The economy is on a lot of people’s minds as Canadian newspapers warn of recession and the United States deals with its subprime mortgage problem. And so this might be the perfect time to read Margaret Atwood’s new book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. Consisting of five essays, each presented during this year’s Massey Lectures, Atwood provides a discursive overview of the history of debt, lending and borrowing, fairness, and its related concepts.
In the end Atwood resolves the mystery of debt, saying everything must in the end come from Nature. Everything, Atwood says, is either taken or traded. The goods to be traded must first be taken from somewhere; and the goods taken can only come from Nature. Atwood describes a scenario starring a revamped version of Scrooge, named “Scrooge Nouveau”, and set in a world of rapidly depleting resources. It is a world in which its most intelligent inhabitants (that’s us, by the way) have consumed goods beyond their needs at costs exceeding their means. We have, that is, purchased large parts of our globe on credit with high interest rates that we must one day face. Atwood’s implied imperative throughout the text: we’d be better off if we recognized this now and worked to strike a genuine balance between our only creditor, Nature, and its debtor, us.
Read the whole thing here
And from Salon‘s review:
Oh, sure, anyone can come up with a good aphorism or two, but I can’t think of anyone who has explained the subprime mortgage crisis quite as cogently as Atwood: “Some large financial institutions peddled mortgages to people who could not possibly make the monthly rates and then put this snake-oil debt into cardboard boxes with impressive labels on them and sold them to institutions and hedge funds that thought they were worth something.”
The whole thing is here