Tag Archives: debt

Occupy Offshoot Aims to Erase People’s Debts – NYTimes.com

14 Nov

The group, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement called Strike Debt, is trying to buy some of the debts that people have accrued — which lenders often sell for pennies on the dollar to third parties who either try to collect on it or bundle it up for resale. Strike Debt, however, is not looking to collect on them; instead it plans to give some debtors the surprise of a lifetime.

“Basically what we’re going to do is exactly the same as what a regular debt buyer would do, with one big difference,” said Thomas Gokey, an artist and teacher. “Rather than collect the debt, we’re just going to abolish it.”

via Occupy Offshoot Aims to Erase People’s Debts – NYTimes.com.

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America’s stalled economy – Salon.com

13 Jun

The major reason this recovery has been so anemic is not Europe’s debt crisis. It’s not Japan’s tsumami. It’s not Wall Street’s continuing excesses. It’s not, as right-wing economists tell us, because taxes are too high on corporations and the rich, and safety nets are too generous to the needy. It’s not even, as some liberals contend, because the Obama administration hasn’t spent enough on a temporary Keynesian stimulus.

The answer is in front of our faces. It’s because American consumers, whose spending is 70 percent of economic activity, don’t have the dough to buy enough to boost the economy – and they can no longer borrow like they could before the crash of 2008.

via America’s stalled economy – Salon.com.

Because: Imperialism! — Crooked Timber

4 Apr

Some very interesting comments by someone identified only as Z:

Graeber posits that actors buy T-bonds because the US has a central role in the world system and also notes that this central role is being contested; both by other industrial powers in the conventional economic sense and by a world movement in the political arena (I am not necessarily endorsing those claims, just trying to present Graeber’s thesis accurately). Confronted to these challenge to its central position, and seeing that its central position is crucial to the functioning of its economy (because it is in massive debt), the US has to maintain its predominance in one way or another. Now think about it as an economist: what is the one comparative advantage that the US has on the rest of the world? Obviously military power. So, on the short term, it might be tempting to US elites to try to organize the world around military power as a way to maintain their quite surprising position within the world economy. This, as I understand it, is Graeber’s thesis: not we buy T-bond because we fear we will be bombed but as long as the world is organized around geo-strategical lines, the US will be able to live off the rest of the world.

via Because: Imperialism! — Crooked Timber.

Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber

25 Feb

In his magisterial Debt: The First 5000 Years David Graeber mentions numerous debt jubilees in the ancient world, always with the qualification that it is individual debt that is forgiven, not commercial debt. This is a review the examines that point.

So it is noticeable that the concept of “too big to fail” has grown up hand in hand with the concept of the debt relation for the entire traceable history of debt. Although the parallel track of debt as obligation, religion and morality has certainly been there, and is described expertly in the book, from day one it has been recognised among merchants and men of commerce that the point of the debt relation is to serve the organisation and arrangement of commercial need.

To my mind, this fact rather colours one of the central theses of Debt – the idea that debt has from its origins been entwined with slavery, military tribute and imperialism. I’d advance the suggestion that of course the first people to start codifying the debt relation were the first emperors and rulers; they were the first people who ever came across the problem of organising a productive economy larger than a small village or subsistence farming community. The fact that debt has its origins in the creation of tax-collecting, military societies seems to me to be equivalent to the fact that NASA invented Teflon – they had to do it, in order to solve the problems put in front of them.

via Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber.

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

23 Feb

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

As I’ve all ready noted, Crooked Timber is running a symposium on David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years. Contributions so far:

All are worth reading, as are many of the comments. I’ll end with the last paragraph from Bertram’s introduction:

Does Graeber find in utopian and democratic resistance to the Axial empires an historic precedent for the Occupy movement to emulate? Perhaps our best possibilities lie not in grand schemes of societal transformation but in developing the “baseline communism” and the democratic instincts that persist even in the heart of modern capitalism. The anarchist writer Colin Ward used a phrase from Ignazio Silone – “the seed beneath the snow” – to make a similar idea vivid. We cannot take the beast on in a direct assault, and nor should we, but we can work together to develop a more human society within the nooks and crannies of the commercial one.

Sounds a bit like a plug for the Transition Movement, which originated in England and has since spread around the world.

The Dangers of Pricing the Infinite — Crooked Timber

23 Feb

Crooked Timer is running a symposium on David Graeber’s Debt. Here’s a passage from Malcolm P. Harris’s essay on student debt:

In April of last year I wrote an article for N+1 on the astronomic growth of student debt in America since the 70s. At the time, student loans had just passed credit cards as the largest source of consumer debt at $800 billion. Less than a year later, the total has topped $1 trillion with no real signs of slowing, while the other measures I referenced, including youth unemployment, have increased to new record levels as well. The conclusion that “the most indebted generation in history is without the dependable jobs it needs to escape debt” is more valid than ever.

via The Dangers of Pricing the Infinite — Crooked Timber.

Interview with David Graeber | The White Review

9 Dec

Why is it that a promise made by a politician to the people that elected them—to provide free education for instance—has a less moral standing than the promise that politician has made to a banker? It seems insane. But it’s simply assumed nowadays.

via Interview with David Graeber | The White Review.

What is Debt? – An Interview with Economic Anthropologist David Graeber « naked capitalism

31 Aug

Tell this to the Republicrats:

In fact, the first recorded word for ‘freedom’ in any human language is the Sumerian amargi, a word for debt-freedom, and by extension freedom more generally, which literally means ‘return to mother,’ since when they declared a clean slate, all the debt peons would get to go home.

Is ‘wage slavery’ a mere metaphor? Perhaps not. Read the following paragraphs (I bolded the last one, the ‘money graph, as it were):

What’s been happening since Nixon went off the gold standard in 1971 has just been another turn of the wheel – though of course it never happens the same way twice. However, in one sense, I think we’ve been going about things backwards. In the past, periods dominated by virtual credit money have also been periods where there have been social protections for debtors. Once you recognize that money is just a social construct, a credit, an IOU, then first of all what is to stop people from generating it endlessly? And how do you prevent the poor from falling into debt traps and becoming effectively enslaved to the rich? That’s why you had Mesopotamian clean slates, Biblical Jubilees, Medieval laws against usury in both Christianity and Islam and so on and so forth.

Since antiquity the worst-case scenario that everyone felt would lead to total social breakdown was a major debt crisis; ordinary people would become so indebted to the top one or two percent of the population that they would start selling family members into slavery, or eventually, even themselves.

Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect creditors. They essentially declare (in defiance of all traditional economic logic) that no debtor should ever be allowed to default. Needless to say the result is catastrophic. We are experiencing something that to me, at least, looks exactly like what the ancients were most afraid of: a population of debtors skating at the edge of disaster.

And, I might add, if Aristotle were around today, I very much doubt he would think that the distinction between renting yourself or members of your family out to work and selling yourself or members of your family to work was more than a legal nicety. He’d probably conclude that most Americans were, for all intents and purposes, slaves.

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