Author calls debt modern form of bondage in campus speech

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Democracy has crumbled in the face of what activist and author Andrew Ross labels a “creditocracy.” Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, coins this term because, as he explained during his speech in Wheeler Hall on Tuesday night, an overwhelming majority of average American citizens face forms of financial “debt bondage” incurred due to an inability to acquire basic services such as education, housing and health care. In his book “Creditocracy,” Ross, an author of 12 other books on political philosophy pertaining to labor issues and human rights, reveals the twisted morality behind the elite few who control the American banking industry and enumerates the detrimental effects this system has on our society.

In a timely fashion, “Creditocracy” asserts that financial institutions no longer value reliable customers. In fact, the book argues, modern banks regard their least reliable customers as the best ones because they are the ones banks profit from most. According to Ross, good credit is a bad thing in the eyes of profit-hungry creditors. Because so many Americans are sliding further into debt of all kinds, widespread “credit slavery” leaves millions in financial “bondage.”

To illustrate his point, Ross sets up an allusion to Karl Marx’s depiction of the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. To craft his depiction of modern-day America as a creditocracy, or a society ruled by a crediting class, Ross equates the creditor-debtor relationship to a master-slave relationship. In such a creditocracy, creditors possess dictatorial powers over their financial victims. In effect, the class stratifications of “Creditocracy” read like descriptions from a 21st-century “Communist Manifesto” in which the oppressive bourgeoisie is the creditor and the laboring proletariat is the debtor.

Ross portrays the exponential financial growth within the richest 1 percent of people and the slow but steady amalgamation of the middle and lower classes with statistics publicized before, during and after the Occupy movement. This increased class polarization and dichotomization evokes Marx’s vision of society “splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.” Such a predicament has been actualized in 21st-century America for Ross and the supporters of his “Strike Debt” campaign, a growing political collective with chapters across the country.

Ross argues that Americans are losing their freedom because of these almighty banks that effectively control the finances of U.S. politicians and therefore also U.S. civilians. In his book, Ross concludes that because such large corporate fingers are clutching all the political power, banks are debilitating the political system from regulating the corruption throughout the banking industry. Justice and democracy in society is thus impaired and impossible because of this obvious financial bias.

“Creditocracy” proposes the solution of widespread debt elimination, or what Ross describes as the U.S. government “abolishing the debt sentence.” Ross upholds that it is not the civilian’s fault for falling into most kinds of debt. Things such as medical bills, college tuition and housing mortgages drag civilians down. Ross explains that such kinds of household debt are immoral and ought to be eliminated without penalty to the civilian.

Such a simple solution, however, would not bring about permanent change. Ross merely suggests we wipe the slate clean and start anew. “Creditocracy” presents numerous examples of widespread “jubilees,” or collective debt eliminations, that have occurred throughout history since the 12th century. This sort of action, while immediately effective, is only a temporary fix and would not solve the root of the problem, which lies higher up on the sociopolitical food chain.

“Creditocracy” presents countless shocking examples of just how far the U.S. government has already gone to prioritize the demands of its gluttonous creditor class over the majority of its citizens. Ross prophesies that another “equally ruinous relapse” similar to the 2008 financial meltdown is inevitable if drastic reforms are not made.

While Ross states that education is a right — not to mention an essential facet of maintaining a healthy democracy with informed, thinking citizens — others disagree. The fact that some agree with sentiments such as those uttered by the former president Ronald Reagan during Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement that “education is a privilege, not a right” points to two equally dystopian American futures. In one, all citizens are educated but in a state of “debt bondage.” In the other, Americans are uneducated but “free” of education-induced debt. In either situation, civilians are highly susceptible to government manipulation and lack control over their own lives.

Throughout “Creditocracy” and his speech at Wheeler Hall, Ross begs students to ask why we go to school, only to incur debt and have to labor for years afterward to pay it off. He demands that his readers and listeners question their beliefs and why we have been conditioned to believe that such a form of debt “bondage” is acceptable in today’s society.

Kate Irwin covers literature. Contact her at [email protected].

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