American-style debt bondage–how much longer can we go on this way?

A propos of this question of what the Occupy Wall Street protest is all about, I would like to raise the issue of debt bondage.

Usually when someone says “debt bondage,” we flash to images of Indian rice farmers or child brick carriers or trafficked women from Southeast Asia.

There is horrendous debt slavery in South and Southeast Asia, and the conditions under which men, women and children labor there are far worse than anything we face here in the U.S.

But at the same time, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to call the average American middle-class lifestyle a form of debt bondage.

This graphic does a good job at giving us the picture:

In case you can’t read the fine print, the end of the “game” shows that Americans will pay about $600,000 in interest alone during their lifetimes.  [Source: Visual Economics.]

Working to pay off debt has become so commonplace that we scarcely even notice it anymore.  But it’s a relatively new phenomenon.  And all that interest, plus all those fees, are among the prime ways that the Wall Street bankers have gotten so phenomenally rich in the past 50 years or so.

What can be done about this?  For starters, a quality education should not so expensive that a middle-class student has to go into debt to attain it.

And we have to think much more deeply as a society about the job question.  We should not make it so easy for corporations to outsource jobs to cheaper labor markets.  Just as we are beginning to think about localizing agriculture and energy, we need to think about localizing jobs.

That’s the way human beings have made their livings for the past millennia, after all.  Only in the last 30 years or so has the world become so small (thanks to cheap fossil fuels) that it was conceivable to export manufacturing and other basic services to the other side of the globe.

Is outsourcing really more cost-effective, when you add in the costs of social welfare for all these displaced workers?  And the costs of millions of foreclosed homes?  And the costs of warehousing millions of poorly educated young people in jail? Not to mention the costs of global climate change?

Well, it depends on who is footing the bill, doesn’t it.  The Occupy Wall Street protesters are speaking for all American taxpayers in declaring that we should not have to pay for the greedy, short-sighted mistakes of the global corporate elite.

If they had to pay the true costs of the agendas they’ve pursued since World War II, well–it would be quite a different world we were living in, friends.  Maybe we would still be able to make a living that didn’t involve constantly adding more links to the chains of our debt bondage.

Unthinkable, you say?

Think again!

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