New Orleans The notion that there might be a “house theorist” in the tent cities of the Occupy movement was interesting in and of itself, but the fact that such soul would be David Graeber who recently wrote, Debt: The First 5000 Years, was even more interesting to me. This whole debt thing is a giant weight in contemporary society, stretching as ACORN International recently studied into the underpinnings of the false hopes of the microcredit schemes for the poor, which were better at larding on debt than reducing poverty.
Graeber is an anthropologist and Thomas Meaney in a Times tongue-in-cheek-in-eyeball essay argues that the book essentially tracks the time line from when debts moved from moral obligations to fast buck hustles underlying everything from subprime lending to Wall Street shenanigans. Supposedly, Graeber “imagines a world where such liabilities might be forgiven altogether.” Speaking for many, it just can’t get her fast enough for me! Occupy that, banker man!
Unfortunately for Graeber’s argument, it seems that the strong foundation of an atavistic moral commitment to repay debts continues to be the foundation of a multi-billion dollar collection agency enterprise subcontracting the heat and harassment from the sterling reputations of big banks and credit card companies to prey on the families and relatives of the dearly departed to try and pinch them for their last pennies to resolve debts left by the dead. An excellent article by Jessica Silver-Greenberg in the Wall Street Journal not long ago went into chilly detail discussing the tactics and strategies of the debt collectors in wearing down folks until they made payments on the deceased debts, even when they were under no obligation to do so!
Unless the debt was jointly held, like a co-signed note or a joint mortgage, they own your ass, but only until the last breath at which point you are free at last. The collectors try to con and connive until they squeeze something past that last puff to get their money. Amazingly, some end up paying for the same reasons that Graeber argues our distant forbearers did thousands of years ago, because it seemed moral.
Now that interest rates, fake charges, and bait-and-switch rule too much of the credit industry, the morality has leeched out of the entire enterprise, so good people should let the debts lie and the dead rest without a penny of guilt or remorse.