CBC Radio is a staple for most Canadians. And beyond listening to CBC, just so that you can say "I heard it on the CBC" thereby invoking the Canadian equivalent of "this is gospel truth" they do put together some really great shows.

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth Payback is both a book and a Massey Lecture Series that CBC put on with Margaret Atwood (or perhaps it was vice versa). I happened upon it listening on the radio show as I was making a late night delivery to a friend from church. As near as I can tell the lectures are simply Margaret Atwood reading the book. Which makes both the book interesting as it has a strong conversational tone and the radio lecture interesting because it is well thought out and structured.

The book covers quite a bit of ground, looking through the aspects of the debt and creditor relationship as they stretch back in time and relay how this framework is only really possible because humans have a sense of fairness and are living as a society where relationships are a necessary part of our daily lives. It then stretches into looking at how debt and sin are related and how sinfulness has been extended to relate to both the creditor and debtor. The idea that debt is only possible because memory is possible is opened up and poked and prodded and found that indeed debt really can't exist with out memory (or accounting and ledgers).

Debt as a plot line is explored. This is a brilliant, if partially borrowed from Eric Berne, piece of work laying out how many of us are using Debt as a way to spice up our lives. In many cases, Debt may be used to add the story to the passing days of our lives. The subject is then spun out to a more national scale with some explanation of Taxes and how national debt works.

The book finishes in a somewhat dramatic twist by looking in upon the way that we as humans are in-debt to the Earth and how we are on line for some terrible times ahead should we consider to borrow on the large but diminishing reserves of Mother Nature Represented by the Spirit of Earth Day. When Mother Nature comes to collect you don't want to be the one that answers the door.

Through all this Atwood has woven the stories of Doctor Faust, Ebenezer Scrooge (who gets a big role), Shylock (from The Merchant of Venice) and a variety of other classic pieces of literature which act as expected to glue together and fill out the presented ideas. Atwood touches in the church and Jesus and where they seem to fit in the story, interestingly pointing out that the church has really been focusing on the sexual sins lately and has let what used to be equally significant finance related sins pass away. She also presents an alternate scenario for 9/11 where the American's choose forgiveness of the terrorists rather than revenge. (I've often wondered if the amount of money that has been pumped into the war efforts had been pumped into building up educational and infrastructure resources in Afghanistan and Iraq what would have happened in the ensuing years. I recognize that doing that kind of development would not be easy/possible in a hostile environment but it represents a different goal and I feel a better tactic.)

Both the Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth book and radio presentation are engaging and well worth the time.  While I can't speak to how well it agrees (or disagrees) with modern thought on debt, the book ties together a lot of strings to provide a cohesive and well thought out (not to mention Canadian flavoured) look at the subject.