Magazine article Tikkun

Zygmunt Bauman on Breaking Our Addiction to Credit

Magazine article Tikkun

Zygmunt Bauman on Breaking Our Addiction to Credit

Article excerpt

WE IN EUROPE LOVE AMERICA AND ALL IT HAS STOOD FOR THROUGH MOST OF OUR HISTORY, and that is why we suffered watching helplessly as your predecessor, with the support and occasional applause of his electors, trampled on almost everything that America embodied and for which we loved and respected it so deeply. Nothing hurts more than iniquity and disingenuousness in a good friend. And when the friend happens to be also a most respected authority, example, and guide, his wickedness also confuses and frightens. If we could have voted, we in Europe would have given you a landslide victory because we believe that you will restore to America the trust moral authority, and planet-wide authority that your predecessor recklessly squandered.

I would raise with you just one problem, selected because of the danger that it may sink and drown in the flood of advice you receive from your country and the world at large. This concerns the frequently overlooked, or played down, root of the worldwide economic crisis in which, alas, America was as much culprit as victim.

The reaction to the "credit crunch" so far, impressive and even revolutionary as it may appear as it is processed in the media headlines and through politicians' sound-bites, has been an effort or promise to return to the status quo ante: an effort to recapitalize the money lenders and to make their debtors creditworthy once more, so the business of lending and borrowing, of falling in debt and staying there, could return to "usual," and the economy be made to run again on consumers' willingness to spend money they haven't earned. It is with that purpose in mind that "the welfare state for the rich" (which unlike its namesake for the poor has never had its rationality questioned, let alone put out of operation) has been brought back to the showrooms from the service quarters to which its offices were temporarily relegated to avoid invidious comparisons.

What is joyously (and foolishly) forgotten on such occasions is that the nature of human suffering is determined by the way humans live. Indeed, the roots of the currently lamented pains, like the roots of all social evils, are sunk deep in our trained mode of life and in our carefully cultivated and by now deeply seated habit of running for consumer credit whenever there is a problem to face, or difficulty to bypass. In that human weakness, the banks spotted a chance to transform debts into permanent money-earning assets. So, breaking with the philosophy of the old-style money lenders, they moved to treat prompt repayment of credits as a liability, not an asset- unless more and larger debts were incurred for that purpose. …

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