What does it mean to understand debt as a systemic problem in contemporary capitalism? Basic statistics give us one answer: Medical debt — people unable to pay their medical bills — is the number one contributor to bankruptcies in the United States. Outstanding student debt is over $1.2 trillion, and nearly one million student debtors default on their loans every year. Across the country, people continue to lose their homes to predatory lending, foreclosure, and refinance schemes. The low-income neighborhoods disproportionately affected by these schemes are also often saturated by fringe finance — payday lenders, check cashers, rent-to-own stores, and pawn shop loan operations — where interest rates can range from 200 to 1000 percent and more. One in three Americans is currently being pursued by a debt collector.

Of the hundreds of millions of indebted Americans, only a small fraction of us are...

You do not currently have access to this content.