Debt is the most effective way to take a relation of violent subordination and make the victims feel that it’s their fault. Colonial regimes did this all the time; they would charge people for the cost of their own conquest, via taxes. However, using debt in this way also has a notorious tendency to rebound, because the subtle thing about debt relations is that, on a certain level, they are premised on equality—we are both equal parties to a contract. This both makes the sting of inequality worse, because it implies you should be equal to your creditor but you somehow messed up, but also, makes it possible to start saying ‘wait a minute, who owes what to who here?’ But of course once you do that, you have accepted the idea that debt really is the essence of morality. You’ve accepted the masters’ language.
Nice interview with David Graeber (who I interviewed on RSB back in 2007
) over on the impressive website of The White Review.