Why Occupy's Plan To Cancel Consumer Debts Is Brilliant
By Charles Eisenstein / guardian.co.uk

A new initiative is re-energising the Occupy movement. Called the Rolling Jubilee, it is a plan to use money from donations to buy distressed consumer debt from lenders at a marked down price, just as debt collection agencies normally would. But instead of hounding debtors for payments, it will simply cancel the debts. The hope is that the liberated debtors will themselves contribute to the fund, "rolling" the jubilee forward.

The Rolling Jubilee is a genius move for several reasons. First, debt relief is a transpartisan message that eludes conventional political categorisation. As such, it returns Occupy to its origins as an advocate for the wellbeing of ordinary people, neither leftwing nor rightwing. The Rolling Jubilee says, non-threateningly, "We just want to help people in this unfair system."

But despite its non-threatening appearance, the Rolling Jubilee has significant transformative potential. Two pillars uphold the present debt regime: the moral legitimacy of debt in society's eyes, ie, the idea that a person "should" pay back what he owes; and the coercive mechanisms that enforce repayment, such as harassment, seizure of assets, garnishment of wages, denial of employment or housing, and even imprisonment. The Rolling Jubilee erodes both. It destigmatises debt by saying, "we're all in this together, we believe your situation is unfair, not shameful, so we're going to help you out". And it lessens the severity of the consequences of default. If defaulting means you might get bailed out, why keep paying?

For this reason, we might expect lenders to balk at co-operating with the Rolling Jubilee, perhaps by refusing to sell loans to anyone who doesn't agree to seek collection. So here is a third reason why the idea is so brilliant: if the lenders block debt cancellation even when it comes at no cost to themselves (as they would have sold it at the same price to a collection agency), they appear as a bunch of greedy, vindictive Scrooges. Given their current vulnerability, banks might not want to incite hostility by preventing people from helping each other out.

Accordingly, it is important that the Jubilee organisers continue to frame it in precisely that way: people helping each other out of hardship. Yes, they might understand that its political significance runs deeper, but if they portray it as a political ploy then it will be met as such by the banks or other authorities. Public opinion might also not be as sympathetic.

This also goes for the way the organisers portray it to themselves. In a political system that is lost in a maelstrom of hype, spin and messaging, we crave authenticity in others and in ourselves. Let the Rolling Jubilee stay grounded in the simple goal of freeing people from debt. The political effect will be greater, not less, when it comes from a place of sincerity.

The Rolling Jubilee could influence economic policy as a model for a very different kind of bailout in response to the next financial crisis. The problem of unpayable debts bedevils every corner of our financial system – public, corporate, and personal. So far, the response of the monetary and fiscal authorities to nearly every financial crisis has been to bail out the creditors but not the debtors. Governments and central banks purchase all kinds of shoddy loans from the private sector, but rather than reduce interest or principal on those loans, they merely become the new creditor. The underwater homeowner, the indebted university graduate, the laid-off worker juggling credit cards ... they get no relief at all.

The Rolling Jubilee brings a different kind of solution into the public consciousness. The next time a systemic crisis breaks, central banks can rescue the banking system by once again buying the delinquent loans – and then cancel them or reduce the amount borrowers owe. Central banks, with their unlimited capacity to print money, have the power to do this at no cost to the taxpayer. The result would be a release of pent-up consumer purchasing power that had been stuck in debt service. Rising demand would fuel employment, wages, and a broad-based economic expansion.

Would this solution be inflationary? Yes. But a little inflation isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as wages rise as fast as prices. Then it is an equalizer of wealth, as the relative value of hoarded wealth shrinks.

Debt cancellation, whether a "people's bailout" or government policy, is only part of the solution to our economic woes. Deep systemic reforms are necessary, especially given the reality that we are operating a growth-dependent system on a finite planet. But right now, debt is the issue staring us in the face. As always, the most innovative solutions rise from the margins. The Rolling Jubilee may be showing us a glimpse of what is to come.

4.8 · 7
What's Next
Load Comments
Trending Today
Today I Rise
4 min · 24,534 views today · The world is missing what I am ready to give: My wisdom, My sweetness, My love and my hunger for Peace.
Sweden's Feminist Foreign Minister Has Dared to Tell the Truth About Saudi Arabia. What Happens Now Concerns Us All
Nick Cohen · 5,015 views today · Margot Wallström’s principled stand deserves wide support. Betrayal seems more likely
Christopher Columbus Was Worse Than ISIS
9 min · 3,263 views today · Monday, October 12th is Columbus Day, which we have celebrated in this country since the eighteenth century... and that's probably long enough. When you find out the actual...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 2,722 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
Yes, There Is An Alternative to Capitalism: Mondragon Shows the Way
Richard Wolff · 2,505 views today · There is no alternative ("Tina") to capitalism? Really? We are to believe, with Margaret Thatcher, that an economic system with endlessly repeated cycles, costly bailouts for...
How to Disagree
Paul Graham · 1,977 views today · The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on...
Guns in America Vs. the Rest of the World
2 min · 1,703 views today · Mass shootings keep happening in the United States. But what happens when you limit guns? Here's a look at gun laws around the world.
Basic Income (10 Reasons)
3 min · 1,551 views today · Why everyone should have a guaranteed livable income. The simplest most effective solution to poverty.
A Gentlemen's Guide To Rape Culture
Zaron Burnett III · 1,492 views today · If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. I know … that sounds rough. You’re not a rapist. But you may (inadvertently) perpetuate the attitudes and behaviors commonly...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 1,445 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
How The Media Has Shaped Your Negative Perception of Feminism
10 min · 1,403 views today · The Straw Feminist trope is a deliberately created, exaggerated caricature of a feminist that is used to undermine and ridicule feminist movements.  This was probably one of...
In Praise of Self-Helpless
Jay Michaelson · 1,361 views today · The following is excerpted from The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson, published by Ben Yahuda Press. In the 1990s, a prominent teacher of what’s...
A Short History of U.S. Bombing of Civilian Facilities
Jon Schwarz · 1,200 views today · On October 3, a U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Kunduz, Afghanistan, partially destroying it. Twelve staff members and...
Any Job Isn't Necessarily a Good Job for People Out of Work
Stephen Bevan · 1,192 views today · There can be no doubt that the job market has been more resilient since the financial crisis than many imagined. Unemployment did not rise as far as was feared and the recovery...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 1,116 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Noam Chomsky on the Economic War on Latin America
31 min · 1,104 views today · Chris Spannos speaks with the acclaimed public intellectual about the shift in US policy toward Cuba and what it signals.  In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 1,058 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use To Change The World
Films For Action · 1,031 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
The Most Honest Political Ad You've Ever Seen
2 min · 907 views today · America deserves a new kind of the same old politician.
'Agrihoods' Offer Suburban Living Built Around Community Farms, Not Golf Courses
Joseph Erbentraut · 773 views today · The model takes the idea of farm-to-table to the next level.
Load More
Like us on Facebook?