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Of Debt, And Dread

If you haven’t seen it, do check out the following essay currently on The Paris Review’s website, “America’s Dead Souls,” by Molly McGhee.* It is a powerful, moving, and terrifying examination of how the Great American Debt Collection Industry targets the survivors of the recently dead—say, for example, the children of people who have passed on in the great Covid pandemic.

Now, I don’t mean to defame the debt recovery industry. I’ve known people in it who were honorable and just. Indeed, when I was still working on magazines, I discovered that our industry often depended on them. They were the only way we could get our bills paid when customers, as was all too often the case, simply declined to pay their debts on the argument that there was nothing we could do about it. (After all, their advertisements had already run in the magazine. What were we going to do? Write every subscriber and ask them not to buy the products we’d promoted?)

But, Ms. McGhee’s story is troubling in the extreme. It looks at how certain (not all, but certain) debt collectors mercilessly hound people who are grieving, and may be financially strapped, and are otherwise in no position to fight back. Moreover, the debts which the collectors say are owed, may not be legitimate.

But legitimate or not, the result, for the victims, is a Kafkaesque nightmare of demands, threats, ever growing bills, and possibly even bankruptcy.

Nothing against the debt recovery industry, but Covid has led to some sinister scams...

The only way, of course, is to hire a lawyer and fight back. Though, if you’ve don’t have money, and don’t know about lawyers and what they can do for you (or to you), then that may not be an option.

I mention this story for two reasons. First, so that people are aware of it, and may know a little bit more what to do should they ever find themselves (God forbid!) in similar straits. And, second, I think it is a powerful indictment not just of the debt collection business, but also of the American economy as a whole.

Simply put, we are far too quick to punish…and to exploit…than we are to be merciful, or even to be simply honest. We are too often ready to collect the bills which are, in fact, not due.

And, in the long run, one way or another…

For our transgression, we may find ourselves in a debtor’s prison.

Far more grueling than any we could imagine…

And perhaps, indeed, eternal.


Until Next Time,

Onward and Upward.



Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker

*Source: America’s Dead Souls, by Molly McGhee, The Paris Review, May 17, 2021,

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