Debt Collectors: The Economics, Politics, and Morality of Debt
채권 회수자들 : 경제학, 정치학, 그리고 부채의 도덕 

* 제이슨 리드가 2011년에 발표한 글을 복사해 공유합니다. <부채경제>와 관련한 탐구를 2015년도부터 시작했는데요, 그 프로젝트는 "개인적으로는" 아직 끝나지 않았습니다. 그 일환으로 이렇게 틈틈이 자료를 찾아 읽고 있습니다.  

Any philosophical consideration of the politics of debt must perhaps begin with the fact that the entire rhetoric of debt, owing and paying one’s debts, is at once a moral and an economic vocabulary. This point is related to, but opposed to, Nietzsche’s well-known argument in the Genealogy of Morals. Whereas Nietzsche argued that morality, guilt, was simply debt, a payment in suffering for those who could not pay the price, an examination of debt reveals how much paying ones debts, paying one’s bills, is a moral imperative as much as an economic relation.
부채의 정치에 대한 그 어떤 고찰도 부채의 수사학 전체, 즉 빚을 지고 갚는 것이 도덕적 어휘인 동시에 경제적 어휘이기도 하다는 사실에서 아마 시작해야 할 것이다. 이 점은 도덕의 계보학』에서의 니체의 잘 알려진 논점과 관련되어 있으나 대립되어 있다. 니체는 도덕, 죄책감이 그저 부채[빚]일 뿐이라고, 즉 대가를 지불할 수 없는 사람들이 그 대가로 겪는 것일 뿐이라고  논한 반면, 부채를 검토해보면 우리가 빚을 갚은 것, 계산서에 돈을 내는 것이 어떻게 해서 경제적 관계만큼이나 도덕적 명령인지가 드러난다. 

As David Graeber argues even from the standpoint of standard economic theory the positing of debt as some kind of moral duty, as something which can never be dispensed with, runs counter to not only the justification of interest, which is supposedly a compensation based on risk, but the immense apparatus dedicated to the assessment of risk, discerning good and bad risk. The idea of paying one’s debts is nothing other than a moral idea, and idea of an absolute moral obligation transposed into the realm of economy. One could consider this morality to be a slavish one, in that keeps everyone paying their mortgage for a house that is underwater, and paying their student loans without ever getting the job promised by such an education. It would seem then that the political task is a matter of simply separating the morality of obligation from the economy of debt. The knot is a little more tangled than just tossing aside the language of debt entirely, since debt, is the predominant way of expressing social obligations. Graeber has argued that the prehistory of debt, the prehistory that explains the etymology of economics and morality, is based on the obligations that sustain society, between parents and children, husbands and wives, etc. However, these obligations were not monetized. To take a contemporary example, we owe a debt to our parents, but could never pay this back with a check, or doing so would seem offensive. For a long time these non monetized debts sustained social relations and individuals. The recent history of debt is one in which this dependency, at least partially recognized in terms social rights, rights to education, care, etc, have become social debts, entitlements, which are in turn privatized and individualized. The primary sources of debt, especially in the US, are education, housing, and healthcare, are expressions of need, our radical lack of self-sufficiency as human beings. Untying the knot of economics and morality is not a matter of just throwing out the language of debt, but of subtracting dependency from the economy of debt, or in Graeber’s terms, the human economy from the economy. 

데이비드 그레이버가 논하듯이, 표준적인 경제학 이론의 견지에서 볼 때에도, 부채를 일종의 도덕적 책무(duty)로 설정하는 것, 그것 없이는 결코 지낼 수 없는 어떤 것으로 설정하는 것은 (리스크에 기초한 배상이라고 생각되고 있는) 이자의 정당화에도 역행할 뿐만 아니라 좋은 리스크와 나쁜 리스크를 분간하면서 리스크 평가(assessment)에 전념하고 있는 거대장치에도 거스르고 있다. 빚을 갚는다는 관념은 도덕적 관념에 다름 아니며, 경제의 영역으로 이식된 절대적인 도덕적 의무(obligation)의 관념이다. 우리는 이 도덕을 노예의 도덕으로 간주할 수도 있다. 이 도덕에서는 누구나 침수된 집을 위해 주택융자를 갚아나가고, 교육이 약속한 일자리를 결코 얻지 못했는데도 학생 대출금을 갚아나가고 있다. 이렇게 되면 정치적 과제는 의무의 도덕을 부채의 경제로부터 단순히 분리하는 문제일 뿐인 것처럼 보인다. 매듭은 부채의 언어를 전적으로 내던지는 것보다 좀 더 엉켜있다. 왜냐하면 부채는 사회적 의무를 표현하는 두드러진 방식이기 때문이다. 그레이버는 부채의 전사(前史), 즉 경제와 도덕의 어원을[어원적 의미를] 설명하는 전사가 부모와 자녀, 남편과 아내 등등의 사이에서 사회를 지탱하는 의무를 기초로 삼고 있다고 논했다. 하지만 이런 의무는 화폐화(monetize)되지 않았다. 현대의 예를 들면, 우리는 부모에게 빚을 지고 있지만, 이것을 현금으로 갚을 수는 없으며, 혹은 그렇게 하는 것이 무례한 짓처럼 보인다. 오랫동안 이렇게 화폐화되지 않은 부채가 사회적 관계와 개인을 지탱해왔다. 부채의 최근 역사는 적어도 부분적으로는 사회권이라는 항으로 인식되는 이런 [상호] 의존, 교육에의 권리, 돌봄 (이것들은 오늘날 민영화되고 있고 개인화되고 있다) 등등이 사회적 부채, 복지혜택(entitlements, 연금)이 되는 역사이다. 부채의 주요 원천은 특히 미국에서는 교육, 주택, 공적의료보험인데, 이것들은 필요[욕구]의 표현이자, 인간 존재로서의 자급자족[자기충족]의 근본적 결여의 표현이다. 경제학과 도덕의 매듭을 푼다는 것은 단순히 부채의 언어를 냅다 집어던진다는 문제가 아니라, 부채의 경제로부터 [상호] 의존을 빼낸다[뺄셈한다]는 것이며, 혹은 그레이버의 용어로 하면, 경제로부터 인간 경제(the human economy)를 빼낸다[뺄셈한다]는 것이다

How is this to be done? How is it possible to draw a line between economics and morality? This is a question not just of words, of the same words for debt and obligation but of the interrelation of different practices and comportments, of the mode of production and the mode of subjection. Marx’s commentary on James Mill offers an interesting examination of these questions. As Marx writes with respect to credit, 

이것은 어떻게 행해지는가? 어떻게 하면 경제학과 도덕 사이에 선을 그을 수 있는가? 이것은 부채와 의무[채무]에 똑같은 단어가 사용되고 있다는 단순히 말에 대한 질문[문제]이 아니라, 상이한 실천들과 행동의 상관관계의 질문이며, 생산양식과 주체화[예속화]양식의 상관관계의 질문입니다. 제임스 밀에 관한 맑스의 논평은, 이 질문을 흥미로운 방식으로 검토하고 있습니다. 맑스가 신용(credit)과 관련해 쓰고 있듯이

…… 부자가 근면하고 성실하다고 여긴 가난뱅이에게 신용을 준다. 이런 종류의 신용은 정치경제학의 낭만적이고 감상적인 부분에 속하며, 정치경제학의 일탈, 초과, 예외이지, 상례[규칙]가 아니다. 그러나 이런 예외를 받아들이고, 이런 낭만적인 가능성을 승인할 때에도, 부자에게 가난뱅이의 생명과 그의 재능과 활동은 자신이 빌려준 돈의 상환을 보장하는 역할을 한다. 그러므로 이것은 가난뱅이의 모든 사회적 미덕, 그의 생명활동의 내용, 그의 실존 자체가 부자에게 통상적인 이자를 동반한 자본의 상환을 나타낸다는 것을 뜻한다.

What Marx dismisses here as the “romantic” and “sentimental” aspect of political economy, is the personal relation of individual to individual. It is perhaps striking to juxtapose this text, written in eighteen forty four, with another passage from the same period, “The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society.” In this text, Marx holds out the possibility of a relation between individuals unmediated by money. In such a society, Marx writes, “Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life.” In that text the abstraction of money, its power to dissolve all social qualities displacing them with its social power, is opposed to a human relation, a relation of individual to individual. In contrast to this, the passage on credit suggests that such human evaluations, the estimation of a man’s worth that form the basis of Horatio Alger myths and rags to riches fantasies, are at best an exception to the rule of money and at worst its realization. The credit relation is not a moment of unmediated relation and evaluation in a world dominated by the abstractions of money, but only the complete penetration of money into all of life. As Marx writes, 

여기서 맑스가 정치경제학의 낭만적이고 감상적인측면이라며 배척하는 것은, 개인에 대한 개인의 사적[인격적] 관계입니다. 1844년에 작성된 이 텍스트를 같은 시기의 부르주아 사회에서 화폐의 권력[폭력]의 다른 구절과 병치시키면 아마 놀라울 겁니다. 이 텍스트에서 맑스는, 화폐에 의해 매개되지 않은 개인들 사이의 관계의 가능성을 지속시키고 있습니다. 이런 사회에서 인간과 자연에 대한 당신의 관계는 모두, 당신의 의지의 대상에, 당신의 실제적인 개인적 삶의 대상에 대응하는 특정한[고유한] 표현이어야 한다고 맑스는 쓰고 있습니다. 이 텍스트에서 화폐의 추상 모든 사회적 성질들을 와해시키는 화폐의 힘은 이 성질들을 사회적 권력으로 탈구[퇴위]시킨다 은 인간관계, 개인에 대한 개인의 관계에 대립되고 있습니다. 이와 대조적으로 신용에 대한 구절은, 이런 식의 인간적 [가치]평가, 즉 호레이쇼 앨저 식 신화와 무일푼이 갑부가 된다는 환상의 토대를 형성하는 인간의 값어치의 산정(estimation), 잘 해 봤자 화폐의 지배[규칙]에 대한 예외이며, 최악으로는 그 실현임을 시사합니다. 신용관계는 화폐의 추상성에 의해 지배된 세계에 있어서 무매개적 관계와 평가라는 계기가 아니라, 화폐가 삶의 구석구석에까지 완전히 침투하는 것일 뿐이라는 겁니다. 맑스는 이렇게 씁니다

신용관계 안에서 화폐는 인간에게 있어서 지양되는 것이 아니며, 인간 그 자체가 화폐로 전환되고 있다. 혹은 화폐가 인간에게 합체[체내화]되고 있다. 인간적 개[], 인간의 도덕은 교역의 대상이 되는 동시에 그 안에서 화폐가 실존하는 재료가 되고 있다. 화폐나 종이를 대신해 나 자신의 인격적 실존이, 나의 피와 살, 나의 사회적 미덕과 중요성이, 화폐 정신의 질료적, 육체적 형태를 구성한다. 신용은 화폐의 가치를 더 이상 화폐로 분해하는 것이 아니라, 인간의 살과 인간의 마음으로 분해한다. 이렇게까지나 허위 체제의 내부에서 모든 진보와 모든 비일관성[불철저함]이 극단적인 퇴보이며 파렴치의 극단적 귀결인 것이다.

Credit and debt is not some moment of personal evaluation outside of the economy, some moment of values in the calculation of value, but the complete penetration of calculation of value into all of life. There is no longer an opposition between money as an abstract and quantifiable power that renders everything interchangeable and human relations which are always relations of particulars, of particular qualities. Credit and debt are completely particular, complete individuated, but this individuation is not outside of the abstraction of money, but its complete subsumption of the most intimate area of subjectivity. The human economy, the economy of obligations and actions, does not exist as something underneath or beyond the economy of debt, but is thoroughly subsumed by it.

신용과 부채는 경제의 외부에서 이뤄지는 인적 [가치]평가의 어떤 계기도 아니고, 가치의 유통[査定]에 있어서 가치들의 어떤 계기도 아니며, 삶의 구석구석에까지 가치의 유통[査定]이 완전히 침투하는 것입니다. 모든 것을 교환 가능하게 만드는 추상적이고 양화할 수 있는 권력으로서의 화폐와 항상 개별들의 관계, 특별한 성질들의 관계인 인간관계 사이에는 더 이상 대립이 없습니다. 신용과 부채는 완전히 특수하고 완전히 개인화되고 있습니다만, 하지만 이 개인화는 화폐의 추상성의 외부에 있는 것이 아니라, 주체성의 가장 내밀한 영역에 완전히 포섭되어 있습니다. 인적 경제, 즉 의무[채무]와 행동의 경제는 부채의 경제 아래에 혹은 그 너머에 있는 무엇인가로 실존하는 게 아니라, 부채의 경제에 남김없이 포섭되고 있습니다

As much we could read Marx’s text as a yet another prophetic text by Marx, one that appears to have foretold the era of credit agencies scanning social media sites and Wal-Mart taking out insurance policies on its employees, the important difference is that the penetration of such estimations into the inner details of credit and existence does not take place by an personal evaluation, by a creditor evaluating the cut of a debtor’s jib, but through impersonal and unseen calculations. Do you know your credit score? Or whether your employer has taken out an insurance policy on your life? As much as credit and debt renders everything calculable, converting subjectivity into a nothing other than a series of assets and risks, it does so behind one’s back (to echo Marx’s formulation about the constitution of abstract value). 

This suggests another division, another duality, not between the economics of debt and the ethics of obligation, or between the abstraction of money and the direct personal relations, but between two different relations to money. As owners, possessors, and exchangers of money it appears as something that we use, something subject to our own choices, ideals, and values, as much as those ideals and values are restricted by the quantity of money available and the money form itself. At the same time, however, as debtors, we have a different relation with money, one that passes through us without us knowing it. In La fabrique de l'homme endetté: essai sur la condition néoliberalé, Maurizio Lazzarato describes these two aspects as follows: 

Money/debt implicates subjectivity in two heterogeneous and complementary manners: “social subjection” operates by a molar operation on the subject, taking its conscience, its memory, and its representations, while the “machinic control” operates by a molecular level, the infrapersonal and preindividual elements of subjectivity, which passes neither by the reflective conscience and its representations, nor by the self.

When it comes to our wages, to the money in our pocket, we are interpellated as individuals, as consumers who can spend and realize our buying potential, but when it comes to debt, to the money that we are rather than possess, we are not individuals, but dividuals, divided and dissembled into constitutive acts and qualities, acts and qualities which are in turn grouped into larger aggregates and collections. The individual makes use of money, but at the preindividual level, the level of the dividual, the same person, or its component parts, is used by money. 

Despite the fact that debt is more or less deterritorialized, broken down in relation to abstract actions, qualities, and projections, and then assembled in collections, or securitized, does not mean that it does not reterritorialize itself in terms of concrete effects and relations. These effects are located most directly at the level of actions and choices, what Lazzarato refers to as the specific labor on the self demanded by the regime of debt. To take one example: student loans are relatively indifferent to the particular major or course of study one takes, an indifference made possible by the force of the state, but this does not keep the abstract quanitity of debt having an effect on an individuals concerned. Anyone who teaches at a University is perhaps aware of the chilling effect that student debt has an intellectual inquiry and education. Students do not ask themselves the questions: what interests me? And what discipline or field do I show talent for? But ask instead: what will get me a job? What will the market demand? Debt is the future acting on the present. Debts might be calculated at the level of preindividual actions, and transindividual collections, but it is internalized at the level of individual actions and decisions. 

As forgiving student debt, or the idea of an organized mass default of student debt circulates amongst members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there are the seemingly inevitable invocations of responsibility. It is argued that those who took out student loans took their risks, decided to major in art history or philosophy, or, whenever offering relief to mortgage debt is proposed, it is argued that those who took out mortgages on houses they could not afford should not be rewarded. Debt is reterritorialized on the objects of nation and community, and subject to a hierarchy of acceptable objects and goals. The morality of debt is fundamentally anti-egalitarian: it is not just that there a debtors and creditors, but everyone has taken their chances, equality contradicts the morality of risk and reward. Debt is a mutation of homo economicus: it is no longer, as Marx argued, the subject of “freedom, equality, and Bentham,” but the subject of obligation, inequality, and Becker. As Lazzarto argues, the entire economy of debt is implicated within a work on the self, in which the individual is governed by the idea of maximizing value and managing risks in a series of choices that are radically individuated, but what he does not mention is that the perception of these risks crosses the terrain of thoroughly moralized ideas of hard work, national, and communal belonging.

It is precisely this moralization that any politics of debt, of debt refusal and debt, must actively refuse and combat. It must refuse it not simply as an ideology, as a set of ideas and representations that can be dispensed with, but as what Lazzarato refers to as a production of subjectivity. Debt and the calculation of life and activity in terms of risks and benefits are not just a set of ideas, they are a way in which subjectivity is produced and governed. Debt is not just a set of ideas one has about obligations, but an experience, a suffocating experience of what is possible or desirable. It “is a collective phenomenon suffered individually.” To say that it is a collective phenomenon does not mean that it constitutes a collectivity. It is difficult and tenuous to say “we debtors.” This is not just because of the moralizing divisions between homeowners, citizens, and students, but because the collective phenomenon is constituted more at the level of the preindividual dimensions of existence, patterns of risk, consumption, and other factors that do not constitute an individual. Debt is individualized at the level of guilt, but its collective conditions remain dispersed and disparate. Collective action requires a minimum of social solidarity, which is perhaps provided by the occupations of campuses and public spaces. As much as we might be critical of the spurious divisions between “Wall Street” and “Main Street,” financial capital and middle class, the very constitution of this movement suggests an inchoate awareness of a new antagonistic collectivity. Moving beyond the immediate connections formed by these actions, connections that still risk dividing debtors into good or bad debtors, will require a critical constitution of this collectivity. 

The starting point for the politics of debt is the current crisis, a crisis which undermines much of the conventional wisdom of the twentieth century, wisdom which claimed that consumer society would forestall any revolution in the developed capitalist countries. Debt, specifically housing debt, was initially, at least in the US constructed around an ideal of a nation of homeowners and college graduates, individuals who would be invested, both psychically and economically in the existing order. Debt works to conceal the shrinking wages and declining support of private education by postponing the due date to the future. Now, it has begun to create its opposite, a mass condition far more precarious than wage labor. Debt affects not just working conditions, or the possibility of finding work, but living, shelter, and ultimately, especially in the case of the student loans, the possibility of any future.

In this uncertain future it is possible to glimpse two other things, which function as the basis for a politics of debt. First, is that debt is not just some way of affording a home, an education, a car, without cash, but it is the exploitation of these various needs, a way to make profit off all spheres of life and all relations. Second, debt exposes the idea of a neutral state, dealing with competing interests: it is not just that the state is on the side of the creditors, guaranteeing loans and garnishing wages, it makes their very existence possible. Thus it is possible to argue that as much as debt cuts transversally across the various transindividuations of citizen, student, and worker, it undermines two of the individuations that have forestalled political action: the consumer, too placated by mass marketed desires to act politically, and the citizen, caught up in the fictions of neutrality and equality before the law. Thus, while it is true that it is difficult to articulate the collectivity of debt, a difficulty made possible by its abstraction, it has perhaps cleared away the residue of the past. All that remains is the most persistent and difficult residue to dispense with, that of the responsible and isolated subject. The task of constituting collective refusal will be difficult, crossing the line between the abstractions of debt and concrete repression of the state, but one thing is clear the morality of debt, with its ideas of individual responsibility for a collective condition, must be refused at all cost.

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