On Debt Relief and Jubilees

I don’t know why no one is talking about true debt relief — and by that I mean debt cancellation.

Yes, there are movements for debt forgiveness, like the Corinthian 5 and the Rolling Jubilee, but most commentators, economists and policymakers ignore the possibility and long history of debt forgiveness. These intellectual gatekeepers aren’t dense. They know the history. They just don’t discuss it.

In Biblical times, and earlier, there was a tradition of debt forgiveness. At first, it was to tamp down social unrest among the lower classes when the debt burden and inequality in society grew too great. Later, it became a more regular affair. Every seven to ten years, all personal debt (not commercial) would be wiped away. These were Jubilees. The Rosetta Stone actually declares one such event.

Obviously, in today’s world, Jubilees should not be regularly scheduled affairs — that would be unworkable and completely destabilizing But we may have reached a time when one is necessary to keep the social fabric from unraveling. We need to discuss this.

Is it too radical to talk about? It doesn’t seem to be. If we can forgive and give money to large corporations for engaging in morally hazardous behavior that doubly hurt American taxpayers (first in the bad loans then in the bailout), we should be able to forgive personal debts, especially given so much is held by the U.S. government in the form of student loans, home loans, et cetera.

Maybe it is too radical to talk about — or even think. But I disagree. I think we need to discuss complete, true debt forgiveness for the American people. Even if we can’t accomplish that, maybe we can make it part of the way through at least taking it as a starting point. But we have to talk about it to start.

Let’s begin a conversation on it.

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