Author: Abbye Atkinson
For the last fifty years, Congress has valorized the act of borrowing money as a catalyst for equality, embracing the proposition that equality can be bought with a loan. In a series of bedrock statutes aimed at democratizing access to loans and purchase money for marginalized groups, Congress has evinced a “borrowing-as-equality” policy that has largely focused on the capacity of “credit,” while acoustically separating its treatment of “debt” as though one can meaningfully exist without the other. In taking this approach, Congress has proffered credit as a means of equality without expressly accounting for the countervailing force of debt relative to social subordination. Yet, debt has itself functioned as a mechanism of the very subordination that Congress’s invocation of “credit” aspires to address.
This Article argues that because in articulating a borrowing-as-equality policy Congress is implicitly encouraging debt among marginalized communities, Congress should develop policies that recognize both the potential upside value of borrowing and the particular vulnerabilities that debt creates for socioeconomically marginalized groups. More broadly, any policy that invokes borrowing as a social good must engage more deeply with how credit and debt work in a social context. In other words, credit cannot meaningfully function as a social good without due attention to and a solution for the work of debt as a social ill.