Friday, January 21, 2011


Even an old Heathen like me can find good stuff in the Bible. And it's hidden, of all places, in Leviticus, a book of old, mostly nonsensical Jewish law. Now I advise everybody who has a bible to read Leviticus 25 and think about what it says about the Jubilee.

As far as I can tell there is nothing in Jewish, Christian, or Islamic belief that contradicts this ancient law, but there is also no evidence that anybody ever followed it. The problem seems to be with sounding the trumpet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In case you can't find a bible, I'll summarize the Jubilee. Every 49 years there should be a big celebration where three things happen.
1. All debts are canceled.
2. All prisoners are released.
3. Everybody returns home.
It seems like a very good idea. If not every 49 years, at least one time. Soon. Let's look into some details.

Most people in the world today are in debt one way or another. Personal debt, business debt, and government debt add up to an unimaginably huge sum. A tiny group of people make their living entirely from interest payments. Most of us are too poor to hope for this. Even if you scrimp and save all your life, you're almost guaranteed to pay out more in interest than you collect. But some people never have to work a day because they are born into money that works for them. These few are the ones who lose in a Jubilee. In the big picture, a dose of reality will probably be good for them, but they may not see it that way.

Forgiveness of all debt, public and private, is the biggest chunk of the Jubilee. That concept alone would be worth something. Just having all the most indebted nations simultaneously default would overwhelm any possible reaction from the bankers. But as long as we're turning the world on its ear, let's look at the other two elements of the Jubilee, releasing prisoners and going home.

Way too many people are locked up in the USA. Half of them have only committed the "crime" of being born in the wrong place. ICE jails undocumented immigrants with very little regard for due process. They spend an average of two years behind bars before deportation. The next largest sector of prisoners are victims of the drug war, which has not succeeded in slowing drug use, but has created a huge community of frequently incarcerated, disproportionately people of color.

The industry that profits from prisons has used sophisticated methods to lobby state and local governments to perpetuate their profits. They write boiler plate legislation like "mandatory sentencing" and "three strikes, you're out" laws. The system is designed to encourage repeat offenses rather than to rehabilitate. They take advantage of the prison loophole in the 14th Amendment's ban of slavery to exploit cheap labor.

The Prison Industrial Complex is big business that only profits a few. Jailers do not have an easy life and often suffer from the same stresses that haunt soldiers. Prison towns do not have vibrant economies, but rather resemble other sorts of grim boom towns where one company has too much control. These people are ready for a Jubilee that frees them from debt, too. When the trumpet sounds and every worker calls in sick, it only takes one turnkey to set everybody free.

On the third element of the Jubilee I take some liberty. In a traditional society everybody has a home village that goes back for generations. Our culture has been mobile for so long that concept of home has been fractured. Still, everybody sleeps somewhere. I propose that we accept that each person owns that place of sleep. If you share a room, you share ownership of the room. Likewise a house. But if you don't sleep there, you've got no right to demand payment for rent or mortgage.

Then again, for the sake of simplicity, we could modify it to "Every soldier returns home." That would address the other big issue which plagues our society. Aggressive foreign warfare is not making anybody any safer or protecting anybody's freedom. It seems primarily driven by the desire of a few to control scarce resources, like oil, and the economic drive to blow stuff up so we can justify buying more. War is a social illness and it's time to stop.

A Jubilee would upset some apple carts. For most of us, it would be a great improvement to be free of debt and rid of home payments. And if we all demand a Jubilee, what are those few rich people going to do about it? The cops, lawyers, and soldiers are our cousins and neighbors. Most don't even know any rich people. Why would they risk their lives to threaten us and protect some far away banker?

The tricky part of a Jubilee is sounding the trumpet. How do we publicize the precise day and time of the Jubilee so that everybody knows that it's happening? This is a big challenge. Please share your ideas.