It’s Time To Declare a Global Debt Jubilee
We’re long overdue to erase the worldwide system of economic exploitation
I hated Fight Club the first time I saw it.
I was seventeen, and in the middle of an excruciatingly painful eight-hour barbering session — namely, getting dreadlocks at the hands of an MTV hairstylist.
Fight Club is a story about angry men who beat each other up in underground battle rings, eventually hardening themselves for a war against debt-trapping corporations in which they (spoiler alert) blow up all the credit card companies to reset the economy.
I wasn’t the only one who hated Fight Club. Even the film studio executives who oversaw the film disliked it, and it lost tens of millions of dollars at the box office. But when it came out on DVD (remember those?!) it became a generation-defining cult classic, and for good reason.
As a teenager, I didn’t understand the ravages of unbridled rules-free-market capitalism and how it had destroyed the poor and working class in America. To me, Fight Club was just a hard-to-follow story about violent men and their uncontrollable angst.
Years later, when I understood that it was rich predators who kept the working class poor via wage suppression, price inflation, resource monopolization, rent-seeking, and usury, Fight Club made perfect sense.
If you’ve read David Graeber’s seminal (and boring) Debt: The First 5,000 Years, you probably walked away convinced of a few things:
That the oldest economies were based on debt and credit, not barter.
That our former interdependence was eventually replaced by credit backed by state-sponsored violence.
Regardless, the reality is that our world today is drowning in debt.
Global debt recently passed an unbelievable $300 trillion.
Even the International Monetary Fund, whose full-time job is to debt-trap poor nations for eternity, warns that global debt levels are “dangerously high."
Now, when a loanshark like the IMF says debt levels are dangerously high, they don’t mean “these levels of debt are unjust and unsustainable and will crush the poor.”
What they mean is “these debts are in danger of not being fully repaid with interest.”
Debt is “no big deal”
Elite powers, via their right-wing think tanks, politicians, and media monopolies, have convinced the unthinking masses that debt is a good thing.
That the more we borrow from tomorrow to invest in today, the better off tomorrow will be.
And they’re sort of right.
Like every truly great lie, this one contains a tiny drop of truth.
It’s one thing for people to debit and credit each other’s accounts with a time delay in order to trade… but charging usury on that delay — and making taxpayers bail out bankster-creditors when their unsustainable system fails every decade or so — is precisely why the world is now drowning in debt.
Because it is mathematically impossible to pay back all interest-bearing debts:
Picture a ten-person, $100 economy. I give each person $10, and say I’ll be back in a year to collect $10 from each person, plus 10% interest. At the end of the year, those ten people will collectively owe me $110. But there is only $100 in the economy. This means someone is inevitably going to starve.
Corporate-captured politicians try to counter this lack-of-money-to-pay-off-usury by printing more money, but that just robs the poor of their purchasing power by devaluing their money. This requires them to take on more usury-bearing debt, which starts the cycle all over again.
Eventually, this print-more-money-to-pay-the-bankers scheme requires governments to start helping the poor with housing and healthcare and education and such, and public debts to those same banksters begin to rise.
Things get really ugly when the public debt balloons to IMF-declared “dangerous” levels.
Wanting to ensure the banksters get fully repaid, the IMF coerces corporate-captured politicians into cutting federal budgets —forcing hateful austerity.
This has horrible real-world consequences for the real human people who create 100% of the wealth in our civilization. Even the hyper-elitist World Economic Forum admits:
“To meet debt payments, at least 100 countries will have to reduce spending on health, education, and social protection.”
In other words: old people will suffer, children will be deprived of knowledge, and workers will face more threats from corporate predators… so that billionaires banksters can keep getting their interest payments.
You can see how this insanity makes millions of working people insanely poor, and lazy non-contributing elites exceedingly rich.
So I’ll just straight-up say it:
Interest is a sin.
Finance vs. widespread wellbeing
Borrowers do all the work and receive nothing in the end.
Creditors do nothing and receive all the profits in the end.
That’s the reality of a usury-based economy.
It’s wildly unjust, anti-contribution, and completely unmeritocratic.
Protecting creditors and not debtors is the reason why ancient Rome fell.
As Cory Doctorow rightly put it:
We can either stabilize finance (by coercing debtors into destroying their lives in order to keep up on [interest] payments); or we can stabilize the economy (by forgiving debts, so that producers can pay for necessities and go on producing).
My wife and I have zero debt, so I have no dog in this fight, but I still say we do the latter.
Blowing up credit card buildings Fight Club-style isn’t the best way to deal with debt.
But if we’re not going to outright ban or tax usury out of existence like we should, we really will have to start wiping all debts off the books every decade or so, otherwise we end up with:
Eternal zombie debt that enslaves families and nations from generation to generation.
Periodic and catastrophic market crashes that permanently destroy the lives of tens of millions of people.
Smart ancient cultures thought neither of these options were a good idea.
You know the rule here at Surviving Tomorrow:
Avoid false dichotomies. When given two bad options, choose neither.
Instead of enslaving the poor forever, or watching their entire economies implode with stunning regularity, smart ancient cultures went with the third option:
Temporarily make the idle rich slightly less rich.
The mechanism they used was called a debt jubilee.
Unlike the actively anti-democracy Queen Elizabeth II, who burned tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to throw a jubilee party for herself, ancient kings often declared debt jubilees as their first act in office. Talk about boosting your poll numbers!
Imagine if Joe Biden had’ve done the right thing after Covid — or Barack Obama had done the right thing after the 2008 crash — erasing not only all school debt, but also all medical debt, credit card debt, and mortgage debt.
What would’ve happened?
Predator universities and student debt bondholders would’ve written off the loans and still walked away with more interest money than they deserved.
For-profit health insurance companies would’ve written off the loans and still walked away with more interest money than they deserved.
Credit card companies would’ve written off the loans and still walked away with more interest money than they deserved.
Banksters would’ve written off the loans and still walked away with more interest money than they deserved.
(Naturally, predator-creditor corporations who weren’t smart enough to save for a rainy day would go bankrupt, but better them than tens of millions of members of the working poor. Corporations are just legal fictions, after all.)
Meanwhile, students, sick people, indebted working people, and homeowners would be completely free of debt, able to spend their earnings into the real economy instead of the pockets of rich creditors, start businesses, donate to charity, and invest more time in the work of civilization-building.
It’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that much of the $300 trillion in global debt is just usurious vapor that’s drowning humanity, but fish don’t realize they’re swimming in water.
Ancient cultures that were smart enough to regularly declare debt jubilees — or just ban usury in the first place — were remarkably stable for generations.
Whereas cultures like Rome were rife with debt, gambling, bankruptcy, slavery, prostitution, market crashes, and war.
Take a guess which option U.S. elites prefer.
Jubilee or else
America, of course, wants to be Rome.
That’s why the Founding Fathers built a Roman-style republic, complete with a Roman-style senate packed with patrician elites and Roman architecture emblazoned with Roman eagles.
Like Rome, America is a place where powerful men can grow dangerously rich by preying on the poor, extracting profit and rent and interest on an industrial scale.
And this economic model has never, ever, not once in human history, proved itself to be a fair, stable, or rational way to sustain a civilization and create longest-term widest-spread wellbeing.
At some point, you either need to change your system or you have to regularly declare jubilees.
Fight Club resonated with a generation of angry young men because they saw the truth within the story: That a predator class doesn’t care if the working poor struggle and suffer and live in misery, so long as they can make their interest payments. And that if the government won’t side with the debtors, there comes a point where the debtors must destroy the creditors themselves.
It’s time to erase all debts.
Because if we don’t declare a jubilee, it’s only a matter of time before the beaten-down masses level the playing field themselves.
Jared A. Brock is an award-winning biographer, PBS documentarian, and the cell-free founder of the popular futurist blog Surviving Tomorrow, where he provides thoughtful people with contrarian perspectives on the corporatist anti-culture. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Guardian, Smithsonian, and TIME Magazine, and he has traveled to more than forty countries including North Korea. Join 24,000+ people who follow him on Medium, Twitter, and Substack.
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