These Guys Want to Buy Up Your Debt and Set You Free

Going viral today almost as fast as a good pepper spray video is the latest idea from Occupy Wall Street: the Rolling Jubilee, a project to buy up and zero out people’s debts. David “How To Sharpen Pencils” Rees explains:

Now OWS is launching the ROLLING JUBILEE, a program that has been in development for months. OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it—traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

Over at Slate, Matthew Yglesias offers limited praise:

That said, almost all charitable undertakings are organized around some gimmick or other that serves as a focal point and helps get people interested. If the pecularity of the distressed debt situation and the concept of a jubilee happens to inspire people and motivate them to be more generous with their time and money than would otherwise be the case, this is a perfectly good idea.

But ultimately, the Rolling Jubilee could do much more than inspire charity. Spending $500 to cancel $14,000 in debt is an amazing bang for the buck—or, seen differently, an amazing illustration of how the financial system that we all bailed out now enslaves many of us. Even if the Rolling Jubilee becomes wildly successful, it probably won’t cancel out more than a tiny fraction of our trillions worth of personal debts. Its value is as a devastating political statement: Debt is cheap, except when it’s owned by the banks.

Watch…

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.