Debt or Die


Students are not trained for careers; we are indebted to precarity. The debt we accumulate individualizes, classifies, and isolates our collective subjugation. When the media speaks of the debt crisis, it separates it into categories of mortgages, credit-consumer based debt, and student loans. Educational institutions that market an ever-expanding array of specialized fields commit a similar fraud against students, just as banks do to prospective homeowners. Whatever terms you’ve secured, the choice is yours: debt or die.

We are all to be ghettoized and our lives to be converted into labor time. It’s clear now that terms like “rates of interest” and “dollar inflation” only serve to abstract a larger struggle. It’s too late; our lives are already collectively stolen. It’s irrelevant what institution our degrees are embossed with or the precise length of our receipt-nooses. Our tuition is raised annually not to increase professors’ pay or to expand student services, but to invest in the capital projects of the educational enterprise and to pay for the advertising that will lure in next year’s supply of precarious student-consumers.

Schools in the city weren’t always prohibitively expensive. CUNY, once free, is about to institute one more in a long line of recent tuition hikes. The New School used to offer free or low-price classes to the public in its early years. Columbia and NYU jumped the tuition shark almost immediately; their graduates are now paying the price with decades of loan payments ahead of them. Cooper Union is one of the only schools in the country that at least acknowledges the idea that education should be free. However corrupt this institution has turned, that notion of free education must be protected—by any means necessary.

Real forms of self-organization are materializing. This isn’t just about jobs, it’s about confronting a system that dehumanizes all who find themselves mired in it. Unless the conversation around debt contains an analysis of the long-term debt cycles that perpetuate the wider capitalist system, the exploitation and violence will persist.

The “mounting debt crisis” that grabs headlines usually focuses on the recent housing bubble, irresponsible lending, and consumers’ inability to pay their mortgages. These claims are sensationalist at best. This isn’t new. Corporate and government interests have been cultivating this crisis for decades, encouraging home ownership, lowering real wages, and increasing privatization of public resources. All along, secure union jobs have been vanishing from the job market at a steady clip. Companies keen on securing high profit margins know that maintaining a disparate and disconnected workforce is extremely effective in repressing those who would otherwise self-organize for a living wage. We hear the demands everywhere: U.S. Walmart workers go on strike, Chinese FoxConn workers riot, New York fast food workers walk off the job all over the city….

Let us try to contextualize both the workers’ and the unemployed struggles, to consider the reasons why we go to school and what lies ahead of us in our choices of waged labor in the future, to recognize that we are all subjected to an everyday violence of work without meaning, an existence without life.