We have been sacrificed as payment to those swindling moneylenders - Analysis, Opinion - Independent.ie
Debt becomes a sacred obligation only if it is owed by the poor and vulnerable to the rich and powerful, writes Carol Hunt
Newstalk radio’s resident philosopher Dr Graham Finlay gave us a little insight into the economic genius of Julius Caesar last Tuesday on Moncrieff, it being the anniversary of his infamous crossing of the Rubicon river.
Finlay referenced Caesar’s debt “forgiveness” schemes, introduced after he took power from the corrupt patrician oligarchy which had eviscerated the political institutions of the Republic.
Though Rome was in the middle of a debt crisis, with property prices collapsing and thousands of people finding themselves inured to debts, the creditor classes and status quo refused to contemplate any type of debt reform for the rank and file, describing it as the equivalent of robbery.
It sounds all too familiar.
Specifically, Graeber noticed that debt (when racked up by governments, corporations, banks or the extremely wealthy) can always be renegotiated or written off. That’s how it has always been throughout world history. It’s how the system works.
It’s only when debts are owed from the poor to the rich that issues such as moral hazard are introduced. Only then does debt become a sacred obligation. To a point, it’s a way of keeping the cash/power flowing upwards.
But, usually, when things got to a real social crisis, such hypocritical standards were dropped. In Biblical times there was the Jubilee year when debts were cancelled (forgive us our trespasses?). In the Middle Ages there were complete bans on charging interest. More recently we’ve had the Third World Drop the Debt project (of which Graeber was a pioneer and in which Bono features prominently).
The big difference, says Graeber, between the present and what went before is that previously when “virtual” money was in use, precautions were taken — including the creation of institutions which would prevent creditors from teaming up with bureaucrats and politicians in order to bleed everybody dry — to protect debtors.