Hey Trumpers, You Want “Liberty”?
Day in and day out on social media, I have run into many, many Trumpers who believe that he will Make America Great Again. They believe that he has and will continue to grow the economy. They believe that he is doing great and magnificent things, and at the same time, they are ignoring what he is actually doing. They are ignoring that Trump is very much part of the system withholds “liberty” from the rest of us.
Trump is what we might call a “real estate tycoon”. He is very much a modern-day robber baron. He’s a billionaire and has apparently made his money from the real estate business, buying land and building hotels upon that land. I can picture him as the man in the top hat in the game, “Monopoly”. And considering the complete takeover of our economy by the rentier class, I think it’s fitting that he’s president today. Trump is a monument to the power of the rentier class.
Trump has a legion of devoted followers, men, and women to whom Trump can do no wrong. I am here to tell you that Trump is not your man. If you want liberty, Jesus is your man. Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you to let Jesus into your heart. I’m here to tell you about one of the things that Jesus fought for: debt forgiveness.
Through a happy coincidence, I found a very interesting interview of economist Michael Hudson on The Unz Review and also at Naked Capitalism. Michael Hudson on the History of Debt Cancellation, Austerity in Europe, January 2020, is a transcript of an interview that Hudson gave to Rees Jeanoutte of AcTVism Berlin. I got onto this line of thinking after reading the interview. Then I got his book, “…and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year (THE TYRANNY OF DEBT)” and started reading through it. I’m already into the 2nd chapter and it is an eye-opener.
There is one thing that already caught my eye, and that I’d to share with you. The men and women who knew the word “liberty” at that time of the founding of this country had an entirely different concept in mind when they spoke of liberty. They weren’t thinking of liberty as the right to do as we please as we do in modern times. They were thinking of freedom from debt.
Hudson goes into greater detail than I can provide here, but he points to the inscription on the Liberty Bell:
PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV X
Leviticus 25 talks about the debt jubilee, a tradition where every 50 years, all debts are annulled and all collateral is returned to the original owners. This is a tradition that predates Christ by about 3,000 years. Kings of long ago in Sumer and Mesopotamia learned from experience that the debts accumulated by the peasantry eventually became so great that they could not be paid off, and they couldn’t pay their taxes to the palace. There simply were not enough resources, time and money to pay the debts back. So with every new king or every 50 years, the debts were annulled by the king.
That is how they kept the economy going. That is how they kept their people free. That is how they could ensure that small landholders would be able to take care of themselves — by tending their land, growing their food, and when it came time to pay taxes, if they weren’t paying any debts, they could pay the taxes. And they were also free to serve the king in the army and around the community. The palace in ancient times forgave the debts owed to the palace because that was all they could do to keep the people free. And they learned that if the debt burden was too high, people would flee. Jesus came along to remind us of that kind of forgiveness in his first sermon.
Hudson also points out that we never talk about forgiving loans. In Congress, they talk day and night about the public debt, and how we need to pay the debt. But they never talk about how we have the option to annul debts owed by the people. We can start with a clean slate if we want to, but that idea is a supreme taboo.
“But if we forgive the debt, who will loan money?” We’re not talking about taking money away from people who have already made a ton of money. We’re talking about giving some room to people who don’t have much money left after spending a lifetime paying off debts. The people who make the loans have already made their money, and by license from the government, they have the power to create the money they loan.
Debts are everywhere. Cars, homes, education, and businesses are the big-ticket items that most people are in debt for. Credit card debt flows like a mighty river. Some economists say that we have reached peak debt. We are fast approaching a point where the world’s debts can no longer be paid back. There isn’t enough money in the hands of the people to pay back the debts they owe and they can’t earn enough money to pay it back, either.
Hudson makes another interesting point in his book. He notes how modern governments are perpetually in debt. He notes how they are always fighting over how to balance the budget and reduce public debt. He also points out that the ancient governments were never in debt, ancient governments always had enough money or crops, even after a debt jubilee or annulment. In his studies, Hudson found that ancient governments used debt annulment to keep the economy flowing, to keep the people in the kingdom, and to prevent plutocrats from encroaching on their power.
All of the debt that we have now stems from the idea that contracts, no matter how unfair, are sacred. If you listen to conservatives talk, they say that we are bound into debt servitude and that we must pay back our debts. “Contracts are more important than life itself!”, they say.
Yet, they also talk about how their tax cuts will grow the economy. Did they? They talk a lot about how unemployment is at historic lows. But they are not talking about job quality, the pay or the benefits. Most of the new employment offered is temporary, without benefits and is often “gig economy” work. That’s not full employment. Debt decreases buying power. Our debts are shrinking the economy. And that decreases our chances for social and economic mobility.
If we are reaching peak debt, and we will soon reach the point where our debts cannot be paid back, no amount of tax-cutting or government spending will grow the economy. People will still have debts to pay and that money will not circulate in the economy when it’s paid back.
Hudson’s analysis of the history showed that there was more chaos and instability in ancient nations without debt forgiveness than with it. As debts grew, so did polarization of the economy and the people. Someone is getting paid back with interest, and it’s not the general population. And when you back people into a corner on debt even without cement shoes, civility goes out the window. This is consistent with what we see now, with extreme inequality comes extreme social and political polarization.
We are already talking about debt cancellation and forgiveness in the Democratic primaries. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have floated the idea of student debt forgiveness. Joe Biden has not really come forward with a total debt forgiveness policy proposal, other than to fix the broken system we have now. But debt forgiveness is starting to creep into the national political discourse.
I remember when we were talking about the bailout and the banks got bailed out, but the homeowners did not. “But if we forgive their loans, what about the people who already paid off their loans?” What about them? They paid off their loans and now they’re free. They are no longer slaves. Isn’t that what you want for the rest of us? What about the people who loaned the money, the investors? They have enough money, and they will loan again. Hope springs eternal.
If any presidential candidate is serious about growing the economy and keeping it stable, debt forgiveness should be on the table. Just imagine what a kick to the economy would be if all debts were annulled right now. You’d free up trillions of dollars just for the things we need instead of paying for our own slavery. Money has real power when it circulates.
Maybe we’d do this every 100 years instead of every 50 years, but there will always be people who want to loan their money out. They still did for thousands of years, even if they knew their loans would be wiped clean every 50 years.
An ancient tried and tested tradition of debt forgiveness has been lost. It is time for us to reconsider the possibilities provided by debt forgiveness. It is time to take notice that one of the reasons why we have billionaires is our inability to pay back the debts we now have.
Of course, we should be responsible with credit and debt and do our best to pay it back. But when so much money and natural resources are being used to pay back the debts we now have, at some point, something has got to give. Who should be made to give in? The people who have the money, or the people who don’t?
Who can afford to forgive them their debts?