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The US Debtfare State and the Credit Card Industry: Forging Spaces of Dispossession



Abstract:  Credit card debt is a ubiquitous feature of neoliberal capitalism. To explain the notable growth of credit card usage in the US, I adopt a historical materialist approach that employs two key analytical concepts—cannibalistic capitalism and the debtfare state—to capture the material, institutional and ideological dimensions of this process. Viewed within the bounds of cannibalistic capitalism, a mode of accumulation primarily based on the expansion of fictitious capital and secondary forms of exploitation, the debtfare state enhances the social power of money by allowing major credit card issuers (banks) to generate high levels of income from uncapped interest rates and policies that ensure the extension of plastic money to those who fall within Marx's category of the surplus population. While the expansion of debt subjects surplus workers to the disciplinary requirements of the market, it is unable to suspend the main tensions of cannibalistic capitalism, prompting ongoing reconstructions of the debtfare state.