Past time for a Rolling Jubilee

if you believe that Christ died for you – thus forgiving your debt of sin, the very LEAST you can do is to forgive your financial debtors.

Musing about that billionaire guy who said, more than once, that rich people in general — and business-people in particular — are not job creators: Indeed, in the video, he talked about what great undeserved privileges the wealthy already have.

They sound like the people portrayed in the satirical I am a job creator: A manifesto for the entitled. Just one of many good quotes: “I am entitled to a healthy and well-educated workforce, a modern and efficient transportation system and protection for my person and property, just as I am entitled to demonize the government workers who provide them.” Yet they talk about terms such as moral hazard, without seeming to have any sense of their own immortality of greed.

Indeed, my wife noted recently that she got just a taste of the relatively good life right before we were married. She was working for an insurance company for two years making more annually as she would for her first two years teaching. She got a company car, so by selling her existing vehicle, she could bank that money. Her mileage reimbursement to the company for personal trips was far below the going rate. She could afford to travel, but now she was raking in the airline mileage points on business trips to boot. The fact that she didn’t enjoy the job WAS a downside.

By contrast, she reported listening to some radio program about a sociologist not only studying the poor but living like a poor person. The sociologist concluded that the cause of poverty was being poor. That sounds cheeky and/or redundant, but here’s what meant. You want to get a decent apartment but you can’t come up with the first and last month’s rent. So you stay in some weekly place, even though it costs more over time. Processed food is cheaper and more available in poor neighborhoods than fresh food. It’s a cycle from which it is hard to break free. You end up taking out payday loans, which, BTW, the Church of England has decided to take on.

When I read in about the Occupy Wall Street people doing their Rolling Jubilee, a “Strike Debt project that buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it,” I was astonished. This is a largely secular organization doing precisely what the Bible has instructed. The book Jesus for President reiterates the economic, spiritual, and justice efficacy of forgiving debt, or jubilee. I also loved the fact that Richmond, California sent a letter to 32 banks announcing a tentative plan to buy out the debt of the more than 600 of its residents’ mortgages. Using its powers of eminent domain…

OK, you non-Christians, you may leave the room; I’m going to proselytize, to the Christians, now. Be very wary of the “prosperity gospel.” Jesus is not saying to you, “You’ll be rich in material things” if you follow Him; rather, you’ll be rich in the Spirit. You know that phrase, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”? That means that, if you believe that Christ died for you – thus forgiving your debt of sin – the very LEAST you can do is to forgive your financial debtors. I mean, it’s only money, marked with Caesar’s image. Don’t be the money lenders in the temple whose tables Jesus was compelled to overturn.

J is for Jubilee

People of Christian faith often ask God to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

“Proclaim liberty throughout the lands and to all the inhabitants thereof, it shall be a jubilee for you.” – Leviticus 25:10. In the Judaic tradition, during the Jubilee year, debts were forgiven and land that had been sold to repay debts was returned to the original owners. “What was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee, it shall be released, and the property shall be returned.” – Leviticus 25:28. In both Judeo-Christian and non-Biblical traditions, there has been an understanding that forgiveness of debt, when that debt becomes so onerous that one cannot ever get from under it, is both fair and practical.

Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania, asks, “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” As Jubilee USA Network notes: “In the world’s most impoverished nations, the majority of the populations do not have access to clean water, adequate housing, or basic health care. These countries are paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens. The United Nations Development Program estimated in 2003 that 30,000 children die each day due to preventable diseases. Debt service payments take resources that impoverished countries could use to cure preventable diseases. Debt cancellation frees up resources to reverse this devastating reality.” And, in many cases, the debt has already been paid, or would have, had the interest rates been reasonable.

The primary argument against debt jubilee is the notion of moral hazard; i.e., “situation where the behavior of one party may change to the detriment of another after the transaction has taken place.” People who enter into contracts should fulfill contracts, lest others be tempted to renege as well. Too often though, the original loan was consummated without the borrower having all the information. Or that the borrower is a nation that generated debt under a previous regime. This writer submits that when debt is essentially fraudulent, then debt forgiveness is both the logical and the only remedy.

People of the Christian faith often ask God to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” To me, that suggests that the way to show God’s love involves showing much more compassion than many financial institutions have shown to their customers. The United Church of Christ, for one, “has joined with other faith communities and organizations to call on governments to cancel the debts of poor countries and restore just economic relations between nations.”

Many US householders understand this concept on a micro-level. They buy a house, lose their job, and, instead of the banks agreeing to negotiate interest rates with the borrowers, the lenders choose to foreclose. And this mass seizure of homes has forced cities such as Cleveland, Ohio to raze some of its housing stock, since banks, by their nature, are ill-equipped to actually protect and take care of the buildings in their ownership. How much more reasonable and mutually beneficial it would have been if money lenders had been able to agree on a lower interest rate with homeowners,as some of the largest banks have finally been forced to do.

The business magazine Forbes asked last year if a debt jubilee might help kick start the American economy. As any good accountant will tell you, debt or credit which cannot be paid back is never an asset; it is always a liability.

ABC Wednesday – Round 10

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