I’ve written several times on Consumerism Commentary, and other people have written and said many times as well, that debt is slavery. In fact, there is a popular book on the topic aptly titled, Debt is Slavery. It’s a convenient metaphor; if slavery is working without the benefit of enjoying the fruits of your labor, being in debt is similar.
Deep in debt, any extra money you have after paying for living expenses is designated to pay off debt. Like slavery, you cannot save money for your future. There is no such thing as retirement for someone who is debt or someone who is enslaved; you must work until the day you die, or until you pay off your debt, for the benefit of a master.
The metaphor doesn’t sit well with me. Debt is a financial reality that is difficult, but slavery is much more than that. Calling debt slavery minimizes the gravity of what it really means to be enslaved. Slavery relegates an individual to property, bought and sold like a piece of furniture or cattle. While it may feel that way for someone working for a living, meeting their expenses paycheck-to-paycheck or even falling deeper in debt, it’s not even close. Even in debt, you are free to make your own choices. You have the freedom to live your life as an individual, even if building your future is out of the question at the moment.
While in debt, you can work harder, possibly earn more money, and even develop your skills through education. Eventually, you can qualify for better jobs, earn more money, get out of debt, and build your future, no matter how out of reach that may feel. This is far removed from the conditions of slavery.
Slavery and debt are both serious issues and there are similarities. However, the common aspects are superficial at best. Debt will trap you. When your money doesn’t stay with you in order to pay interest to credit card companies and lenders, it’s understandable to feel like you’ll never get ahead. The possibility exists, and people in debt have options for improving their lives regardless of the difficulty. The same options aren’t available to slaves without the threat of death.
What do you think? Is it fair to claim that debt is slavery?
Updated May 5, 2014 and originally published October 22, 2010.