Like many of you, I’ve been reading about the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests that have now spread into cities across the country. I felt a little hazy about what exactly the protesters want to see happen, but I can relate to their frustration and anger toward the financial sector, especially Wall Street.
Joan Walsh on Salon.com wrote yesterday that the movement is “waking many Americans to the unrivaled control Wall Street exerts over American politics and the economy. It’s also shining a spotlight on the crushing amount of debt carried by Americans today – debt that’s at the core of our lingering economic troubles, which many experts believe can never realistically be repaid.”
One of the ideas emerging from Occupy Wall Street movement is that it’s time for another Jubilee—this time, for individual debt. If you remember Jubilee 2000, you’ll know it was a campaign to place pressure on creditors to cancel the debts of poor nations that were enslaved by their crushing debt to foreign governments.
The idea of Jubilee is based on a biblical principle in Leviticus 25: every 50 years, the debts of the people would be annulled and those who had sold themselves into slavery would be released. As I understand it, what some of the OWS protesters are suggesting is a Debt Jubilee–that our government require certain creditors to cancel the debts of individuals, especially students and new graduates. The average students leaves college with $24,000 in loans, and given our current job market, they can’t find realistic employment to make payments on those loans.
The way some OWS protesters see it, the government bailed out the banks, but the banks have not offered the same help to individual citizens. Some writers (and even some economists) think that writing off consumer debt would be a way to restart the economy and create jobs. In a special report by the Reuters News Agency, Jennifer Ablan wrote: “Tens of millions of citizens remain burdened with mortgages they can no longer afford, in addition to soaring credit card bills and sky high student loans. Trillions of dollars in outstanding consumer debt is stifling demand for goods and services and that’s one reason economists say cash-rich U.S. companies are reluctant to hire and unemployment remains stubbornly high.”
I think the idea of Debt Jubilee has merit—when folks are struggling to keep their home and young people have crushing debt and minimum-wage jobs, they can’t buy goods or save for retirement.
What do you think? Is it time for a Debt Jubilee? Do you struggle with making your mortgage and paying off credit cards or student loans? What would your life be like if you didn’t have that debt?
Kate Sprutta Elliott is editor of Gather.