It’s not news that we are a country drowning in personal debt. Students are graduating from college with an average loan burden of about $33,000, while homeowners beg banks for more time to pay their mortgages. Debt has become foundational to our economy. And it has a moral—even shaming—aspect that adds to its power.
The forces behind debt are complicated. Loans aren’t always made fairly and borrowers can end up paying interest for decades—a trend that compounds over generations. What are the implications of this for social justice? What is debt really doing, and where did our current debt system come from? How do current policies set people up for runaway debt—or help them avoid it? And if access to fair credit is key to bolstering local economies and jump-starting families’ ability to build assets, how can we think about the dynamics of “good” debt?
We’re also interested in the idea of debt as a potential source of solidarity. Since people burdened by debt cross all political parties, there’s an opening to organize and find a voice and power. What are the leading-edge strategies that are building on this potential? In the shorter term, what practical steps can people take to get out of debt? And if debt’s not the way to build a house, get an education, start a business, or pay for health care—what is?
YES! Magazine is launching a multiplatform editorial project designed to shift the conversation on this issue. We’re looking for story pitches, leads, and referrals to people who are working on these issues. We are open to all types of articles, including investigative pieces, personal essays, data visualizations and infographics, humor, quizzes, and photo essays. We are a solutions-oriented outfit, so we’re looking for stories that show forward movement, success, potential, and ingenuity—not just problems.
We’d love to hear your ideas. Please respond to [email protected] by 04/13/2015.
Here are some of the ideas we’re interested in:
Morality of Debt
Why is it wrong to not pay a debt that you cannot afford? Can we shift the moral obligation from debtor to creditor? How do the attitudes of different generations play into our moralizing: grandparents (“all debt is bad”), parents (“debt is how you get ahead”), millennials (“debt is the drain on my life”).
Debt Strikes and Debtors’ Rights
What happens when people collectively refuse to pay? If debtors organized themselves toward collective action, could banks be forced to negotiate with debtors as equals? How can we develop the deep trust that such a tactic would require? Are there organizations currently building the foundation for a debt strike? What about historical precedents? Is this even a good idea? What other collective strategies are emerging, and how do they draw on historical precedents, particularly in economically marginalized communities?
The Trap of “Affordable Debt”
Some legislators and bankers are working hard to make debt affordable through policies such as lower interest rates, and say that this is the best solution to the problem. Yet these approaches maintain a situation in which lenders retain all the power to grant relief.
The Double Standard About Bankruptcy
When corporations walk away from bad debt through bankruptcy, the business world applauds them. When individuals with underwater mortgages do it, it’s seen as a drain on the economy. What’s behind this double standard?
Debt That Works
When we look at history, there are whole eras when debt plays a different role than it does today. Debt can liberate as well as enslave. Doing for others and owing to others are certainly transactions that knit communities together. Can we envision a sustainable economy in which credit and debt become socially productive? What does that look like?
Life Without Debt
What’s it like to go through life without credit cards, car loans, and mortgage? Any personal stories about who is pulling that off?
Croatia just canceled the debts of its poorest citizens. Some European countries educate their students for free and send them into the workforce without debt, while Australians only repay student loans when they can afford to. What can we learn from other countries, cultures, and communities about reasonable approaches to debt?
Dealing With Your Debt
Even though we’re angry that our mortgages are underwater and the money we saved for our children’s education got sucked up by medical bills, many are not ready to participate in a debt strike. What can people do right now, within the system we have?
What does the data show?
A tremendous amount of information exists about who holds debt. We’re interested in using data resources to learn more about how debt affects different groups of people. How does it affect one generation to the next?
We’re looking for story pitches, leads, and referrals to people who are working on these issues. We’d love to hear your ideas. Please respond to [email protected] by 04/13/2015.
YES! Magazine is a national, nonprofit media organization that covers ideas and actions that address some of the most urgent economic, environmental, and social problems today. We publish a quarterly print issue as well as a website, both of which are ad-free.