When we don’t have money, the day is impossible. When we have just a little, the day is anxious. When we feel flush, we brace at the end of the day for the next shortage. This issue is about that flux: about wages and contracts, shit jobs, gigs, hustle, loans, and debt. It’s also about who runs the show: the institutions and corporations and industries that work in concert with racial and class hegemonies, ruling the economies of exchange (of waged labour, of emotional labour, of unpaid labour) in which we and our cash circulate. So this issue is also about what’s been stolen, and what is being destroyed in the name of growth.
Some attribute the saying “The world doesn’t owe you anything,” to Mark Twain, who concluded with the witticism, “it was here long before you.” And maybe that’s true, if we’re speaking of the geological formation “world”—the ecological systems we inhabit don’t abide a code of ethics. That is not the world implied by this cliché of austerity. Implied is the built world of humans and systems and economies, of growth and expansion and devastation, and of wealth and misery—the world happening all around us and against us, apparently fine without us, apparently not owing us. But that world does owe us, and it is not fine without us: it is built upon us, some bearing so much of its staggering weight that they are crushed for the sake of its growth. Yet those it crushes it needs the most. Truly––the exploitation is foundational. That world owes many people many things.
We wonder, as part of that world, what are we owed and what do we owe? We owe and are owed reparations, we owe and are owed repatriation of land, we owe and are owed clean water, we owe and are owed open borders and sanctuary, we owe and are owed living wages, or, better yet, a life beyond the wage.
People who make a lot of money, who work all day, who run corporations, who have full-time jobs, who have benefits, don’t “earn” the privilege of wealth and security because they are better at working, or working at harder jobs than those of us who don’t have money (who may also work all day at lots of jobs, or part of the day on contract, or an undocumented number of hours as an undocumented person, or all day and night at home giving care, or not a minute of the day at all because we are unable, and working only to find a small measure of comfort).
All of this seems to not need to be said, and yet the idea of meritocracy still underlies our adherence and cooperation with the market economy. It still inspires guilt; it still pushes us to revise the CV after another round of rejection, to take out a loan so we can take another course. It still promises with some conviction that the market is a place of “equal opportunity,” that we can find a sense of security by negotiating our wages, taking on more hours, and investing what money we save. This promise is a lie, but one that holds our attention and efforts long enough that we don’t have time to see or question how that lie protects a system that routinely moves money from the poor to the rich.
We owe phone companies and internet providers, we owe banks and bosses and landlords, we owe energy companies and collection agencies. Until we say they owe us back
When we talk about money, we have to talk about work, because right now we don’t have a way to get money that is not in exchange for labour (though we have many labours that are not exchanged for cash). What shit job is worth keeping? Montreal writer Cason Sharpe tallies a year’s worth of paychecks, cab rides, child survivor benefits, and lunch tabs in a compelling piece that exposes the continued expense of being poor: “I should be ‘good’ at being poor by now but I’m not because that’s not how poverty works. I mismanage my finances all the time…I don’t pay my bills on time, and every time I start building a savings account it gets depleted by the end of the month to cover rent.”
This issue is called CASH, so it’s no surprise that a lot of the content is about debt. Debt is what we have after we’ve had cash, or what we have instead, if we never had any cash to begin with. If cash were a cat, debt would be eight of its nine lives. It is the eternal afterlife of money.
Contributor Tara Needham says, “that we are compelled to describe debt as a form of haunting is because of the relationship it forges between our past-, present-, and future-selves.” She addresses debt as a haunting but also as a sort of banality. Like Sharpe, Needham sees debt as a fact, something we just have “like an overdue library book, or a cold.”
We owe phone companies and internet providers, we owe banks and bosses and landlords, we owe energy companies and collection agencies.
Until we say they owe us back.
Artist and feminist economist Cassie Thornton writes urgently against the financialization of contemporary subjectivity and proposes a feminist form of economic disobedience. In her piece, “Feminist Economics and The People’s Apocalypse,” Thornton imagines a holographic collective revenge on capitalist systems of value.
Mary-Dan Johnston discusses the pros and cons of an alternative to wage labour in which we might get cash in exchange for being alive. A universal basic income (UBI), she concedes, would be a “survival guarantee without the indignity of means-testing.” But she argues that the end game of UBI is not to overturn capitalism. It defers “the question of ownership,” while also ignoring the labour of mostly feminized and racialized workers without secure citizenship, who would not be covered by a UBI, because the “universal” is still contained by the state. She thinks we should ask for much more than this.
The settler state relies, too, on its own fallacy of fairness. Poet Samantha Marie Nock explores the concept of the transaction as it affects Indigenous bodies and Indigenous land: “we find ourselves/in situations/with bare bark skin/be careful how much you peel from the trees/because you want to make sure/they will survive the winter.” Her poetry explores the relation between intimacy and currency, and recognizes “the chain-link fence” as the remnant and price of resisting and existing outside settler markets. Her poetry speaks to what is owed.
In academic institutions there is a push now to acknowledge the Indigenous territory and governance of the land they occupy, and to increase the presence and study of Indigenous knowledge. These worthwhile efforts aim to confront the legacy of settler colonialism. But what does it mean to Indigenize the classroom or the syllabus or pedagogy if the university as a corporate institution remains deeply invested in economies of extraction that have dire impacts on Indigenous communities, land, and water?
Student-led fossil fuel divestment movements set out to erode economic support for unsustainable and unjust resource extraction. Over the past five years, there have been over thirty active campus divestment campaigns, which have mobilized thousands of students. In a roundtable discussion with three fellow divestment campaigners, Laura Cutmore says:
“Understanding that justice has never been won by asking nicely means teaching students and young people to put our faith in our own power. It also means respecting the immense power of Indigenous peoples fighting on the front lines, and of women and racialized people, who have always led social justice movements.”
Université de Laval recently committed to full divestment from fossil fuels, and the authors of this roundtable think it’s only a matter of time before other universities follow suit.
It’s time to make demands. Fuck what we owe the bank. It’s time to take what we need, demand what our friends need, and give back what we owe to each other.
Diane Di Prima wrote Revolutionary Letters in 1969 in which she states, “if what you want is housing/ industry (G.E. on the Navaho reservation)/a car for everyone/ garage, refrigerator/ TV, more plumbing, scientific/ freeways, you are still/ the enemy.” Wanting a proliferation of capitalist growth as a solution to economic and social disparity is part of the problem. It’s becoming ever clearer that the earth and the people on it cannot survive that sort of “progress.” Fifty years later, our contributors are still towing that line. Within this issue, you will find our contributors forming new iterations of anti-capitalist logic that confront contemporary economic realities.
We want to introduce the CASH Issue with di Prima’s fervent conclusion:
you can have what you ask for, ask for
We are as ever,
Your GUTS editors