“DEBT, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-driver.” (2)
The American Dream: Graduate high school, go to college, graduate and get career, accrue wealth, marry/kids , buy shit. Anything wrong? Maybe.
Maybe. Maybe the setup isn’t as good as it could be. The dream costs. College $$$, Marriage $$, Kids $$$, Buying Shit $$$$. It’s the inadvertent accumulation of debt that accompanies that American Dream which makes the path maybe not quite as good as it may seem to be.
It was senior year at North Dakota State University. Sitting toward the back of my senior design coarse. It’s a brightly lit stale room with 3 rows of new fake wood finished tables. Dr. Bob is lecturing on something dealing with how a design process relates to the development of a housing project. Per usual, he has a few slides prepared and is rambling. Most students sit and listen, unquestioning, but I take the ramblings for what they are…ramblings. Everyone just wants to graduate and start their American dream already. Questioning D-Bob’s lecture won’t get them any closer. As he approaches the topic of housing costs he takes the opportunity to single me out among my peers.
“Mr. Zimmerman, aren’t you planning on moving to Denver?”
“Not Denver, but Colorado, yes.”
I had indeed worked out a deal with Dr. Bob to complete the balance of my course work remotely after completing my study in Fargo.
“What do you know about the cost of housing in Denver?”
“More than double. Buying a home will be nearly impossible. Have you even considered this?”
He takes joy in calling me out in front of my peers for a seemingly hasty decision to move westward before completing my design project.
“I’m renting.” I think I have him. It’s a situation where I am certainly the one on the defensive.
“For how long do you estimate you’ll be throwing your money away on rent?”
“Buying a home might not be right for everyone.”
The dialogue continues to digress until it is no longer relevant to the lecture with neither party as an obvious victor.
It’s an argument that I have thought about a few times since and one of those that where I continually come of with things that ‘I wish I would have said’.
Dr. Bob has a long and impressive resume leading up to his tenure at NDSU. Over this time it would be safe to say that D-Bob has accrued a considerable amount of wealth. For him, the decision to buy a house is an easy one. Owning a property does in fact seem like an easy financial decision. A no-brainer. (The economics of home buying are not really my concern or the focus of this argument) It’s also a lifestyle choice. And that is the side of the argument that Dr. Bob fails to see.
When one buys a home, they need take out a loan. The loan will require a monthly payment to the bank until it is paid off. If the payments aren’t met, the house will be reclaimed by the bank. The buyers credit will suck a bag of dicks, not to mention all the other massive stresses associated with defaulting on a loan. That’s not really the point. The point is…
That loan has put you in bondage. No longer are the options for exploration. It’s either work, or lose the home and watch your new-found quality of life degrade. It’s either work, or shitty, shitty things will happen.
Now consider life if the loan hadn’t been taken out. You will work, most likely, as most people do. But as soon as a modest amount of savings has been compiled, work, as it was before, is no longer mandatory. Something new can happen. Travel. Time off. Search for a new career. Change. Anything your heart desires. Freedom. Freedom through frugality.
Home buying is just one way to gather debt. There are a bunch. America has a limitless supply of them. College, Cars, Combines, plus anything that can be put on a credit card.
The debt cycle hasn’t been around forever. In fact it is a rather recent invention.
“…when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913, workers simply walked out. …“So great was the labor’s distaste for the new machine system that toward the close of 1913 every time the company [Ford Motor Company] wanted to add 100 men to its factory personnel, it was necessary to hire 963.” (1)
So what the fuck did ol’ Henry do?
“…the only way to get them [early 20th century craftsmen] to work harder was to play upon the imagination, stimulating new needs and wants. Consumption, no less than production, needed to be brought under scientific management – the management of desire.” (1)
He got them to buy shit. In his case cars, but any kind of debt would do. It was the industrial revolution that introduced consumer debt. Debt was transformed from something undesirable to something totally acceptable and normal.
“The habituation of workers to the assembly line was thus perhaps made easier by …[an] innovation of the early twentieth century: consumer debt. As Jackson Lears has argued through the installment plan previously unthinkable acquisitions became thinkable, and more than thinkable: it became normal to carry debt. The display of a new car bought on installment became a sign that one was trustworthy. ..a wholesale transformation of the old puritan moralism… “ (1)
Debt is a new thing. It hasn’t been around forever. It’s not something that has to be endured. Is living totally without debt for everyone? Nope. But for those people that have a bone buried anywhere in there body that wants to travel, or make big changes, or simply live freely, they may want to consider living without it.
I see it as timing and mindset. When you want to buy something, the desire is strong and real. A new car for example. At the time you are thinking about pulling the trigger, a lot of reason fades away. We are masters of convincing ourselves of most anything. It’s easy to concoct a slough of reasons why it makes sense to drive a new car. Reliable for getting to work. Safer. Blue is the new red. I’ll dirve the car for years. Etc. I am certainly really great at doing this myself. This is mindset. The timing comes into play when you consider when it is that we will be paying for our debt. Payment comes when you consider the amount of time you will be living under the weight and bondage of that new-car-payment. You’ll be required to come of with that money every month for years. Years away from when you made the decision to buy the car. Not merely limiting your freedom but literally enslaving you. Maybe not so bad when you bought the car but for the next few years how is one supposed to know what their desires will be. Staying ahead of debt spells freedom to choose what is is that you most want to do in life when you want to do it. It’s about considering timing and mindset.
If what you want most in life is a new car than by all means, suck that cooperate cock. Take that loan and deal with it for the next few years. It’s not all that bad for many people. But if you want, or might want down the road, something else for yourself besides bondage to a certain lifestyle; avoiding debt is certainly the gateway.
“The advantages of debt have become almost a philosophy. Possibly it is true that many people, if not most, would bestir themselves very little were it not for the pressure of debt obligations. If so, they are not free men and will not work from free motives. The debt motive is, basically, a slave motive.” – Ford
Ford invented it to keep workers working. Workers enslaved. We don’t have to take the bait. Debt costs freedom.
“Money is a new form of slavery, and distinguishable from the old simply by the fact that it is impersonal – that there is no human relation between master and slave.” -Tolstoy
1. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
By Matthew B. Crawford
2. Ambrose Bierce, debt in The Devil’s Dictionary
3. Today and Tommorow, 1926, Ford
4. Leo Tolstoy