First let’s not kid ourselves; slavery makes for tough conversation at the best of times. As for personal debt, that doesn’t exactly make for a good chinwag either. But to not discuss these issues out of sheer awkwardness is to non-verbally declare that you are part a courtesy bias that amplifies the problem.
Slavery occurs in many forms, has existed almost as long as we have, and still does today*. The analogous parallels between debt and slavery are staggering. By identifying the constructs that allow them to exist, we raise awareness of the fact this is not something to be blasé about. Now I have never been a slave, so my ability to comment on the psyche of being one is obviously limited. But what I can discuss is one of the main tools used to mentally subjugate Slaves, and how this mirrors the mechanics that keeps indebted people in debt today.
Historically, the most notorious employers of slavery made its normalisation a fundamental part of establishing the longevity of the bondage. In so doing, the Masters made the Slaves believe that servitude was simply their lot in life and that no other way of living was possible (for them). Propaganda, pseudoscience, religion and social stratification were the tools of this normalisation; moulding the mind of the Slave until defiance became compliance (and even gratitude in some known cases).
So how does debt tie in to this?
Internet, TV and radio are today’s indoctrination tools. You do not have to look far to see ads driving credit purchases and entire business models built on “don’t pay anything today”. It comes as no surprise then that a recent PEW study** highlights a whopping 68% of us believe that debt is necessary to make purchases that our “income and savings alone could not support”. The paper also unveils exponential increases in consumer credit over the last decade, and goes on to highlight that 43% of households spend more than they make a month. These statistics illustrate the engineering of societal expectations to the point that it is ok value short-term gratification over long-term self-detriment, and this can have serious repercussions…
One such repercussion is that this is driving inflation. As people are more willing to pay later for things that were once bought over the counter, retailers can charge more through interest. When prices rise faster than wages, real household income falls. And this isn’t the end of it. Debt has been highlighted as a root cause of increases in suicide rates since the global financial crash***. People literally so depressed and entrapped by debt that that are taking their lives!
To be clear, I am not saying that you should never use debt. And it does not have to be all doom and gloom. When used wisely, it can be effective in reaching your financial goals faster. But by engineering beliefs of what is the norm, communities become self-limiting as our expectations have a huge impact on what we believe to be achievable. And this is far more powerful than any chains of bondage…
*International Labour Organisation estimates an astounding 21 million people in forced labour