Debt strike: a new form of resistance

By Nancy Churchill
Contributor

Benjamin Franklin said the only sure thing in life is debt and taxes. Oh, wait, that was death and taxes. But since debt will be the death of us, he might as well have said debt and taxes.

There’s a movement afoot suggesting that, instead of accepting minor tweaks to the debt problem, we strike. That’s right, take a complete “debt holiday”!

Debt really is inevitable. And it seems obvious it’s supposed to be. Debt, like tax cuts, is just one more source of enormous revenue for giant financial institutions. And current household debt in the U.S. is $11.85 trillion — enough clout in a debt strike to get anyone’s attention.

Tax cuts create the need for debt. “[I]f a country like Jamaica or Greece, or a municipality like Baltimore or Detroit, has insufficient revenue [due to tax cuts] to make its debt payments, it is morally compelled to privatize public assets, slash pensions and salaries, liquidate natural resources, and cut public services so it can use the savings to pay creditors” (YES! magazine, Charles Eisenstein, “Empowered By Debt,” yesmagazine.org/issues/the-debt-issue/don-t-owe-won-t-pay-charles-eisenstein-debt-20150820).

And of course no one blames the tax cuts that choked off the revenue in the first place. Revenue shortfalls just happen. And those tax cuts were essential to keeping businesses in town to create jobs, the argument goes. Never mind that no records are required to see how many jobs were (or were not) actually created.

This is not a problem of abuses within a system, it’s the abusive debtor system itself, a system designed to create intolerable perpetual debt for municipalities, households, students — and endless free cash for the debt-holder.

So Professor Richard Robbins has created a “Debtor’s Bill of Rights” (faculty.plattsburgh.edu/richard.robbins/bill_of_rights.htm). The debt problem arises, its Preamble states, “in the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny minority and in our burden of maintaining … perpetual economic growth.” The Debtor’s Bill of Rights is required “to correct the distortion of our economy created by the requirements of indebtedness and perpetual economic growth and the consequent harms that these requirements inflict on all citizens and countries of the world…. [T]he need for perpetual capital growth has come to rival all others, including the need to eat, to breathe, to ensure justice and to aid those in need.”

It’s derived from “[t]he quest for the endless accumulation of capital [that] rules, not only our economy, but our lives.” We’re forced to “do everything that we can to ensure perpetual growth, even if it requires the sacrifice of our environment, our family and social life, political freedoms, health, happiness and well-being. It requires that we labor more for less, create and tolerate societies of grotesque inequality and injustice, develop systems of persuasion, manipulation and surveillance that are completely foreign to the ideals on which our society was founded, and distort the true market economy to which we aspire.”

The legal principle for challenging otherwise legal debts, says Eisenstein, is “odious debt” — “debt incurred on behalf of a nation by its leaders that does not actually benefit the nation, [a] concept [that] can be extended into a powerful tool for systemic change.”

“Odious debt was a key concept in recent debt audits on the national level,” for instance, “most notably that of Ecuador in 2008 that led to its defaulting on billions of dollars of its foreign debt. Nothing terrible happened to it, setting a dangerous precedent (from the creditors’ point of view).”

“[E]ven the most modest challenges to debt legitimacy, such as … citizen audits, have revolutionary implications,” he says. “They cast into question the certainty of debt. If one debt can be nullified, maybe all of them can — not only for nations but for municipalities, school districts, hospitals, and people too.”

Freedom from debt is possible. Precedence has proven it’s doable. It’s worth a shot.

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