Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Archive for August 7th, 2022

Reading: The Making of the Indebted Man (note 1)

without comments

I’ve been reading Maurizio Lazzarato’s 2011 book The Making of the Indebted Man translated to English and published by semiotext(e) in 2012. If some of the promises from the last two years – to excuse student debt, to acknowledge institutionalized racism as a national level, I feel that we have come a long way over the last 10 years and since the last financial disaster in considering how the system is rigged and how to begin to chip at it, to create a more equitable society. Perhaps this is too hopeful.

Lazzarato is clear and direct and presents a rich set of resources for anyone looking to jump into researching a history of debt and our current financial mechanisms. Many of his ideas and critiques could easily be applied to more recent altcoins and fintech tools. I’m going to copy below a few sequences that strongly stand out to me, mostly for my own notes, but perhaps others will be interested…

From the Forward

Through readings of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality and Marx’s theory of money, it will help us revive two hypotheses. The first, that the paradigm of the social lies not in exchange (economic and/or symbolic) but in credit. There is no equality (of exchange) underlying social relations, but rather as asymmetry of debt/credit, which precedes historically and theoretically, that of production and wage labor. The second hypothesis, that debt represents an economic relationship inseparable from the production of the debtor subject and their “morality.” The debt economy combines “work on the self” and labor, in its classical sense, such that “ethics” and economics function conjointly. The modern notion of “economy” covers both economic production and the production of subjectivity. Traditional categories rooted in 19th and 20th century revolutions – labor, society, and politics – are now informed and in large measure have been redefined by debt. (Pg. 11)

From Chapter 1 Understanding Debt as the Basis of Social Life

Credit bring us back to a situation characteristic of feudalism, in which a portion of labor is owed in advance, as serf labor, to the feudal lord. – Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects (pg. 13)

Debt acts as a “capture,” “predation,” and “extraction” machine on the whole of society, as an instrument for macroeconomic prescription and management, and as a mechanism for income redistribution.” (Pg. 29)

This is generally true for any financial mechanism; they are funded by and created for the rich to accumulate greater wealth. Take for example FinTech software from Robinhood to Coinbase to alt coins, the goal of many of these are not to democratize investment, but to break into the pockets of a larger population and use their money.

“We have moved from Fordist regulation, which privileged the industrial and debtor side, to financial regulation, which prioritizes the financial and creditor side.” (Pg. 30)

But debt is a universal power relation, since everyone is included within it. Even those too poor to have access to credit must pay interest to creditors through the reimbursement of public debt; even countries too poor for a Welfare State must repay their debts. (Pg. 32)

Written by ricardo

August 7th, 2022 at 4:29 pm