Remi Nilsen maps The Power of Debt


Nilsen recounts a history of credit that predates writing itself @ Eurozine.

On 17 December 2010 the Tunisian street vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire outside the police station in Sidi Bouzid in a desperate, last-ditch protest against the police who had confiscated the goods he had got himself into vast amounts of debt to obtain. On 22 December, Ramzi Al-Abbouidi took his own life after incurring huge debts through a micro-credit programme. These two events were contributing factors in triggering the Arab Spring – the rebellion that swept through North Africa and the Middle East, fuelled by populations that were, and still are, mired in economically hopeless situations, under regimes combining political oppression with neoliberal economics. 

The wave of suicides that led up to the rebellion was not symbolic politics, as is often implied in western media, but the desperate actions of young men in bottomless debt. The full force of debt's power was tangibly experienced when it spread to Europe and North America, where a private debt crisis has been transformed into a public debt crisis that threatens the dissolution of society in these regions. 

The Keynesian idea of "the euthanasia of the rentier" now seems like the dream of yesteryear; never before have shareholders wielded so much power over companies and wage-earners, and over society as a whole. The sovereignty of the nation-state is coming under heavy fire from rating agencies, financial investors and institutions like the IMF. European social policy is dictated by "the markets". The current situation in Europe raises questions not just about the nature of debt but also about its historical relationship with "the market" – because debt is money.
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