I Never Lend People Money

Debt is violence, or threat of violence. It shifts the power balance in a relationship in favour of the lender. Many friendships, relationships, and families have been torn apart by conflicts around debts. Most people take this as an obvious and fair consequence of lending and debt; if you have to borrow money you're already a failure, and if you do you need to get your shit together and pay it back pronto. How many times have you heard someone defend the debtor in a family squabble about money?

One thing we should have understood by now is that economy, global and personal alike, is a fluid thing. One moment it works and you're on high ground. The next everything is pulled away from under your feet and you're drowning.

I've never been in economic hardship, but I've somehow always been afraid of it. We save a large part of our incomes, and always have, mainly because it makes me feel safer. Mind you Sweden still has excellent social welfare and support, but for as long as I can remember the system has always been under attack from the right wing. They like to use words like "undeserving" and "exploiting" about people in need. I don't take for granted that the same protections offered to me and mine now will be offered in the future when we need them.

So we save money. And we're aware that most people can't save as much as we, if at all. Studies show that a large part of households in Sweden are ill prepared to handle a sudden expense of €150. We have friends and family who are not as lucky as we are, and have sometimes come to us for help. But we never lend them money, because we know how that debt becomes a cold, wet blanket covering our future interactions until repaid. And if someone has a hard time staying ahead, can we expect them to ever get ahead to an extent where they can pay us back?

When we've had requests like this we've discussed it between us. Is the sum asked reasonable? Will it cover their expenses in full? Can we afford losing that money right now? Almost always this has lead to us giving them the money they need. We let them know it's a gift. They're of course free to give us money at some point in the future, but there is no expectation or demand that they do so.

Where debt can be toxic in a relationship generosity can be healing and strengthening. Lending money is a gamble, and you should never gamble more than you can afford to lose. But if you can afford to lose it, then consider investing it in stronger human ties rather than spending them on a leash to wrap around someone's neck.

Sometimes people give us money back, sometimes they don't. Just a few months ago I received a sudden transfer of €700 from a friend. They wanted to pay back money I'd given them some years ago, which I'd forgotten about completely.


Debt, the first 5,000 years, by David Graeber. I've only read a bit into the first chapter, but it's his formulation of debt as violence and power that got me thinking about this.

-- CC0 Björn Wärmedal