The Life & Debt of Capitalism | Mickey Z.
Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Nov. 15, 2012
“If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has.”
Building on the deep community connections forged by standing alongside (among others) rent strikers, immigrant workers, and those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, one faction of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has conjured up an innovative new outreach idea: A Rolling Debt Jubilee.
Let’s begin with a very brief explanation of how the shady world of debt (and collection thereof) works: “When payers fall behind on debt, it becomes delinquent, and banks often clear it off their books by selling it to third-party debt collectors for pennies on the dollar,” explains Anya Kamenetz, a senior writer at Fast Company. “These collectors then try to get you to make good on the full amount plus interest.”
The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by “buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.”
- OWS raises money to buy your debt from a collector.
- That debt is promptly forgiven.
“The point of this stunt is to make clear, by turning the tables, the way in which the rules of the economy are rigged against ordinary people -- and to begin to fight back,” adds Kamenetz..
Such a “stunt,” as Kamenetz accurately describes it, has much intrinsic value. It’ll get plenty of media play, wake up more than a few people up as to how big business rigs all financial games, and will further demonstrate the commitment OWS has to those hit hardest by a corrupt and convoluted economic system.
This approach also has some obvious and serious limitations, for example: Federal law protects student debt (more than $1 trillion worth) and such loans cannot by bought by the Jubilee movement because there is no secondary (collection) market.
In addition, while those of you laboring under the burden of debt might be wondering if there’s any chance you’ll have it forgiven by OWS any time soon... well, it’s highly unlikely. Besides the fact that the jubilee cannot specifically target individual debts, consider these two sobering realities:
- The goal of the OWS/Rolling Jubilee is to raise $50,000, which should be enough to buy and cancel $1 million worth of debt.
- Total American consumer debt, from medical debt to student loans to credit cards, currently stands at $2.74 trillion.
Mic Check: There are one million millions in a trillion, so you do the math.
Yes, those freed by the Rolling Jubilee could potentially have a new lease on life (and perhaps a new perspective on activism in general and OWS, in particular), but it doesn’t alter the truth: We can’t “buy” away the dominant culture.
About a dozen years ago, NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani threatened to shut down most, if not all, community gardens. But when singer Bette Midler offered to purchase the gardens and protect them, I found myself cringing at such a capitalist solution -- a “stunt,” if you will.
We can’t buy back our lives, our freedom, our future. We can’t outspend the 1% -- nor should we ever try. That is precisely the thinking that created this mess in the first place. It will require a new mindset and drastic systemic change to tackle the problems faced by all life on the planet can.
The Rolling Jubilee is an excellent PR move and I urge you to support it in any way you can. But let’s never forget that debt is merely a symptom -- a ghastly symptom not unlike an oozing tumor -- but a symptom nonetheless.
Covering the tumor with a band-aid may assuage some, but the cancer will continue to spread (read: “growth”) unless holistic action is taken to address and eradicate the disease.
The disease, my friends, is capitalism.
“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital.”
Understanding capitalism and explaining its destructiveness to others does not require an advanced degree or superior insight. This isn't about vague, inapplicable concepts like "good" or "evil” and it has nothing to do with the fantasies bandied about by deluded economics professors.
It's about design.
Capitalism is an economic system based on perpetual growth and the relentless exploitation of what we've come to call "natural resources." By definition, such an approach is unsustainable, cannot be reformed, and is thus, anti-life.
To gain access to and control of resources, capitalism requires brutal, sustained military interventions (or the threat thereof). The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, is the world’s largest military power and the planet's worst polluter and eats up 54 percent of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
Military interventions (or the threat thereof) lead to wars, war crimes, the propping up of authoritarian regimes, poverty and repression, environmental devastation, and eventually... corporate dominion over resources.
Capitalism -- in its predatory pursuit of profit -- requires humans to dominate humans and humans to dominate non-humans and humans to dominate the landscape... until there's nothing left.
Resources are finite. They cannot/will not be replicated in a laboratory. Exploiting, poisoning, and consuming the ecosystem alters the delicate and symbiotic balance of the natural world -- which only leads to further devastation of our shared landbase.
“Because of competition between capitalists, which leads to a falling rate of profit, capitalism is structurally compelled to expand,” explains Stephanie McMillan. “Capitalism can never economically catch up with itself and must constantly break through its limits in a vain attempt to resolve its own inherent internal contradiction.”
Capitalism requires constant consumption. Hence, humans are re-programmed into compliant, ill-informed consumers. Pervasive propaganda/public relations keep consumers consuming, workers working, and repressors repressing (explaining why middle class cops pepper spray occupiers instead of joining up with them).
While other economic systems may address some of the vast human inequalities inherent in a capitalist society, unless such a system is designed in synchronicity with our shared ecosystem, it will do nothing to prevent the looming economic/social/environmental collapse.
To be anti-capitalist is to look beyond the next fiscal quarter, beyond national boundaries, and beyond the corporate propaganda.
To be capitalist is to ignore reality. To be capitalist is to pretend that technology is neutral, humans can "control" nature, and the playing field is even.
To be anti-capitalist is to see past skin color, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, ability/disability, age, or species.
To be capitalist is to prize shareholders over sharing, commodities over communities.
To be an anti-capitalista is to comprehend that a system based on growth at all costs is anti-life. To be anti-capitalist is to be anti-ecocide and anti-omnicide.
Capitalism has resulted in a toxic, poisoned, clear-cut landbase ravaged by unremitting war, disease, inequality, repression, incarceration, and discrimination -- and it must be stopped.
Stephanie McMillan sez: “Capitalism will not collapse on its own. Or if it does, it will be too late to matter. It will continue to drive down wages below what workers require to survive. It will continue to extract resources and externalize costs until the planet is made uninhabitable. It will cannibalize itself before it is fully exhausted. We have a responsibility to destroy it that is unavoidable.”
To be anti-capitalist is to bravely see past the façade, own up to the myriad global crises, and have a bold new vision for the future -- a future that extends well beyond today's closing bell on Wall Street.
A Rolling Jubilee can be a wonderful teaching/outreach tool (especially if it includes help on how to avoid debt) but as even the folks at Strike Debt admit: “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."
We are the 99%. Join us...
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