Occupy New Plymouth (NZ) Oct 15, 2011
Deeply curious where the Occupy movement had disappeared to, I recently ran across an article about a new project called Rolling Jubilee. It seems a coalition of Occupy groups has joined up to pay off individuals’ personal debt. Rolling Jubilee is a project of Strike Debt, a group formed in November 2012 by a coalition of Occupy groups. It seeks to oppose all forms of debt imposed on society by banks.
The aim of Rolling Jubilee is to abolish millions of dollars of personal debt by purchasing it (at random) on the secondary debt market, as collection agencies do. The latter commonly purchase debt for as little as 1% of its value and then reap enormous profits by demanding debtors pay the full amount. Instead of seeking repayment from debtors, Rolling Jubilee simply erases the debt.
In its first six months of operation Rolling Jubilee raised sufficient funds to buy and abolish more than $8.5 million worth of debt. They list debt they have purchased and eliminated on the Rolling Jubilee website. Most appears to be medical debt, i.e debt incurred for treatments that aren’t covered by health insurance.
A Far Cry from Ending Corporate Rule
At first glance Rolling Jubilee strikes me as a typical feel-good kind of project – like walking 20 miles for a cancer cure – that allows liberals to believe they are making positive change without threatening corporate interests in any way. The project is a far cry from Occupy Wall Street’s original goal of ending corporate rule. I honestly can’t see any way that paying off patients’ medical debt is going to help dismantle the corporate oligarchy that currently rules the industrialized world.
Banks and corporations seem to have the same reaction I do. They love Rolling Jubilee. Business Insider describes the project as brilliant. A Forbes column on the Rolling Jubilee featured the headline “Finally an Occupy Wall Street Idea We Can All Get Behind.”
According to Forbes, banks, credit card companies and student loan agencies can’t forgive debt because the IRS considers this kind of debt relief a “gift” and charges the debtor tax on it. This is utter nonsense, of course. It makes you wonder if the people who write for Forbes have ever met or talked to any unemployed or homeless people. There is no way the IRS is going to tax anyone without income or assets.
Making a Cottage Industry Out of Revolution
Twenty years ago this example of Occupy morphing into a less politically threatening pro-corporate entity would have been condemned as cooptation. However in an era in which CIA-funded left gatekeeping and democracy manipulating foundations head up the nonviolent movement, cooptation doesn’t seem like the correct term any more. Maybe we need to invent a new term – pre-optation, perhaps?
Hi Doc – here in the US “forgiven debt” or settling the debt for an amount less than owed is considered income by the IRS and is taxable. This assumes that the original creditor or holder in due course and the borrower mutually agree on a payment for less that the amount owed which will settle the debt in full.
Buying up debts which have been written off by banks for pennies on the dollar would not result in taxable income if the buyer of the debt does not move to collect it from the debtor. That is apparently what is happening with Rolling Jubilee.
I agree with you that it will not change anything – strictly “feel good.”
That was my impression – a strictly “feel good” activity to distract people from the stuff that accomplishes real political change. Kinda like walking 10 miles to cure cancer. That never made sense to me, either.
I am sure the people who have debts eliminated do not agree that it changes nothing. People who have never had the calls, the letters, the credit score problems can happily ignore the bullying that is legal and the issues that result from that. This is real help to real people, and a better use of money than donations to “feel good” charities that pay their CEO’s hundreds of thousands of dollars and build fancy offices and pay networks tons of money to raise even more money to throw around, with little getting to real people.
I agree that it’s far better than feel good charities. I can’t see it going very far towards ending corporate rule. This was the original call behind the launch of the Occupy movement – and why many of us joined and supported Occupy.
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