one labor toward one’s freedom useful in creating virtue? Is the old adage “to pull oneself up by their bootstraps” a legitimate reason to keep this system in effect? Do those who toil for years to find blessed freedom become virtuous in the process? It’s a question that reminds me of the unfortunate concept of “original sin”, in that humanity is forever born with irredeemable sin, no matter what actions are taken upon this earth. I find this concept reprehensible. Also found in a song by Queen, “We are the Champions”: “I’ve done my sentence but committed no crime”. To work out of prison, when one was completely innocent. This is the essence of our system of debt. Is a prisoner who spends 20 years in prison for a crime they did not commit more virtuous? I suppose you could ask “The Memphis 3″. Perhaps they might be. Just to continue living in that case is an achievement in itself. But unjust? Absolutely. On the whole, there are worse actions performed by those released after being wrongly imprisoned, than there are for those who remained justifiably free.

 

To bring the analogy back to the subject: in each of our lives spent toward the acquisition of material wealth that might one day render us free (this being the prime motivating factor), patterns emerge that draw one away from virtue and toward a dubious nature, both in their dealings with their fellows and with, again, the acquisition of material wealth, which no longer becomes a means to an end, but an end in itself.

 

The effect on societies (nations) engaged in this behavior is nearly the same: indenturing countries enticed by the possibility of a better, more affluent, “freer” future, relegating them to a role as servants, working their way out of “prison”, riskier yet innovative efforts left “cost ineffective”, virtue lost toward pure acquisition of material wealth, and providing good reason for the one country to despise the other, erecting a wall that prevents real cooperation.

 

This is an unintended consequence of usury, of building a house of “fiat currency”. That currency should be used to entice to build the house, not be the material of which it is constructed. The carrot that is used to move the donkey will not move on its own much when the donkey has stopped. We need to stop riding the carrot and concern ourselves with the donkey. Building debt upon debt, and being excessively satisfied with ourselves, when we put another card on top that reduces the size/strength of the donkey. (Cripes, sorry for the mixed metaphors.) But every time you move that carrot (loans, making them more attractive [advertising]), you take from the size and strength of the donkey, tiring him, fatiguing him, emaciating him, and making him work harder and harder, with less resources, for a “house of cards” carrot. And when he finally takes a bite… CRASH! There was nothing there (housing bubble). ANYWAY

 

That is roughly the effect of large-scale private lending. The reason for the lending (return), reason for borrowing (start-up costs). I cannot see any benefit, whatsoever, to the society of having a system of usury besides financing new projects and spurring economic “growth”. At present circumstances, these intention have little urgency. [See Part II: Loans and the Functions of Profit]

 

As for the “national debt”, as we call it? Unless the energy and resources have come from foreign sources (which it seems we do owe China and Saudi Arabia some amount), there is not any real problem. Certainly not a problem that is more important than the crises of climate change and our broken economic system in general. In which case, were they fixed, the national debt would become entirely moot (besides that which owed to other countries, which would be paid back in short enough order according to new terms, fairly arranged, of course.)

 

The larger effect on society of debt is one of restraint. It is not “growth” that is lacking in this case, but actual construction. GDP, as we know it, is a skewed number, one that happens to favor financial instruments, at present. Of this our country has become quite the successor to Great Britain. But these “financial instruments” do little to genuinely benefit the people of the United States. I’ve mentioned before that this type of capitalism is obsolete. It is obsolete in this country, but it still has its uses elsewhere, countries that are not so well developed. Where a driving force behind people making and doing must still be material or monetary. As the superpower of the world, and as one could call the “supervisors” of the world, we are managers. overseers. It is a responsibility that we have to the world, and our place in it, our “job”. But, how we conduct our affairs internally is another matter. And as overseer and manager, we must set an example as well. When we reach the limits of what can be accomplished through our past economic system’s means, we must create a new system. Putting our own people in debt is as foolhardy as tying one hand behind your back and expecting to win a tennis match because the one hand is now stronger for repetition of use.

 

The present system does keep people moving. But they walk around like zombies, slowly and methodically plugging away, chipping away at that mountain of debt with a menial job, torn by freedom to use their “money” in the prime of their life or putting it off for their midlife crisis. Most plop themselves into the suburbs, buy a used car to commute to a job that often is ultimately unnecessary. Had they no debt, they would not need to work so much and would spend their time on what they might best do. They are driven to work that much harder in a country where working that hard is unnecessary, and can be, detrimental. [See Part 6-G: Technology]

1 We shall have to see if value is determined by something so fluid as fiat currency. We cannot agree on it in spiritual terms, nor moral terms, and certainly not economic terms. If there’s anything we really do not understand (and seem unable to effect), it is economics. My intention here is to argue for us to, at the very least, slow down our effects, that we might best figure what benefits humanity, and forge toward that future. We must discuss these things, and we are young and we are capable of such great destruction.