A Society of Fear
There are people out there whose livelihoods depend on the fact that most people go every day to some job or another. Business owners, investors, retired folks — capitalists in general — pay their expenses with profits that would be threatened if there weren't plenty of workers trading their life for a paycheck.
I don't mean to speak ill of capitalists — I'm one of them (in my own "eking out a meager existence" way). But as a group, they have a vested interest in most people choosing to get up and go to work every day. And, as a group, they're terrified that most people wouldn't do that unless they had to.
I think that's why society has been organized to make the wage slave/debt slave trap the default path for almost everyone.
It's a gentle trap: borrow a bit to go to college, a bit more to buy a car, a bit more to buy a house... You earn plenty of money and enjoy a comfortable life — and all you lose is your freedom to do anything else besides get up everyday and go to work.
When I wrote about it before, a lot of commenters chimed in to defend the wage slave/debt slave trap — on the grounds that it motivates people to "work;" that it teaches them how to "manage money;" that it keeps them "honest."
And I find that fascinating. Because, see, I can understand business owners feeling that way — their profits would drop if people managed to escape their debt traps, gaining options besides showing up at their job day after day. I can also understand managers feeling that way — their bonuses would be a lot smaller (and their jobs a lot harder) if their employees were in a position to choose the work that was the most fun or interesting or useful or important. I can understand the government feeling this way — income taxes could drop a lot if debt-free citizens could choose to earn less.
But I'm mystified by ordinary people feeling this way. It's bad enough that people put themselves into the position of having to go to work every day — and worse, having to go with whatever job pays the most because it's the only way to get all the bills paid — rather than being able to choose work because it's interesting or because it helps people. But that's only the beginning of the madness. Everyone in the debt slave/wage slave trap has to worry that any little mistake could cost them all their worldly goods and their entire future.
In a world where these sorts of debts are normal, an ordinary person with ordinary expenses has to be afraid all the time. An unexpected expense can put the whole household at risk — it means more debt, probably at a higher rate. Any little glitch in earnings can be ruinous — it means missed payments, late fees and penalty rates of interest.
Imagine if things were different — if most people had a comfortable emergency fund and little or no debt. A lost job would mean belt tightening, but not foreclosure. A sudden spike in fuel costs would mean turning down the thermostat and wearing a sweater, but not pawning the wedding rings for enough gas to get to work one more week. It would mean not living in fear.
As I said, there are a lot of people who think their livelihood depends on that fear. Those whose profits are higher and jobs are easier when there are plenty of frightened workers have a vested interest in things as they are. But I think we'd be better off if people were less afraid.