Rolling Jubilee Link Roundup

by Emily

Today I’m seeing a lot of buzz online about Rolling Jubilee, a debt relief effort organized by a group in connection with Occupy Wall Street. The short explanation is that the group is buying debts in default for about $15 per $100 worth of debt and simply discharging the obligations, relieving random individuals. It’s a protest against the way the sale of debts in our financial system tends to benefit large corporations and even rich individuals, and a form of anonymous peer-to-peer support.

This is literally fascinating and exciting me so much that I cannot focus on my actual research dealing with systemic inequality in 19th century America. So I’m rounding up some links here for anyone who’s interested and hoping that will help me walk away until later.

Rolling Jubilee (official site)

Matt Yglesias: “Occupy Distressed Debt: Can we save the world with loan forgiveness?” (a critique that I’m not sure gets the point, but he’s prominent and the comments section is full of questions and debate)

Natasha Lennard: “Occupy Gets Into the Debt Market” (exploring potential problems – the kind that might happen if it were successful, though!)

Tim Worstall (Forbes): “Finally, an Occupy Wall Street Idea We Can All Get Behind, the Rolling Jubilee” (general explanation that brings up an interesting tax issue and approves it as a market-based solution)

Huffington Post: “Rolling Jubilee Offshoot of Occupy Wall Street To Offer Debtors $1 Million Bailout” (summary with videos – but it’s already surpassed $1 million!)

And here are a few from an explicitly Christian perspective – relevant given the origins of the jubilee idea, and very expressive of why this is so appealing.

Fred Clark: “Rolling Jubilee: Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land”

Bethany Keeley-Jonker: “Rolling Jubilee as a model of God’s Grace”

Richard Beck: “The Rolling Jubilee”


I think this is really exciting even though I don’t think that debt itself in our financial system is inherently harmful. Credit can be a useful tool for individuals and businesses, and in a systemic sense it helps lubricate economic expansion. In the past few years we’ve seen how too much separation between the paper value of debts and the actual value of assets can be highly destructive (thanks for 2008, Wall Street!), but also how the contraction of available credit can hold back growth. I don’t think that a financial system based heavily on credit is something we need to eliminate.

On the other hand, I do think that when debt becomes crushing (e.g. through medical bills) or contributes to our country’s increasing economic inequality, that is a problem. I like the idea of a “people’s bailout” because it’s appropriating a tool of the powerful – the ability to buy and sell debts for pennies on the dollar – in a symbolically rich grassroots way. I like that it’s something we can actually do, rather than recognizing pervasive structural inequalities and feeling completely paralyzed. I even like that it doesn’t depend on the government, just on individual good will and generosity. “Will it work?” is not a yes or no question, and I think it’s already working as a beautiful idea.

This is a quick and shallow post, so please let me know your thoughts, if you think I’m getting something important wrong, or if you have any other links to suggest. And now…back to the 19th century for me.