This blog explores and examines the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Forgive Us Our Debts
In many faith traditions, forgiveness refers to more than sin. It also refers to economic debt. The Hebrew Bible teaches the practice of Jubilee, where debts are forgiven every seven years. The Quran urges compassion for debtors in difficult straits, saying their debts should be postponed until they are "in ease." In these faith traditions and others, economic and moral behavior is tightly entwined.
That link -- between money and morals -- isn't limited to the pages of ancient sacred texts, however. You can spot it in today's news thanks to a creative new project called the Rolling Jubilee, part of the Strike Debt campaign, which are both offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement and are tackling a huge problem. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about 30 million Americans are being hounded by debt collection agencies.
The idea behind the Rolling Jubilee, the so-called bailout of people by people, is simple. Financial institutions often sell hard-to-collect debt to third parties at a discount. The third parties (usually debt-collection agencies) buy up the aggregated debt and then go after those who now owe them money. Since the collectors bought the debt at a bargain -- usually pennies on the dollar -- they're guaranteed a significant profit if they keep hounding debtors until they pay.
Here's what the Rolling Jubilee does. It buys up debt at a discount but does not chase down the debtors. Instead, it forgives the debt and sets the debtors free.