A Christian Call for Economic Liberty

A Christian Call for Economic Liberty August 24, 2011

Then you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim remission throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall signal the Year of Remission for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his homeland (Leviticus 25:10 – inscription on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia).

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress,” said investor guru Warren E. Buffet. “It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice” in paying done the national debt. Spreading the sacrifice more equitably, however, doesn’t bring fairness to an inherently flawed system that more directly impacts the daily lives of ordinary people. Average Americans need a Jubilee Debt Year.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is now investigating the decision by Standard & Poors to downgrade the nation’s credit rating. What about the fact that every American is impacted by a FICO or credit score? These twin evils assign to human beings arbitrary numbers that help determine employment, housing eligibility, student loans, and interest paid that include car insurance. Americans have been conditioned to accept these scores and the rules imposed on them by mysterious, grossly under regulated industries.

Contrary to what America’s bondholders in Asia and the Middle East want, personal debt on ordinary folks is far more crushing than its national counterpart. An individual may have a job or college degree yet is transformed into a long-term or permanent revenue source for banks (mortgages, credit cards, or student loans). If the American economy hummed along in glorious capitalist splendor it wouldn’t change the existing structural inequities fiercely guarded by bank lobbyist pit bulls and other special interest groups in Washington.

Americans are not angry. They should be. At best they are annoyed and frustrated. They’re lulled into believing by politicians and a mediocre national media to think at the micro level while ignoring the big picture. Morning news programs are filled with consumer driven or pop culture stories without a more substantive analysis of meaningful issues. If they are addressed in a short segment then they’re soon forgotten.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report this summer documenting that child poverty increased in 38 states. Children who experience poverty are at higher risk to become high school drop outs.

Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Foundation, observed that child poverty is “in some ways a leading indicator of how the country is going to be doing down the road. Nearly all of the social problems that we worry about in this country are heavily correlated with child poverty.” Hence, the unwarranted tax benefits that Warren Buffet talks about not only can be shifted to pay off debt it can also be used to invest in the short-term with long-term positive social benefits.

The student loan debacle may be the next financial bubble to burst. Delinquencies exceed 10%. Unlike a house in foreclosure there isn’t an asset to take back and re-sell even at a loss. One law student asked for his money back in exchange for the law degree. He wasn’t successful. Student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt.

Why allow someone to accumulate massive student loan debt to be a modestly paid social worker? Why permit a person to amass enormous education loans at a prestigious, private college to be a high school French teacher? Why entice students into law school to be legal aid attorneys and at the same time enable a crushing debt? Why are professional childcare providers often required to have graduate degrees yet are paid salaries not much better than those with a high school education?

Why are students told to take out loans as “an investment in your future?” Why is a college graduate encouraged to go further into debt for additional education? Because someone has a college or graduate degree doesn’t mean the pay scale exists to help pay off the debt.

Why are people making minimum wage aggressively marketed to accept credit cards at 21-29% interest? This, by the way, is an international problem. The Philippines, as one example, has been debating whether to cap credit card interest rates because bank greed has made indentured servants out of many. That discussion is long overdue in Congress. Suggesting that the market work it out has only created unbridled capitalism with extraordinary emotional, spiritual, and in some cases physical harm to average Americans.

Why are tax cuts for large corporations and very wealthy individuals considered good for the economy and not debt forgiveness and the capping and scaling back of interest rates? Would debt forgiveness and lower interest not enable and empower more individuals with choices and offer them a level of financial freedom never enjoyed before?

Americans have been conditioned to believe that owning a house and earning a college degree are the hallmarks of success. I highly doubt Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, or Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others, would agree.

Someone has a job and college and possibly graduate degree. So what? Is the individual just getting-by? Is the family just making-it? Does the individual work for the economy instead of the economy working for the person? Sadly, the voice of Christian leadership remains mute.

At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. So the order of the remission is as follows: every debt your neighbor owes you, you shall remit; you shall not demand it back from your brother, because a remission is proclaimed for the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 15:1-2).

 Paul is author of Credit Card Usury and the Christian Failure to Stop It – a Call for Social Justice.

© Paul Peter Jesep 2011

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