Chosen Slavery: An Overview of Choosing Financial Debt
Words of a Homeless Man
Six years ago, I went to Atlanta to hang out with a friend. I was recovering from a break up and he said it would do me some good. His prescription; working in a homeless shelter. I accepted and spent the time there getting to know many of the people there, learning about their experiences, and helping out. One gentleman in particular gave me a unique perspective.
I had asked him the question that all people with jobs want to ask homeless people; why didn’t he just get a job? His answer was simple, explaining that in Atlanta, if you apply for a job, they ask you where you live. If you don’t have a home, they won’t accept you. However, when you then go looking for a home, you’re asked if you have a job. No job, no apartment. No apartment, no job.
It wasn’t until recently that I came to understand what this man said. I had recently lost my job due to downsizing. Naturally, I did the logical thing and called the companies I was paying money out to for everyday living. Some of those companies specifically said that they would only extend the due dates but nothing else. This put me in a bind because I was now under the gun to find a job quickly just to be in a position to say I would make a payment later on.
Who Owns You?
American society as it stands right now is driven by debt. I’m not just talking about the debt owed to China, but the debt for everyday people as well. Nerdwallet.com estimates that the average American household owes about $15,480 from credit card debt, $156,474 from mortgages, and $33,424 to student loans, based on records from the Federal Reserve. Debt.org estimates that about 160 million Americans own credit cards, with the average holder owning three cards. However these are statistics, and are easily ignored, so let me put it another way.
It used to be in America that to get a job and own a house, you learned the job, got the experience, and worked your way up. Maybe you had federal help from military service, but that still wasn’t borrowing money to get ahead. Over the course of the late 20th century, more and more jobs needed actual college degrees, which many people could not afford. So in order to get the good careers, you had to borrow money. This by extension meant that when you were trying to pay off those loans, you also wanted to get a house, so now you had to borrow more money for that purpose, and then to get a car + insurance, and so on.
If you had to choose between saving up for something and borrowing money from a bank or credit card, which would you choose?
Modern Day Share Croppers
At the end of the American Civil War, the liberation of the slaves by the Emancipation Proclamation became an enforced reality, and not just poetic words. However, many former slaves found life in the Post-war south extremely difficult. Entrenched racism plus resentment of the North, and a ravaged economy, made making a honest living almost impossible to some ex-slaves and even poor White people as well. Many choose to go back to plantation work in order to get by in a system called share cropping. This meant that they would voluntarily work the fields owned by former slave owners. Instead of being called slaves though, they were referred to as sharecroppers.
We have gotten to a point where almost nothing we have is what we actually own. By ‘own’, I mean ‘cannot be taken away from you for any reason’. The only way most of us achieve a measure of that is if we somehow become so successful in high paying careers that the cushion of financial safety exceeds the grasp of the creditors. Yet even then, there’s still government taxes and watch what happens if you don’t pay those.
While much of this can be seen as employers and businessmen running up expenses so high that we have no choice but to borrow, the average person also share some of the responsibility. Like the debt.org reported, the average American owns three credit cards; three.
We're so much of a consumerist culture that we are willing to essentially put ourselves under a type of financial slavery to get what we want, even if it’s not needed. Saving up money for that new Iphone 5s doesn’t exist as a concept. As easy as it is to blame corporations and taxes for our financial state, they can only go so far. We, the people, have to be willing to agree to those standards for them to become more pervasive.
To put this into perspective, in some countries in Europe, a college education is paid for by the government. This means that when the student graduates, they have a much greater degree of freedom to travel or save more money for other financial ventures that many Americans in the same position would find difficult at best.
If for some reason we end up losing our jobs, or come across an unforeseen life hardship that sucks up much of that money cushion, then our world suddenly changes. The creditors now come in wanting there money back, claiming what we thought was ours, like our house and car, as now theirs! We in effect become financial slaves.
"We'd like to believe in the power of the people, that it is the average citizen and not the elite or the politicians who dictate to us our standard of living."
I honestly wish I had an answer to this state of affairs because honestly the only thing that readily comes to mind is save your money instead of borrowing it. I suppose you may consider this the rant of a man who was financially frustrated, but having worked in billing before, I know this is a reality for many Americans. We'd like to believe in the power of the people, that it is the average citizen and not the elite or the politicians who dictate to us our standard of living. That is not the case though, and maybe at least that is where we can start from.
If we are willing to see our lifestyle for what it really is, who really controls the direction we take our finical lives in and owns the things that consist of the American Dream these days, then maybe more options will appear. Otherwise, if the illusion falters via unforeseen circumstance and we find ourselves unable to pay off our creditors for, we find ourselves like that homeless man in Atlanta; stuck between a rock and a hard place.