So Russell Brand’s Revolution is nearly here

And boy does it look like a stinker.

David is best known for his idea of debt cancellation. Personal debt cancellation used to be a common policy in ancient civilisations; every seven years, all debt was cancelled. The Bible refers to “debt jubilees”, where everyone’s debt would be reset to zero. It’s especially nice that it was called a “jubilee”, creating an even more euphoric sense of carnival. In Islam, too, usury, credit at extortionate rates – like Wonga or whatever offer – is forbidden. So this bizarre-sounding notion has strong historic precedent. It is a mark of how far into materialism we have descended that it seems unfeasible in our world.

David explained that debt repayment has a powerful moral charge in our culture, that people feel ashamed about debt and guilty about non-payment. Seventy-five per cent of Americans are in debt, 40% owing more than $50,000, while an estimated nine million British people are in “serious debt”. What David Graeber, the anarchist, is suggesting is that all personal debt, debt for normal people, is cancelled. Think about it. That means you. All your debt cancelled.

Yes, OK, let’s think about it. No one in any society would ever be able to borrow again. that’s going to be, umm, interesting, isn’t it?

26 comments on “So Russell Brand’s Revolution is nearly here

  1. So what of those who by good fortune or dint of hard work and self sacrifice, have no personal debt? I assume in this nirvana we would receive monetary compensation from the state to the tune of average household debt that we never ran up, and retain our credit rating.

  2. He seems to be even more moronic than he was last year.

    Does anyone know where the 7 year thing comes from? in the Mosaic Law it is every 50 years, which makes a certain amount of sense in a stable agrarian society – every 2nd generation or so.

  3. Debt forgiveness happens anyway, through bankruptcy, sovereign bond default, etc.
    The repo men are busy, though.

  4. See, it’s like this, Russ.

    Money has been lent, right? The money you want to wish away and have no value?

    Well, guess where it comes from, matey? It comes from people who have money. Y’know, people like you who have oodles of stuff, tucked away in offshore funds, like the good little commie you are.

    So, when we do the double entry bookkeeping after we cancel someone’s debt, why don’t we cancel some of your credit?

  5. I imagine there’ll be a bit of a credit boom in that seventh year. The Guardian will see materialism like it’s never seen before.

  6. Lots of things used to be common in ancient civilisations. I’m not sure the Guardian will be too happy with their attitude to women and homosexuals, though.

    Just because something is a precedent does not mean it is good.

  7. Yeah, well. 50 years. Now that sounds to me an entirely possible tradition towards the start of the 50 years but becoming increasingly less traditional, possibly archaic, round about year 46
    “The biblical rules concerning Sabbatical years (shmita) are still observed by many religious Jews in the State of Israel, but the regulations for the Jubilee year have not been observed for many centuries”
    Quelle surprise

  8. I’d rather flay myself alive than listen to Rustle Bland (sic) but give him his due here – he seems to be an autodidact struggling to work things out. Good luck to him, and some sort of bravery to do it public (maybe profitable too).

    Graeber’s work is, of course, far more subtle than the few paragraphs here. ‘Debt’ is well worth reading.

    It’s an absolute brilliant idea for debt jubilees to happen on the say-so of the temple priests (started in Sumeria if Graeber is right). For one thing, old Rustle himself and his morals would be off our media before you could say ‘nasty little sinner’.

  9. @b(n)is: As I understand it, biblical scholars suspect the Jubilee (from the bondage of debt and bondage of slavery) was never observed. There are parts of the Old Testament which do seem to imply this quite strongly. As you say, quelle surprise: the Great Men sitting at the gate, and comfortable citizens too, would never have stood for such an economically disruptive action.

    But even if it had happened, it would have been done because it was agreed ahead of time, and economic relations would have been grounded in that expectation: spot the difference between that and Russell Brand’s idea that the entire economy can march to the beat of the erratic drum in his head.

    @Rob: There wouldn’t be a credit boom in the years leading up to a jubilee. After all, who in their right mind would lend to a private individual?

  10. “No one in any society would ever be able to borrow again”

    That’s simply not true. Interest rates would have to be much higher, amongst other things, but it’s not an end to credit. Just think about the protections you’d want if you were to lend someone money under those circumstances.

  11. Just think about the money lent out. Oh look, entire nation’s savings cancelled as it was used to lend money out…

  12. Martin>

    Was that a reply to me? Who would lend money that they wouldn’t get back. No-one, clearly. So people would only lend money they would get their return on before the Jubilee.

    I’m sure everyone arguing this is aware that claiming repayment most debts under English law becomes statute-barred after six years…

  13. Brand is making a pretty blatant appeal to greed – support the revolution, get free stuff!

    Debt cancellation would not end the supply of credit completely but it would mean that the few legal lenders that survived would charge very high rates of interest and would want cast-iron guarantees of your ability and willingness to pay, because of the enormous risk. So for many “normal people” the only option would be to use a loan shark or go without, and buying their own home would simply be impossible.

  14. You don’t think the banks would work around this? Unsecured debts would be short term, i.e. 6 year 11 months at most. For secured debts, e.g. mortgages, the bank would foreclose at 6 years 11 months, you would pay rent to the bank for a month, then you would remortgage.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  15. Doug, I enjoyed Debt, The 1st 6,000 Years too. The historical and anthropological examples are fun. But the economics is tripe. Goldsmith’s (where Graeber teaches) doesn’t even have an economics department.

    Anyway, he could have called it the 1st 150,000 years. Most exchange since then has been non-simultaneous.

  16. Has anyone on here tried kiva.org?
    98.80% repayment rate, apparently. Something JP Morgan, let alone Wonga would kill for.

  17. Andrew Z>

    What ‘enormous risk’? Seven yearly debt cancellations couldn’t be further from a risk: it’s absolutely guaranteed under that system. You simply price in a known cost.

    As for buying your own home, that’s simple enough. The entity which would otherwise lend you the capital buys the property, rents it to you for their return on investment, and sells a small amount to you alongside each month’s rent. Or, interest and repayment, as we know them. Really no difference at all.

    I doubt that it’s a good idea to do so, but there’s really no practical reason why a modern economy couldn’t be built on such a system.

    Islamic banking is an example of how people can work around a similar restriction:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_banking#Principles

  18. “As for buying your own home, that’s simple enough. The entity which would otherwise lend you the capital buys the property, rents it to you for their return on investment, and sells a small amount to you alongside each month’s rent. Or, interest and repayment, as we know them. Really no difference at all.”

    As you say, simples.

    Could do it like this, for instance: Bank makes a Ltd company with a number of shares corresponding to the number of monthly payments. Ltd company owns the home; you buy a share a month from the bank until you own 100% of the company, at which point you liquidate the company and gift the house into your personal ownership.

    But then they’d probably want a European or US-style gift tax…..

  19. One of the element of Jubilee was the return of any land that had been sold to the descendant(s) of the man to whom i9t had been allocated by Joshua.
    So what happened was simply that the sale price of the land corresponded to the value/number of harvests between date of sale and the next Jubilee.

  20. bloke in france – “I enjoyed Debt, The 1st 6,000 Years too. The historical and anthropological examples are fun. But the economics is tripe. Goldsmith’s (where Graeber teaches) doesn’t even have an economics department.”

    Everything I have seen come from Goldsmiths has been tripe. But his historical and anthropological examples were poorly understood as well.

    john77 – “So what happened was simply that the sale price of the land corresponded to the value/number of harvests between date of sale and the next Jubilee.”

    Presumably not unheard of in the UK where land is owned under a lease and not freehold. The Chinese Communists do not let people own their own homes. They give them 70 year leases. So we ought to be about half way to the first of them being resumed by the State. I wonder whether there is any sign of the price being affected in any way? Probably not as there is nothing to compare it to – no freehold. But I admire the confidence of the Party that they will still be in power to resume said properties.

  21. It also means a cancellation of all your credit. Pension fund? Savings? Gone.

    For that matter, all money is a promise by the Bank of England to repay, so all your cash would become worthless, too. The government wouldn’t need to honour it, since the debt is cancelled.

  22. Why does anyone care what Russell Brand thinks?

    Anyone who’s planning to get a popular entertainer to decide how the economy’s going to be run, surely deserves everything they get.

    Just leave the rest of us out of it, OK?

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