Educational Debt as Social Control
story © Michael Betancourt, October 16, 2011 all rights reserved.
A highly educated, highly indebted population that still believes that their debts must be repaid—that is willing to sacrifice in order to repay the debts they have incurred—may be the single most important element in maintaining the status quo.
Shifting the costs of education onto the students—the ideal that education is only a “personal good” rather than of general social benefit—coupled with using credit reports as a prerequisite for employment makes the otherwise masked force of these debts apparent: since they can be neither discharged through bankruptcy, nor paid without long-term, well paying employment, these debts become a means to force the indebted, highly trained specialist into employment at pay levels they might otherwise refuse. At the same time, it also ensures they will accept terrible conditions for their employment and be willing to work longer hours at lower pay rates. Once we also include the now-common practice of refusing to hire anyone who is not currently employed, the coercion of these debts should become obvious to everyone: debts are used as a tactical means for social control, as a method to threaten a significant portion of the youthful population whose energy and focus might otherwise be directed towards social change.
However, this precarious environment also can easily shift into apathy towards these debts, especially as the conditions become more tenuous and the ability to repay even a portion becomes impossible (as employment disappears). The imbalance between debt service and social reproduction is necessarily a feature of this economic control and enslavement to onerous debts incurred as a prerequisite for employment. Since the economic collapse began in 2008, there mismatch between jobs and job-seekers has accelerated, leading to the impasse that is apparent in the testimonials posed as part of the OWS protests: this 99% is almost uniformly caught up in serious debt that cannot be repaid or legally discharged—the same debts that would trap them in place if there were jobs to allow their repayment.
With the rise of networked communication (and the coming autonomous production), even highly skilled jobs become subject to the same downward pressures first apparent in the off-shoring of manufacture: lower cost, but equally skilled competition from otherwise distant locations in the form of digital off-shoring of intellectual labor. The once locally-based professional skilled trades (such as law, design, etc.) are already becoming subject to this competition will begin experiencing the movement of payment towards the lowest common costs, levels well below what these fields have historically otherwise paid in countries such as the United States. This transformation will necessarily drive the paradox confronted in the demands of social reproduction vs. the needs of digital capitalism to maximize profit (without concern for the social) towards ever greater conflicts.
Copyright © Michael Betancourt October 16, 2011 all rights reserved.
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