Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
Only Margaret Atwood can turn finance into a gripping tale of mythology and history. In her 2008 Massey Lecture, she looks at debt in all its forms---credit card, budget deficits and debts that require a human life to be repaid. Going from prehistory through classical and Middle Eastern mythology and Victorian literature, she looks at every sort of rogue and liability. Writing about debt and democracy, her line, “It’s remarkable how often the assumed debt of services in return for the citizen’s tax dollar is forgotten by governments at large,” resonates in the post-election wasteland of another Conservative minority government. In the last section, she rewrites Scrooge as a corporate CEO, replete with indoor pool and home gym. Hippie guides take Scrooge for a visit to potential futures, where he gazes in wonder on cities of cyclists eating organic vegetables or on wastelands with horror. Atwood looks to the future with an optimism similar to Calgary journalist Chris Turner’s 2007 The Geography of Hope. Bringing in revenge and mythical mills grinding limitless supplies of grain or gold that can’t be stopped, she skillfully converts a 2008 recession into a fairy tale. It’s a strong contribution to the outstanding work the Massey Lectures (CBC Radio, Nov 10-14, 9pm) produce.