Welcome back to another Worldbuilding Wednesday! I’m back to talking about specific worlds rather than generalities. Today I’m starting the process of describing my Debts to Recover ‘verse so please bear in mind that there are spoilers here both for stories that have been released and that have not. Also, the Debts ‘verse is dystopian erotica so there are some fairly heavy themes discussed.
The Debts to Recover ‘verse is different from all the other ones that I’ve discussed so far in that it’s based very strongly on the real world. I generally avoid doing that for a couple of reasons. First, I really enjoy creating whole new worlds from the ground up. Starting from our world seems like cheating. Second, I always worry about basing it too closely on a real place and then having problems with kicking people out of the story due to failure to get things right.
But in this case it really was necessary to start with our world.
You see, when I decided to tell the first draft of Debts to Recover, the story that gave this ‘verse its name, I wanted to explore debt in the real world and how very much like slavery it had become for a huge portion of the US population.
So many young people that I know are saddled with huge amounts of debt that they will never be able to pay off. My brother and his wife both have huge school loans. That’s not even touching people’s credit card debt, how expensive home and car ownership have become, the ridiculously low pay that certain sectors of society get or medical care debt.
Many people’s lives have become defined by how much debt they have. They’re not free to leave a job they hate or that’s dangerous physically, emotionally or mentally. Attitudes towards those who have huge amounts of debt or who live paycheck to paycheck are horrendous. People quite literally have said to my face that the poorest people ‘deserve’ what they get because if they were ‘better’ they wouldn’t have accumulated so much debt.
Which is more than a little ridiculous given the way the world is structured in the US. There are strong systemic reasons why people end up in debt. There are even stronger reasons why people whose parents were poor and debt ridden rarely manage to get debt free. Being extremely poor has a huge effect on not only your diet and the physical things in your life but also in the choices you make and the way you think.
I grew up poor. The earliest years of my marriage were spent in poverty. Frankly, I’d still be living in poverty if it weren’t for my husband. He grew up in an upper middle class family and he knew how to save money, how to pay down debt, how to handle purchasing decisions so that we got the best bang for our buck in the long-term.
I didn’t. The decisions I would have made would have left me in much the same condition that my parents were in when I was young. It took living a different way with my husband for me to realize that there were whole series of life skills that I’d never learned.
They’re skills that huge numbers of people in the world don’t learn. It got me thinking as I built the Debts to Recover ‘verse. So many people with huge debts are functionally enslaved that debt. It’s a harsh way to put it but I think it’s pretty accurate. If you’re so afraid of losing your job, your home, your car, everything you own, that you won’t do anything to threaten your job it’s the functional equivalent to being a slave.
The only difference is that there isn’t one person who owns that debt, who you can talk to if something goes wrong. Instead there are banks and credit departments and repo men and all the rest of going bankrupt.
But what if there was one person who held your debt? What if, after you hit a certain level where you absolutely couldn’t pay your debt off without help, someone else could swoop in, pay off your creditors and then give you a secure job where you’d work until you paid off your debt?
There used to be a system like that in the US. It was during the initial colonization of the continent and it was called indentured servitude. Then and now it was considered half a step above being a slave. An indentured servant fully expected to be fed poorly, housed cheaply, given the worst jobs and worked for every penny he could earn. Signing the contract to become an indentured servant was something that only a truly desperate man did.
I decided to take that concept and take it into the twentieth century. What I posited was that in a world much like ours a major world-wide recession hit in the eighties. It was so bad that huge portions of the poor were being wiped out, losing their savings, their homes, everything they cared about. At the same time, businesses were suffering because there were fewer people buying things, thus less profit and too many were on the edge of collapse before the recession hit.
In Europe, some of the richest nobles and business owners got together and suggested a new-old method of dealing with the problem. Instead of allowing the poor to become bankrupt, they proposed that the rich be allowed to pay off the poor’s debts. They would pay a hefty fee to a regulatory agency that would use the fees to monitor the safety, health and treatment of the poor people inducted into the program.
In return for paying off the poor person’s debt, the rich person (not company since it was decided that only an actual person could be held responsible for another person’s debt) had the right to the poor person’s labor until the debt was paid off. They worked the jobs the rich person decided and got room, board, appropriate clothing and a small stipend for personal expenses. Everything else that they earned went back to the rich person to pay down their debt.
It was heavily regulated and highly successful in Europe. It didn’t take very long for the system, popularly called ‘debt slavery’, to spread around the world. After 150 or so years (at that time) a form of slavery returned to the US.
Some rich people and a great many poor people protested it but the system worked. It saved people from losing everything. It ensured that they had secure jobs. They got medical care and housing and food and clothes. They even learned skills that made them more productive members of society.
The only problem was that some people didn’t do any better in the debt slavery system than they did when they were on their own. Which led to certain highly immoral ‘Masters’, as the rich owners of debt slaves came to be called, quietly legislating a return of true slavery.
And that’s where the Debts to Recover ‘verse came from. *laughs* No surprise, just laying out the concept too longer than I expected. I believe next time I’ll talk about how I developed the concept of debt slavery and how it’s influenced this world.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this. Please do ask questions if you have any. I like sharing my world building but writing these takes time away from writing stories that I could publish. Thus, it would be greatly appreciated if you would consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these columns. Thank you very much!