Saturday, June 03, 2023

Are we worse off than Bronze Age peasants? Maybe.

Indrajit Samarajiva ( watching How to Get Rich on Netflix:

Americans think they’re kings, but they’re really a nation of debt peons. They have even less hope of amargi (return to mother, or debt forgiveness) than a Bronze Age slave. Those poor saps at least got debt relief every new ruler or so. Westerners live under one constant regime of usury and all they can choose is the color, red or blue.

All of this is outside the ambit of Ramit’s show, and that’s fine. I wanted to hate the show because A) the title and B) because most popular media about ‘personal finance’ makes it all about personal responsibility for what is fundamentally societal failure.

There’s one season where a young, orphaned man (Frank) in $200,000 of student loan debt is going through a pile of snail mail that he’s been afraid to open. It’s people offering him loans, credit cards, and various forms of debt. This is just a motherless child that is constantly preyed upon by rich usurers, and he’s expected to think his way out of it, and bear the burden of failure alone?

The very existence of student loan debt is crazy, the idea is that someone at 17 or 18 makes this decision that makes them a debt slave for life? It’s entrapment. In the Bronze Age children were taken into slavery for debts and we think that awful, but that’s what the American education system has become. And in the Bronze Age they at least got amargi now and then, debts were forgiven. Today the average American dies in debt, and then the usurers come and prey on their children. It’s no land of the free. It’s a nation of debt slaves with strong mythology, that’s all.

I say that it’s fine for the show to not address this, because Ramit’s general point is A) about just helping these people and B) helping them talk about money with each other. One couple remarks that they didn’t think this would be couples counseling, but it really is. Money (and financial ‘infidelity’) is one of the biggest pressures in marriage and money can be very difficult to talk about. I am much poorer than my wife and this used to be a problem until we had health problems that put everything in perspective. But we still struggle to talk about money without getting huffy. Whereas we have a culture of sharing to fall back on, what I observe on the show is that western couples have it twice as hard.

Within marriages they have separate finances, where one couple is earning $150,000 and the other hustling for $30,000 and they still split the bills. Or where one is drowning in debt that the other could pay off and they just don’t

People have so internalized capitalist individualization that it has consumed the very idea of marriage and family. People live in what looks like families, but maintain the rigid division of capitalism within their own households. And they carry so much shame with them about money that it gets in between what should be a sacred bond.

One gay man within a marriage said that he felt like he wasn’t contributing, and refused to take help by saying it was better for him to ‘learn’ by paying usurers. It’s sad how much people have internalized systemic abuse. They’re victims of predatory money lenders who think it’s their fault. Another couple — also making $150,000 plus — frets about being able to ‘retire’ their house-cleaner mother who’s still working two jobs well into old age. She came from Colombia to find a better life for her family, and this is somehow it. That man says he was ‘lucky to be born here’, but was he? This is the traumatized tale of the immigrant, where America and the historical White Empire destroys countries, and then the scattered refugees are supposed to be thankful for the opportunity to serve as debt slaves within Empire’s household. People always talk about migrating for a ‘better life’ but the real question is why was life made so bad that they had to move in the first place.

Now this son of an immigrant takes a month-long Italian vacation after promising his mother she could retire in two years. But as Ramit told him, he could retire her now. The toxicity of the individual is such that he’d rather go on vacation and buy a multi-family investment property than let his mother move in and take care of her.

I feel inclined to judge him, but after watching the show I actually don’t. He is just prey to a bad culture, not a bad person. The family has been destroyed so thoroughly in the West that even filial piety is considered another consumer choice, not a dharmic duty. What a deeply fallen world.

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