Borrowing equality: Dispossession and the need for an abolitionist approach to survival debt

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In Borrowing Equality, Professor Atkinson deftly demonstrates Congress’s nonsensical bifurcation of the twin concepts of “credit” and “debt,” whereby it celebrates and encourages the former and regulates and punishes the latter. She then shows that, in refusing to acknowledge the harmful consequences of indebtedness while legislating credit-based solutions to inequality, these credit policies in fact entrench the very hierarchies and systems of marginalization they are purportedly designed to alleviate. In this Piece, I first consider some implications of Professor Atkinson’s insight; namely, (1) as Jackie Wang argues, that these credit policies are in fact designed to dispossess Black and Brown borrowers; (2) and that the rhetorical trap Professor Atkinson identifies (celebration of credit and demonization of debt) has thus far obscured this phenomenon and has tricked progressives into using their energy and resources to defend the virtue of and rescue debtors rather than to directly challenge the use of debt as a mechanism of dispossession. Using Professor Atkinson’s previous work as a springboard, I then suggest an alternative framework for evaluating credit policies. Specifically, I suggest an abolitionist approach to what I call survival debt (debt necessary for the debtor to meet basic needs) and a regulatory approach to what I call opportunity debt (debt that genuinely creates opportunity for the debtor to build wealth).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-320
Number of pages22
JournalColumbia law review
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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