The article below is reposted from Alternet. This Rolling Jubilee campaign is one of the bigger projects to come out of Occupy. It seems to be more of an East Coast thing right now, and has long been associated with David Graeber’s arguments about where Occupy might take itself.
The campaign itself is interesting, though steeped in a kind of bland populism. One of the most undertheorized parts of the functioning of capitalism is the role played by rents (in the Marxist sense, this includes everything from land rent to loans, any kind of interest, etc.), all of which seem to be increasingly popular tools for fucking people over. This project strikes directly at an important part of economic exploitation in an innovative way.
At the same time, one wonders what happens next? So someone’s debt is forgiven, great, that is not at all insignificant—but the system perpetuates debt and that same person is likely to wind up just as indebted in the near future, since debt has become a basic constituent of our daily living. Though this project powerfully attacks instances of debt, it does little to challengedebt’s necessity under capitalism.
This kind of action can exert enormous attractive force for people—an attractive force that could be used to great ends. Yet there seems to be absolutely no plan about what to do with that attraction, instead simply letting people (their slates clean) slip back into the same slow accumulation of debt they just emerged from.
Occupy to Buy Up and Relieve People’s Debt?
Occupy’s next project ( one of many branches on the Occupy tree ) is an exciting one; a campaign to buy up debt and relieve it, one lucky debtor at a time.
The campaign wasn’t just the brainchild of Occupy, but rather a coalescing of progressive ideas and projects around the issue of debt. One of the oddities of our system is that buyers can purchase “distressed” debt from lenders at knockdown prices. The usual course of action is to do this and then have the buyer hound the debtors. But the new project explores: what if this debt was purchased and then simply let go, forgiven?
Now OWS is launching the ROLLING JUBILEE , a program that has been in development for months. OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT.(If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)
This is a simple, powerful way to help folks in need — to free them from heavy debt loads so they can focus on being productive, happy and healthy. As you can see from our test run, the return on investment approaches 30:1. That’s a crazy bargain!
Now, after many consultations with attorneys, the IRS, and our moles in the debt-brokerage world, we are ready to take the Rolling Jubilee program LIVE and NATIONWIDE, buying debt in communities that have been struggling during the recession.
The “People’s Bailout” get the Rolling Jubilee off the ground with a concert/show in NYC and a telethon-style livestreaming this week. Watch a promo below:
And old Elizabeth Warren clip explains how the current debt system works, and why it works badly:
Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at sarahmseltzer.com.