This essay review of Margaret Atwood's Payback shows how the book's accomplishment is to provide a Jungian analysis of the “shadow” of wealth: the primitive meanings attached to debt deriving from ancient cultural configurations of a proper balance in the order of things. Debt is conceived in terms of social obligations, of guilt and sin, of revenge, and as a plot that structures the narrative of human life. Instead of simply looking to the archaic meanings of debt for its shadow side, this review attempts to take stock of what the recent credit crisis can teach us about the place of debt in our lives. It is a question of seeking out shadows that belong specifically to our global financial system, rather than belonging to ways of accounting order, honor, and revenge from a repressed past. If financial institutions, governments, businesses, and individuals were all exposed to high levels of debt, to whom was all this wealth owed? How does the shadow of debt affect economic behavior? Since debt forms the basis of further lending, debt increases through a multiplier effect without corresponding assets, which leads to an unstable system of virtuous or vicious cycles, and debt takes over some of the social, practical, and theoretical functions formerly held by God.
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Philip Goodchild; The Shadow Side of Debt. Common Knowledge 1 April 2011; 17 (2): 375–382. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1188067
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