“The new slavery has improved upon the old by giving the new slaves the illusion that they are free. The Economy does not take people’s freedom by force, which would be against its principles, for it is very humane. It buys their freedom, pays for it, and then persuades its money back again with shoddy goods and the promise of freedom” — Wendell Berry
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This quote from Wendell Berry suggests that modern consumer capitalism has created a new form of servitude by allowing people the illusion of independence through credit and debt. Some key points in interpreting his perspective:
- Berry implies that the “Economy” gains influence over people not through overt coercion but by providing money and goods upfront in exchange for taking back more money via interest and consumerism.
- He portrays this as a subtle yet powerful new means of social control that exploits desires for autonomy and prosperity rather than enforcing subjugation directly.
- Berry’s perspective conveys the viewpoint that debt-driven consumer lifestyles replace overt slavery with “shoddy” distractions that maintain control over populations through financial obligations rather than physical force.
- However, reasonable people can disagree on Berry’s characterization, and responsible use of credit combined with savings enables opportunity for some individuals according to their priorities and circumstances.
Overall, the quote reflects Berry’s cynical stance that modern capitalism induces a “new slavery” through economic rather than corporeal bonds. But the best interpretation considers this as one perspective in ongoing discussions, and recognizes that prudent personal finance requires moderation – neither excessive debt nor its complete avoidance optimize well-being, which depends on individual situations and philosophies that may prioritize both empowerment and protection.