Forward to next post: Scandal!
Like a lot of people, I find myself impressed by the basic idea of the Rolling Jubilee (linked by Abi from her sidebar a few days ago). Taking advantage of the fact that one really can buy up the “distressed debt” of unfortunate individuals for pennies on the dollar, this Occupy-affiliated group is raising funds to do so—and then forgiving the debt. As they point out, functional societies throughout human history have had some kind of “jubilee”—a moment in which the system gets reset. I mean, it’s in the Bible for cry eye.
Writing on his “Moneybox” blog on Slate, Matthew Yglesias says “it’s a pretty great idea” but then goes on to quibble:
The question you have to ask yourself here is “why is this a better idea than just giving money to poor people”? And I think it’s hard to answer the question. Given two struggling families, one of which is indebted and one of which isn’t, it’s not clear why you’d think that the family that’s borrowed heavily in the past is more worthy of assistance.What I think Yglesias doesn’t understand is that this isn’t just an attempt to render charity to the needy; it’s an attempt to undermine a specific kind of power relationship. As understood and practiced today, debt is a kind of servitude. If you have to take on unsustainable debts—or if you have the misfortune to live in a country that took on unsustainable debts—you’re just supposed to quietly accept that your life is permanently fucked, and that your creditors get to dictate its terms. The odd thing, though, is that people regularly figure out that this is monstrous.
ATHENS — As the head of Greece’s largest oncology department, Dr. Kostas Syrigos thought he had seen everything. But nothing prepared him for Elena, an unemployed woman whose breast cancer had been diagnosed a year before she came to him.If you believe that the idea that “debts must be paid” is more important than the above, you’re monstrous. I don’t know for sure that Rolling Jubilee will ultimately do a lot of good in the world. I don’t know what gotchas lie in wait. But I know what moves them. It’s more than charity, it’s justice. It moves me too.
By that time, her cancer had grown to the size of an orange and broken through the skin, leaving a wound that she was draining with paper napkins. “When we saw her we were speechless,” said Dr. Syrigos, the chief of oncology at Sotiria General Hospital in central Athens. “Everyone was crying. Things like that are described in textbooks, but you never see them because until now, anybody who got sick in this country could always get help.”