Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of WealthPayback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

so, the book deserves better, but a short review this time.

in this book Atwood is all over the place with debt, but all at either the meta-level or at the emotional level. you’re not going to get a rundown of the financial collapse or the EU or the Greek default, which is all to the good, in my opinion. there’s enough analysis of those to choke a horse.

but not many people have considered what debt is, how it came to be (as a concept), how we discharge our debts, or what it means to not do so. there are few people better-equipped than Atwood to anatomize this subject, and she does it with her usual impeccable style and humor.

for me, there was one utterly new concept (which, it turns out, is an old concept)–that when someone defaults on a monetary debt, the lender is as much in the wrong as the borrower. !!!!!!!! this is so at odds with the contemporary american view of debt. but, her reasoning goes, if the lender was a greedy skeez who was just hoping to make a profit from you, knowing that it was going to cause you hardship to pay it back or that it was going to be impossible, that lender is as much in the wrong as you were to take on the debt in the first place.

and dammit if that doesn’t feel right.

Atwood goes on at some length in the final chapter about the debt we owe to Nature, to the earth. this is something that doesn’t get a lot of press in the financial news, but it should. her warning in this final chapter–that we are heading for much worse than financial disaster with our overconsuming ways–is irrefutable. i wish i could say that i also think it will make a difference. sigh.

in the meantime, read it for an intelligent and funny discussion on this monkey that’s on altogether too many backs these days.

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