“Surely one has to pay one’s debts.”
The reason it’s so powerful is that it’s not actually an economic statement: it’s a moral statement. After all, isn’t paying one’s debts what morality is supposed to be all about? Giving people what is due them. Accepting one’s responsibilities. Fulfilling one’s obligations to others, just as one would expect them to fulfill their obligations to you.
This was the kind of line that could make terrible things appear utterly bland and unremarkable.
For almost two years, I had lived in the highlands of Madagascar. Shortly before I arrived, there had been an outbreak of malaria. The problem was, it took money to maintain the mosquito eradication program. Not a lot of money, but owing to IMF imposed austerity programs, the government had to cut the monitoring program. Ten thousand people died. I met young mothers grieving for lost children.
One might think it would be hard to make a case that this is really justified in order to ensure that Citibank wouldn’t have to cut its losses on one irresponsible loan that wasn’t particularly important to its balance sheet anyway. But a perfectly decent person took it as self-evident that it was. After all, they owed the money, and surely one has to pay one’s debts.
– Exerpted/adapted from ‘Debt: the first 5000 years’ by David Graeber, p 4