The unmaking of the indebted woman

In this season of hollow political American presidential campaigns, The Making of the Indebted Man: Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, by Maurizio Lazzarato appears as a work of resistance. The book explores contemporary financial power and the debt crisis that comes with it, a crisis that has shaped our current political situation.

Maurizio Lazzarato sees the debt system as a political project that means to engage the individual for the future. Debt creates a system of efficiency/ profitability that tends to control all individuals, unemployed or employed. As Lazzarato points out, the economical origin of the current crisis, the subprime crisis, has been rendered invisible. In fact, the couple debt-fault is only applied to individuals while the debt crisis, as the failure of the entire neoliberal system, is left untouched, unmentioned.

The creation of mechanisms of debt has been the central action of neoliberal political economy. This new world order begat a dynamic of work subjectivity in the post-industrialized economy, thanks to the neoliberal turbine: the differential of power between the lender and the borrower. According to Lazzarato, Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics expounded on the historicity of incipient neoliberal governance, but neglected to incorporate the power-function of debt-money finance in neoliberal governance. Lazzarato relies on Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control to argue that as capitalism moved from production to service, social control moved from disciplinary control to market based control with the fluctuation of interest rates as the basis of the production of indebted citizens.

In this world, debt political economy is the real global controlling power.

In his conclusion, Lazzarato calls for new solidarities and a new cooperation, reminding us that neoliberalism has also legitimized a debt toward the planet itself.  There’s global debt, and there’s planetary debt, and the two are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Nevertheless, I wonder if the title, the making of an indebted man does not carry a singular and restrictive vison. After all, the making of the indebted woman started way before the advent of neoliberalism.

In “The political economy of vulnerable”, Dan Moshenberg recently highlighted a transnational reality of the fate of the indebted woman, showing that this “in debt” status now has a widely recognized name: the vulnerable. Moshenberg showed how predatory rates of local banks rendered a woman desperately vulnerable and isolated until she finally killed herself. Debt is part of the recently installed system of domination that will continue to control women, as our lives (including sexual and reproductive) will be even more dependent on this global financial order. Now is the time for women to strengthen and intensify our resistance. The unmaking of the indebted woman is the beginning of the end of the neoliberal condition. Cancel the debt … now!


(The Making of the Indebted Man: Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, by Maurizio Lazzarato, translated by Joshua David Jordan, will be released in the United States by Semiotext(e) next month.)


(Image Credit: aspoonfulofsuga)

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.