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Discussing Debt & Proclaiming Liberty
The need for system change "throughout the land"
On a very hot day last week, my friends Michael Hudson and Radhika Desai invited me on to their podcast for a conversation about the current low income country debt crisis - a link to which is posted below.
Radhika is an impressive professor of political studies at the university of Manitoba, Canada and author of Geopolitical Economy: After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire.
Michael has a new book out: The Collapse of Antiquity: Greece and Rome as Civilization’s Oligarchic Turning Point.
Martin Wolf, chief economics columnist at the Financial Times recommended it this week, for “summer reading”:
This is Hudson’s second volume in a trilogy on the political economy of debt. The first . . . and Forgive Them Their Debts, was on the ancient near-east in the bronze age. It discussed the role of debt forgiveness in stabilising ancient polities. In this one, Hudson explores the rise of the rentier oligarchies of classical Greece and Rome. Debt reduced the independent peasantry to penury and peonage and turned republics into despotisms. The final book will be on how debt is now poisoning our world.
Here’s the link to our conversation:
Michael and I go back a long way. We first met (if my recollection is correct) in the late 1990s. I was working on the Jubilee 2000 campaign, based on the biblical, Old Testament commandment for the periodic correction of social and economic imbalances, known as ‘Sabbath economics’.
For more than 2,000 years many societies embedded the sabbath economics and regulations of the Abrahamic faiths (Muslim, Jewish and Christian) in the daily lives of their populations. So for example every seven days, a day of rest and prayer is chosen: Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews or Sunday for Christians.
Some professions, notably universities, offer their staff a rest or break every seven years - a sabbatical.
A neglected sabbath principle (and there should be no surprise about that) is the principle that every 7 times 7 years - in the 49th year - debts should be cancelled, slaves freed and land restored to its rightful owners. Those restorations of liberty and freedom from oppressors are then celebrated - by sounding the trumpet of Jubilee in the 50th year.
The biblical principle is laid out in Leviticus:
“Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.” – Lev. 25: 9-10
Many black Americans fighting the 18th and 19th century campaign against slavery were inspired by the Jubilee principle, as were many of the country’s new settlers. The commandment’s importance is heralded by the inscription on Philadelphia’s famous Liberty Bell, as noted here:
The Liberty Bell's inscription is from the Bible (King James version): "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof."
This verse refers to the "Jubilee", or the instructions to the Israelites to return property and free slaves every 50 years.
Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly Isaac Norris chose this inscription for the State House bell in 1751, possibly to commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges which granted religious liberties and political self-government to the people of Pennsylvania. The inscription of liberty on the State House bell (now known as the Liberty Bell) went unnoticed during the Revolutionary War.
After the war, abolitionists seeking to end slavery in America were inspired by the bell's message.
So debt and ancient biblical commands are what Michael and I had in common when we met, nearly 25 years ago. I have been proud to call him a friend since, and recommend that readers find his books.
In his blog of 23 April, 2002 Michael explained that
What anthropologists have shown positively is the extent to which debt is an omnipresent phenomenon.
As a byproduct of mutual aid and normal social interaction, webs of obligations must have developed even before the Neolithic. Wergild-type penalty debts to heal breaches of the peace caused by manslaughter and other personal injury probably extend back to the origins of civilization. Obligations also would have been owed on the occasion of rites of passage and other feasts, and by community members to institutions that evolved out of chieftainship, including temples and palaces.
The omnipresence of today’s volumes of both private and public debts was the theme of the podcast. I hope you learn something from it, and are inspired to support the call for system change.
An independent analyst, I write about the international financial system and its impact on humanity and ecosystem. I do so without fear or favour. This freedom comes at a cost, but is a price worth paying if it helps others learn about 'The System' and why it must be changed. Your support is appreciated.