The Atlantic

Freedom Is Meaningless Under Insurmountable Debt

Advocates are arguing that the Thirteenth Amendment prohibits usurious loans.
Source: Shutterstock / The Atlantic

I wonder: What would Timothy Howe, a Reconstruction-era congressman who opposed slavery, have made of the story of Raedell Piaso?

A few years ago, Piaso was making a little less than $23,000 a year as a receptionist in Albuquerque when she couldn’t make her rent for her apartment.

Facing eviction, she took out a loan. She signed over the title to her family’s 2004 Ford F-150 as collateral and agreed to an annual interest rate of 300 percent. She thought she could make it work by cutting back—from macaroni and cheese, say, to ramen noodles.

Her payment history shows her trying to keep up. Over 13 months, she gave more than a quarter of her take-home pay to the lender—$5,617—on a loan of $1,971. But the lender applied less than $2 of that to the loan principal; the rest vaporized in fees and interest.

She fell behind, and the lender threatened to seize her truck. She drove west and left it with her

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