On Christmas Day, December 1974, cyclone Tracey flattened Darwin. The recovery was not quick, but it happened. Along with the recovery period came an interesting situation. Money was not needed. Everything was destroyed and there was little or no infrastructure left that required money. Food and assistance was given and distributed when it arrived. Money did not matter anymore.
Australia is not in the position that Darwin was in after cyclone Tracey. However, at the same time those who cannot work due to current restrictions have no way to pay their debts. For the people who live from pay-check to pay-check the debts will just stack up.
Wallet wizard will not save you from spiralling debt. Neither will the credit card when it gets maxed out. While the government is working on grants to low income workers, pensioners and small business; is there another way?
The Practice of Jubilee
The Ancient Babylonians had an economic stimulus package. An option that was used with much success. It is also part of Mosaic Law and can be found in Leviticus 25. I am talking about Jubilee and the forgiving of debts.
In the article “Could/should Jubilee debt cancellations be reintroduced today?” by Michael Hudson and Charles Goodhart they explain that debt cancellation existed to liberate the population from debt. It was not all debt. As creditors and land owners were not included. It was a great event for the population. As Leviticus 25 says debt cancellation is there to “proclaim liberty, throughout the land”.
The debt cancelled was consumer debt and small business loans. The cancellation enabled the population to provide for their basic needs and still pay taxes. Freeing up the population in turn prevented the oligarchy from having power that rivalled the kings.
Hudson and Goodhart note that the absence of debt cancelation was pivotal to the fall of Rome. The power of the Roman oligarchy became influential and undermined the defence of the Empire. Citizens were too busy paying debts to join the army. They struggled to become land owners and take part in politics.
While Babylon and Rome are thousands of years in the past, debt-cancelation has occurred in modern times. Jubilee laws were enacted in Germany in 1948 after WWI. All debt was cancelled except business debt and employer debts to employees. Debt cancellation enabled the German economic miracle that then followed. The Historical point of Hudson and Goodhart’s article is very simple.
“A study of the long sweep of history reveals a universal principle to be at work: The burden of debt tends to expand in an agrarian society to the point where it exceeds the ability of debtors to pay. That has been the major cause of economic polarization from antiquity to modern times.”
Hope and the Human City
Professor John F. Kane, in his most recent post quotes William Lynch’s vision of a Human City. A city that is flexible to change and move in new ways to counter the inclusion of new people, new practices and new illnesses. In contrast is Lynch’s Walled City that is inflexible and based upon ideals that exclude others. Walled cities tempt us with selfish desires of power, wealth and convenience.
Selfish ideals are unable to build hope. Because hope is constructed out of relationship with others. Hope is not a great leap forwards into the unknown. Such an ideal is inflexible and limits us to focusing on the ideal and how we will be when we finally get it.
Hope is built slowly, little by little. It requires others to lead and teach us to step out of our despair. Which in turn teaches us to help others to build hope as well. However, the fantasy of the Walled City and its escape from the hopelessness is writ large in front of us and is still very attractive.
Walled City of Repeated Ideals
We have become entranced by the ideals and fantasy of the Walled City. A fantasy of wealth and convenience that is only possible to a few. To hold on to the same restrictive ideals is a key trait in Lynch’s Walled City. To merely do the same thing and expect different results is not only foolishness, it is hopeless.
When it comes to economics there are traditionally four great levelers which can change the economic patterns. War, revolution, pandemics, or state collapse. While the current government response is to give out money perhaps another option is available.
The King Called for Jubilee
When Jesus comes to read in his local synagogue for the first time (Luke 4:18-19) he reads out Isaiah proclaiming what? The year of the Lord’s favour, Jubilee. It was not sins that the people first thought of, it was monetary debt. When they replied in shock, aghast at what Joseph’s son had said; they did so because Jesus was calling himself King.
Only the King, the ruler of the nation had the power to annul debts. Only the King had the backing of military, religious and other princes to enforce it. When the King called for Jubilee it happened, because the King had the power to do so.
When Rome lost the will to enforce debt cancelation. When the oligarchs made debt sacred and untouchable the majority of people were unable to take part in the running of the nation. The power was no longer in the hands of the Empire it was in the hands of the oligarchy. When the Empire required defending money could not stop the hordes.
Jubilee On Earth and In Heaven
Jubilee is an image that today in the Church leans away from financial debt and that of sin. We do not ignore sin making the sacrifice of Jesus null and his resurrection pointless. My question is, what do we, the followers of Jesus, leave out when we ignore the significance of the earthly call to Jubilee. If it is as on Earth as in Heaven, if the incarnation is bringing Heaven to Earth, is there not an earthly financial act of faith for us to perform?
In the spirit of Jubilee I call for a time of Amnesty. For those who are unable due to the restrictions that are needed to halt the advance of COVID-19 to not have their rent and their bills to count. May these bills be struck from the record. Forgotten. To be taken from them as far as the east is from the west. This is the flexible hope of the Human City. One that is true to the example of Christ our hope and salvation.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.