Under the rubric of ‘financial inclusion’, lending to the poor – in both the global North and global South – has become a highly lucrative and rapidly expanding industry since the 1990s. A key inquiry of Susanne Soederberg’s penetrating and original book Debtfare States and the Poverty Industry: Money, Discipline and the Surplus Population is what is ‘the financial’ in which the poor are so kindly asked to join.
Refuting the mainstream position that financial inclusion is a natural, inevitable and mutually beneficial arrangement, Soederberg convincingly argues that the structural violence inherent to neoliberalism and credit-led accumulation have created and normalized a reality in which the working poor can no longer afford to live without expensive credit. Credit is an instrument of capital accumulation, class regulation, and symbolic subjugation. The book transcends economic treatments of credit and debt by revealing how the poverty industry is inextricably linked to the social power of money, the paradoxes in credit-led accumulation, and ‘debtfarism’. The latter refers to rhetorical and regulatory forms of governance that mediate and facilitate the expansion of the poverty industry and the reliance of the poor on credit to augment/replace their wages.
Through a historically grounded analysis, the author examines various dimensions of the poverty industry as well as the machinery that combines the poverty industry and the state, ranging from the credit card, payday loan, and student loan industries in the United States to micro-lending and low-income housing finance industries in Mexico. Providing a much-needed theorization of the politics of debt, Debtfare States and the Poverty Industry is a timely and stimulative contribution to the scientific and civic reevaluation of the role of finance in the workings of neoliberalism as a distinctive form of rule.