Picture this: the year is 1018 and you’re the court jester for some provincial lord. You perform amusing tricks for him, and if you do a good job he might toss you some scraps from his table. He sleeps well, having exhibited such charity. You sleep on a flee-infested straw bed, but at least your stomach is full.
Today the year is 2018, you’re a student with a degree the ‘market’ no longer values, and you’re saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of student loan debt. You go on a new US game show called ‘Paid Off’ and perform some amusing tricks for the audience. If you do a good job, the show’s owners will pay off that student debt. Scraps from the table of the capitalist class. They’ll sleep well, having exhibited such charity. You sleep on a makeshift bed in a tiny apartment, but at least you’re free to deal with any of the other insurmountable problems capitalism throws at you.
This new US gameshow, ‘Paid Off’, is the epitome of capitalism today. Having commercialised our education, the capitalist class has now found a way to make a profit out of the desperation and misery created by that commercialisation.
For all its pretence of generosity, there is no way ‘Paid Off’ would air on television if someone wasn’t making big money from the humiliation of people desperate to pay off their enormous debts. ‘Paid Off’ proves that there is nothing capitalism can’t turn into a profitable enterprise, making it the perfect show for our times.
This economic system is wreaking havoc on our lives, through student debt, the housing crisis, and the impending climate disaster. But hey, it’s comforting to know that someone, somewhere, is getting a good laugh and a fat profit out of it.
The format of the show is that three debtors are made to compete in a silly trivia quiz, but only one will end up free from the shackles of their debt. In this sense too, ‘Paid Off’ is capitalism in its essence: you must ‘earn’ your way out of the pit the system has thrown you into, and even then, the majority ends up with nothing to show for their efforts but public humiliation and perhaps a pat on the back.
The lucky winner is tossed the scraps. Our lords have been generous. Some of the money they’ve taken from us has been used to alleviate a single person’s suffering. Meanwhile billions of pounds are currently sitting idle in the bank accounts of, among others, those businesses making a profit out of the commercialisation of education. We could use this money to pay, not only for the cancellation of all student debt, but a lot more besides.
There is no reason we should beg and humiliate ourselves just to settle for the scraps. It’s thanks to our hard work that the capitalist class got rich in the first place. We can take back the wealth that has been stolen from us, not through begging and charity, but by uniting the working class to struggle for socialism. We must nationalise the commanding heights of the economy, the banks and biggest businesses, and take back what was stolen from us by the parasites of the capitalist class.
by Anthony Oakland, KCL Marxists