Saturday, November 17, 2012

World Changing Ideas: Occupy goes into debt

This week, our friends at Occupy Wall Street launched another paradigm changer to run in parallel with their amazing ongoing efforts to help the worst affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Consistent with their ideals of mutual aid rather than charity, Occupy Wall Street has just launched a Rolling Jubilee

What's a Rolling Jubilee? It is the next phase in a growing collective resistance movement against the debt system. (If you want to know what the "debt system" is, then you really need to read this amazing book by David Graeber [1], which will change the way that you view the world.)

From the Website:
A bailout of the people by the people
Rolling Jubilee is a Strike Debt project that buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it. Together we can liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal. Debt resistance is just the beginning. Join us as we imagine and create a new world based on the common good, not Wall Street profits.
What Occupy is doing is pretty much the same as many good capitalists do - They are raising money and using it to buy other people's debt.

The only difference is that instead of sending in the heavies to collect on the debt like good capitalists are supposed to do, they simply erase it. 

Gone... Just like that...

Their slogan is simply beautiful - “You are not a loan, you are not alone”

What they are doing is entirely legal - For every $1 that you donate, the volunteers at OWS will buy and annul $20 worth of someone else's unpayable (a.k.a. "distressed") medical, mortgage, etc debt.

This is incredibly good value for money, assuming that what you're looking for from a monetary investment is not just more money, of course - This is clearly the case with Strike Debt, whose goal is not just to help people out, but also to draw attention to the scandalous practices that underpin the current debt system.

At last check, they had already raised over $345,000, which is enough to earn almost seven million dollars worth of entirely random and joyous goodwill! - along with the kind of PR that any ad agency would die for...

I really love this very human (and humane) ideal that Occupy continues to promote - an ideal of mutual aid rather than charity - of people coming together to help each other break the financial binds that keep them in poverty. 

This ideal is seriously powerful stuff and is precisely the vision that earns guys like Muhammad Yunus a Nobel prize in developing nations - In "developed" US though, Occupy continues to be shunned by mainstream media and excluded from mainstream political discourse, so don't look for this on TV or in the paper - Check out the FAQ, and use alternative media channels to find more detailed backgrounders like this one.

The mainstream media has so many important things to report on that
it'understandable they don't have much time for Occupy, I guess

Despite the constant struggle to get their message out, OWS remain undaunted and the Rolling Jubilee is just the latest evidence of the successful reorganisation that the movement has executed over the last 12 months - Occupy is quietly building in strength and numbers by focusing on issues that actually matter to real people – some of my personal favourites of the moment include:
  • Occupy Sandy which is helping those most affected by the recent hurricane in NY, NJ, and the Caribbean 
  • Occupy Climate which is raising the profile of the impacts of global climate change
  • OccupyOurHomes which is helping to stop families being evicted from their homes
There are hundreds more "Occupations" happening globally, so go to InterOccupy or follow these tips to find one that makes sense to you...

To close this ramble, I want to draw attention to what I personally consider to be one of the most powerful aspects of Occupy's "mutual aid" ideal - Mutual aid presents a coherent and hopeful alternative narrative to the conservative idea that America is divided into "the makers and the takers".

There seems little doubt that this debt forgiveness initiative will disproportionately benefit "red states" - When combined with the biblical morality of the Jubilee, it will positively touch the "religious right", and other groups of American voters who today are pretty much unreachable by the OWS message, because they have bought into the conservative lie...

Thank you OWS! Another world truly is possible...

[1] Graeber himself is involved in the Rolling Jubilee, but in keeping with the Occupy ethos of leaderless organisation, I wouldn't dare to suggest that he is anything other than an intellectual force behind the initiative


  1. I am amazed by this post - mainly with the concept of buying 'discounted' debt (which I knew was happening but I relegated to some distant corner of my mind).

    From your post and the links - it appears debt (at least bad debt) is available at 20% of payback/payout cost. That is simply fascinating. What is worrying though is that this is generally sold as an investment in 'bulk lots'. They do not make this 20% figure available to those who hold the debt - presumably as that would ruin the 'debt market'

    What I would like to see is an organisation that buys up the debt (at 20%) and on sells it to the actual debtor (say at 25%). I think there would be literally millions of people out there willing and more importantly just able to pay off their debt at those levels.

    Now why have I 'charged' and extra 5% - that is a 'donation' to those who can't afford to pay off any debt (the truly destitute - not the full 99% but the 15%) I like this idea because it encourages people to help themselves and to help those less fortunate all in one swoop.

    That is of course assuming I have understood the above correctly.

    Basically people would register to have their debt bought up. Once the 'bulk debt payer' had enough debts signed up for a particular bank/mortgage agency -they would alert their subscribers, who would pay their 25% . The the 'bulk debt payer' would go through and buy up those debts. Pay them out and along the way buy up some truly distressed debts and pay them out at the same time.

    The 84% helping the 15% and each other - I like the idea - is it even possible?

    1. Interesting idea Matt - don't believe that it's possible though because debt on the secondary market is anonymous - assumedly to avoid precisely this kind of a possibility - if I am able to nominate my specific debt to be "bought out", then (so the official story goes) it creates a moral hazard that encourages me to default - this means that the poor capitalist who loaned me the money in the first place will never get back his original extortionate rate...

      This would collapse the primary lending market in its current form, because the main purpose of that market is to make money for capitalists. (Yes, it provides me access to the money that I need to start a new business, get an education, put a roof over my head, etc but these important things are simply the vehicle by which my hard-earned money is redistributed upwards to the capitalists - They are not the reason that they want to lend me money.)

      Of course, alternative lending models do exist - models far more conducive to sustainable human flourishing - one need look no further than Yunus's Grameen Bank to see that they work - Graeber's book also has plenty more great ideas, so maybe collapsing the current primary debt market is not such a bad idea after all ;-)

  2. Yep

    figured that wasn't possible - so it raises my next question - if OWS are buying out debts - how are those 'buyouts' being passed on to the distressed debtor? Or are they just reducing the debt exposure of the primary lender?

    The whole anonymity thing seems designed to, as you say, "reduce moral hazard that encourages people to default".

    Again - love the die but can't find any stories on the websites about people who have had their debt cancelled - this worries me because I suspect it never quite happens that way.

    restore my faith kind sir.

  3. love the idea - not the die ( even though that may be cast)

  4. Let's hope that the idea doesn't die Matt, but as the Occupy boys and girls are fond of saying "you can't kill an idea whose time has come".

    On the actual debt cancellations, my understanding is that this is nothing to do with the primary lender because StrikeDebt is purchasing on the secondary market, so the primary lender has already taken a haircut/write-off.

    WRT letting the end "jubileed debtor" know, the process is happening, but it takes weeks and is paperwork intensive - it will happen slowly but surely, and the freed debtors will receive certified letters - follow @StrikeDebt on Twitter to stay up to date - for example: