Face to Face with Inequality

The Spirit of Indenture

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Jeffrey Williams, a professor of English and literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon, compares student loan debt to indentured servitude. Here’s the pith of his argument:

“the growth in debt has ushered in a system of bondage similar in practical terms, as well as in principle, to indentured servitude. The analogy to indenture might seem exaggerated but actually has a great deal of resonance. Student debt binds individuals for a significant part of their future work lives. It encumbers job and life choices, and it permeates everyday experience with concern over the monthly chit. It also takes a page from indenture in the extensive brokerage system it has bred, from which more than four thousand banks take profit (even when the loans originate with the federal government, they are still serviced by banks, and banks service an escalating number of private loans).”

It struck me how we would be reflexively outraged by 17th-century forms of indentured servitude, but we are pretty accustomed to modern versions of it, to the point of having to work at seeing it clearly.

A summary of Williams’ argument is available for free, while the full article is harder to lay hands on.


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