Wednesday, February 6, 2008

While us peons were distracted, our masters have brought back Debt Bondage

By arendt

Historical peonage

Peonage is a system where laborers are bound in servitude until their debts are paid in full. Those bound by such a system are known, in the US, as peons. Employers may extend credit to laborers to buy from employer-owned stores at inflated prices. This method is a variation of the company store system, in which workers are exploited by agreeing to work for an insufficient amount of goods and/or services. In these circumstances, peonage is a form of unfree labor. Such systems have existed in many places at many times throughout history.

Modern views

According to Anti-Slavery International, "A person enters debt bondage when their labor is demanded as a means of repayment of a loan, or of money given in advance. Usually, people are tricked or trapped into working for no pay or very little pay (in return for such a loan), in conditions which violate their human rights. Invariably, the value of the work done by a bonded laborer is greater that the original sum of money borrowed or advanced."

At international law

Debt bondage has been defined by the United Nations as a form of "modern day slavery" and is prohibited by international law. It is specifically dealt with by article 1(a) of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery 1956. It persists nonetheless especially in developing nations, which have few mechanisms for credit security or bankruptcy, and where fewer people hold formal title to land or possessions. According to some economists, for example Hernando de Soto, this is a major barrier to development in those countries - entrepreneurs do not dare take risks and cannot get credit because they hold no collateral and may burden families for generations to come.

Where children are forced to work because of debt bondage of the family, this is considered not only child labor, but a worst form of child labor in terms of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 of the International Labour Organization.

I hate to burst the bubble of all those people who honestly believe that putting electing a Democratic president and veto-proof Congress is going to bring back social justice in America.

The sub-prime mortgage mess piles on top of usurious credit card rates and fees to create a perfect storm of peonage, not only for poor Americans, but also for the increasingly large percentage of the formerly middle class Americans who effectively have no assets.

The new Bankruptcy Laws (thanks Joe Biden, Senator - MBNA) are the chains and padlocks that will keep the new peons from fleeing - as if there were any jobs in America to which they might flee.

Welcome to debt peonage America, where children are locked into big box stores overnight to do shelf stocking, where single mothers get on buses to be bussed fifty miles away to work for chump change - as a condition of receiving welfare.

Welcome to credit-aholic America, where the credit card companies are throwing cards at teenagers, college students, people just out of bankruptcy. Give them a taste, sell them a little blow, and pretty soon you have a full-blown debt addict who will pay off for decades to come.

And rules? "We don need no steenking rules!" The credit companies change the terms and conditions on cards, retroactively, whenever they please. To the victims of this scam, it must be like being in the infamous Marion, IL Supermax prison. In that hell-hole, arbitrary, unannounced rule changes are discovered by being punished for not knowing about them - all as a part of psychological warfare to break the resistance of prisoners.

To cover all the flavors of peonage, we have the "company store" - the seller of first and last resort in Corporate America. Its where the non-urban peons HAVE TO go to spend the money. Essentially, all the small businessmen in small towns have been put out of business, and their holdings consolidated into the giant latifundia - I mean big box stores - that now employ all those former entrepreneurs.

Wal-Mart's Brave New World

I was visiting my mother who was, at that time, living in one of the poorer regions in the piney backwoods of Florida, a place not much different from Chapman, or Oroville or any of the locales characterized by poverty, drug traffic, lack of opportunity and the panoply of social problems that have become increasingly common throughout the land.

During the course of the visit, I noticed that my mother's old TV seemed about to expire, so I decided to buy her a new one. The only place such a purchase could be made, however, was at a Wal-Mart store some 15 miles from where she lived. /

WalMart is the new company store, where most of what is on offer is inferior, Chinese-made crap. And, except for the loss-leader items, its caveat emptor, suckers.


I weep for America. It is financially doomed, but it goes about its increasingly pathetic business like it was still 1950. While it has a "gut feeling" that corporate deregulation and outsourcing are at the root of all the economic trouble, it is so collectively brainwashed that it continues to fall for the same old Libertarian /neoliberal bunkum over and over - the "ownership society", "trickle down", "tax cuts for the rich".

The media brainwashing machine keeps the emotional volume on "high" for economically irrelevant distractions like gay marriage or evolution or birth control. If it didn't, or if they "tuned out", some of these new peons might be able to focus on that emotion that would, under normal circumstances, have long since been heard: these guys are crooks, and we are going to put them in jail.

If that happened, we soon wouldn't have peons (or is that the "peed on"s).


That's OK, nothing to hear here. You all can go back to that wonderful campaign hoopla. You can listen to a candidate roster that has absolutely no intention of doing anything about the new peonage - except to make sure it continues. A celebrity will visit you and dazzle you. Vote. Belong. Consume and reproduce.


Note: given this is Super Tuesday night, this will sink like a stone. Consider it counter-programming for those who don't give a shit about this meaningless spectacle.

Posted in full with author's permission.

Originally posted at

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