A debtor’s prison sounds like something out of Victorian times, but even today, people can find themselves caught in financial circumstances that leave them in situations so dire they might as well be locked up. Legal loan sharks, hospitals that drive people into bankruptcy and banks that hold all the power over the customers to whom they’ve loaned money sound like the stuff of Victorian melodrama. We might expect to encounter such stories in the 19th century novels of Charles Dickens but not in modern times. However, the truth is that law firms, banks, and medical facilities all have used their position, their power and legal loopholes to go after the little guy time and again.
How do companies get away with such behavior? It may not be ethical, but it is far from illegal. They rely on the laws that protect them as well as the fact that many of the people that they target lack the resources to fight back. These resources may be time and money, knowledge or simply emotional energy. For example, anyone who is going through treatment for a potentially terminal illness is probably going to lack the ability to also mount an effective defense against rising debts as a result of that treatment.
What can ordinary people do about this? Many things in the system need to be changed. Most people who declare bankruptcy do so due to medical bills, and of those people, most have health insurance. It is therefore clear that simply having better health insurance is not sufficient protection for people. Along the same lines, banks are set up in such a way that they are not held responsible for giving people bad loans that they cannot keep up with due to their income levels. Banks are not even held responsible for dealings with shady international figures even if those people might be terrorists.
It all sounds like the actions that would be undertaken by criminal kingpins, but these behaviors have infected some our biggest and most important institutions: the financial, medical, and legal ones.