We often joke around the office that Margaret Atwood has a bit of the “Seer” in her. Not only did she write and present the 2008 CBC Massey Lectures on debt just as the global economic crisis hit, she introduced us to Marjorie Harris who wrote a book on being thrifty that ended up being incredibly topical in the spring of 2009. With the looming debt crisis in the U.S. on everyone’s mind, we again turn to Margaret Atwood and her bestselling book Payback for an investigation into debt as part of the structure of our society.
It’s remarkable how often the assumed debt of services in return for the citizen’s tax dollar is forgotten by governments at large. And once the money’s been spent, the people have no means of recovering the sums they’ve been forced to lend, since they aren’t the ones with the army. In a democracy, you can depose an unpopular leader by voting for somebody else. In a tyranny, you can risk an armed coup or a popular uprising. But in either system, even if you win the election or the coup or the uprising, you’ll still be out of pocket. In the very worst scenario, your children will still be starving and /or uneducated, your water purification plant will still be unbuilt, your tax money will be in a numbered bank account in Switzerland, and your ex-tyrant will be sunning himself on the Riviera, surrounded by a high wall and a posse of expensive bodyguards. Or, in a democracy, your money will have vanished up the sleeves of your ex-leader’s political cronies via a bouquet of untendered and overpriced contracts, and that ex-leader will be warming the seat cushions of half a dozen grateful boards of directors, far from the madding journalists. On the other hand, if things get chaotic enough and riots are afoot, you might be able to parade through the streets with somebody’s head on a stick, shouting, “The jig is up!” But though satisfying as an act of revenge, this is a temporary thrill, and it still won’t restore your vanished money.
We’re also joining the rest of the world in following the news of the London riots. The images and videos are hard to believe, and even harder to stomach. The silver lining has been a blog post from writer Kerry Clare, where she writes about how Stephen Kelman‘s Booker-longlisted novel Pigeon English — and reading fiction in general — has helped her learn to process world events. This reiteration of the power of reading and the importance of fiction is a heartening outlook in this difficult time.
Which book do you turn to to help you through tough moments?