Debt: Delving Deeper

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Atwood paybackMargaret Atwood’s book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (CBC Massey Lectures) was released in late 2008.  The current economic conditions seemed to place a poignant exclamation mark at the end of each of Atwood’s statements.  My exposure to the book has primarily been through the CBC Radio Massy Lectures.  Atwood shared five lectures entitled:

  1. Ancient Balances
  2. Sin and Debt
  3. Debt as Plot
  4. The Shadow Side
  5. Payback

You can listen each of the five lectures here:

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Personally I would recommend the first four, but the fifth, unfortunately, was not at the same level of insight as the first.

Just to give you a taste of some of Atwood’s thinking I wanted to introduce some thoughts she explored in a recent Reader’s Digest Canada Issue (February 2009 pgs. 58-62).  Speaking of the topic of credit cards and debt Atwood comments:

Everything changed in the ’70s when credit cards were deployed.  They made you feel richer than you were, so people when out and spent money, then realized it was a loan.  Credit cards changed a whole generation, who now aren’t used to not having things.  … How they think is, I’m worth it, I owe it to myself, therefore I’m going to have it now.  We’ll worry about later later.

Do you think that is true?  American average household credit card debt in 2007, says Credit Card Debt Statistics, $9,840.  Up from $2,699 in 1990.  The total credit card debt equals $880 billion.  The Hamilton Spectator reported on May 27, 2009 Canadians have $400 billion in general consumer debt.

Atwood remarks on money and its intrinsic worth:

Our mistake is to think the money – and not the stuff that you translate it into – is real.  The real wealth is what you eat, what you drink, what you breathe and where you live.  We call it “quality of life.”   However the reality of borrowing and lending is a kind of social glue.  It’s also one of the those things that makes currency flow.  Money, by itself in a heap somewhere, isn’t worth anything.  Money is just a token.  It’s like Monopoly money.

While I would agree that there is something deeper to real wealth I consider this list incomplete as it neglects spiritual wealth.  Wealth is determined by how you view it more than it is by how much you have.  Money really is fascinating in that the money itself is so worthless, but we have attached so much value to our having it.

Here is a great thought to leave you with today:

Well, a bad debt is when you can’t pay it back; it almost doesn’t matter what you’ve spent it on.


  1. says

    Consumerism is very strong in our society. It drives everything. But can it truly sustain our “quality of life”. I don’t think so.

    • Craig says

      I agree. Whatever quality of life you may get from debt will be short lived and will ultimately destroy the quality of life instead of enhance it.

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