Stanley Dundee

Oversuck: Power Imbalance for Resource Extraction

2020-09-09 v. 1.1 Graeber epigraph

2020-09-03 v. 1

Most financial institutions themselves now acquire the majority of their profits from penalizing members of the general public for rule-breaking. According to a 2012 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, overdraft and insufficient funds fees made up sixty-one percent of bank profits from consumer checking accounts; and in 2009, J. P Morgan Chase, the biggest bank in America, reported 71% of its total profits derived from fees and penalties. Put another way, this means that the profitability of America's banks is based on knowingly creating rules so complicated that they know a significant portion of their customers won't to be able to follow them—and then punishing those customers for failing to do so.

— David Graeber, Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life

In "Everything's Fine": The Comfortable, the Afflicted, the Beakwetters, the Gaslit, Lambert Strether of Naked Capitalism asks for a word or phrase to describe the tactics of crapification:

The feeling that We must be doing something wrong is pervasive in a system that Kafka-eque depends on complex eligibility requirements . . . The complexity is a form of crapification at the tactical level — other countries, for example, avoid the complexity of premiums, copays, deductibles by making health care free at the point of delivery, even for the unworthy — and the feeling of wrongness is a mental signal of some kind, the feeling that one is about to be caught in a trap. . . . And our political economy is full of such traps (indeed, one might urge that predatory precarity is the sad and existential position of so many PMCs, because they make their living setting and building traps — take the health insurance industry. Please! — instead of doing productive work. But I don’t have a word for the tactics of crapification. Booby traps? Banana peels? Pitfalls? Dark patterns? Hooks? Snags? Gaffes? Land mines?

I found this a stimulating question, and I took up the challenge, eventually happening on the notion of oversuck, which I defined as losses borne due to an irremediable power imbalance. I think this term could find wide applicability so I am promoting it herewith. I'll keep an eye out for examples and add them as I find them. Please spread it around; I expect you've got examples from your own experience.

The untimely death of David Graeber brought to my attention Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life. The whole essay is illustrations of oversuck, mainly police-related, but also ranging over banks, higher ed, and all the major institutions of American life. Here's Graeber on the justice system oversuck:

. . . in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city's population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, . . . over three quarters of the population had warrants out for the arrest at any given time. The entire population was criminalized.

Significantly, the warrants were administrative violations, not criminal warrants. Criminalization enables the full weight of the law to bear down even when the targets have never even been accused of an actual crime. Utterly blatant, perhaps paradigmatic, oversuck.

Here are some usage suggestions. Consider monopoly suppliers backed by threats of collections:

Comcast got hundreds in oversuck when I couldn't find that set-top box.

How about landlords?

That sh***y landlord oversucked my security deposit even though I left the place in great shape.

Legal situations:

Most of that legal settlement went to oversuck by lawyers and health insurers.

The woes of cherished NC commenter Amfortas:

Watch out for oversuck if you get a cash windfall while you're on Medicaid!