Ever wonder why our nation has reached record levels of household debt — including $1.5 trillion in student debt — while a vast infrastructure of surveillance and data harvesting now pervades both Washington, DC, and Silicon Valley?
Thank politicians like Joe Biden.
The former vice president has announced another presidential run, but he may be in for a rude awakening. His support for decades of bad, short-sighted policies helped put millions of Americans in a lifetime of debt and paved the way for the government and the tech industry to harvest our personal data with impunity. More and more people are taking notice.
It’s true that many neoliberal, corporate Democrats were complicit in voting for laws like the Patriot Act and the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. But Biden was the one championing and writing the actual language for these bills.
And as he makes another White House run, he may even double down, boasting about protecting Americans through his advocacy for the Patriot Act and collaborating with Big Tech to track terrorist behavior. He might blame the current student debt crisis on predatory lenders, shifting our attention toward band-aid solutions and away from the billions that lenders reap from steep interest rates and delinquency fees.
But his record is clear. Since 2005, he has supported measures to make it nearly impossible for student loan borrowers to discharge debt through bankruptcy. After 9/11, he and others leveraged our fear of terrorism to turn our state and economy into a surveillance world, where private data has become a highly sought-after commodity.
By working with corporations to monitor and track the public — ostensibly for our safety — the federal government essentially gave the telecommunications industry and Big Tech permission to surveil and analyze public communications. It laid the groundwork for the form of surveillance capitalism that now rules our economy. Facebook’s recent hire of Jennifer Newstead, a Trump-era State Department official who helped push the Patriot Act through Congress during the George W. Bush presidency, only highlights the hand-in-glove relationship between the security state and Silicon Valley.
The confluence of the Patriot Act and the Big Tech is no coincidence. More and more of the government’s recent security efforts have leaned on the assistance of tech companies, including tens of thousands of requests from law enforcement for user data each year. Amazon and Microsoft were recently announced as finalists for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Defense Department, and thousands of Google employees have protested their company’s work on artificial intelligence with the Pentagon.
The scariest part of all this is the common denominator between a debt-driven economy and surveillance-based capitalism: consumer addiction. Both rely on an unending cycle of dependence, of perpetual spending and data sharing by consumers, to fuel their respective markets. Young Americans looking to participate in today’s economy have little choice but to take on enormous levels of personal debt and enter a digital rat race where the only winners are spooks and tech oligarchs.
Instead of fighting to safeguard our privacy and prevent economic injustice, corporate-driven politicians like Joe Biden helped usher in this era.
Biden may not have foreseen that this type of market-driven exploitation would end up destroying our democracy, but he hasn’t done much since to curtail the influence of Wall Street or Silicon Valley. You could even say he’s one of the founding fathers of America’s student debt crisis and its culture of surveillance capitalism.
Choosing an alternative means going further back in our history, to the bread and butter of what made our country and its democratic values a beacon of hope.
We need leaders who recognize that we deserve a society free from crushing student debt, one where Big Brother isn't violating our privacy for profit every minute of every day. We can achieve this, and reclaim our democratic principles, only if we fight for policies that tackle surveillance capitalism and work to fundamentally change our debt-driven economy.
From presidential candidates to state representatives and district attorney races, we must support candidates who are willing to take on these challenges. Joe Biden is not one of them.
Ron Kim is a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly, representing Queens.