By Jamin Casciato
"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the servant of the lender." (Proverbs 22:7, NKJV)
Many people have lived into a deep gratitude, having been forgiven and justified for authentic communion with God. Christ forgave us a debt that was impossible for us to service, exhorting us in following His example to refrain from demanding the scraps we believe we are owed from others. There are always repercussions of debt, both spiritually and naturally. Spiritually speaking, we cannot produce the fruits of righteousness while laboring beneath the burden of the debt of our iniquities, which, forever present, pull us deeper and deeper into ourselves. In freeing us, Christ gives us the power to produce works rooted in the wealth of righteousness for the sake of the human community, as opposed to works rooted in the poverty of guilt for the sake of attempting to atone for ourselves.
There is a parallel economic reality that relates to the fact that many people are laboring simply to pay off debt. They are experiencing a brand of slavery in the natural sense, just as all humans have experienced slavery in the spiritual sense. Currently, many materially impoverished nations are struggling due to heavy debt burdens placed upon them by the world’s wealthy nations and the Bretton Woods institutions—the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
There is little public dialogue concerning this issue, and the established development community is curiously silent as well. Entire nations of people cannot move forward through their own efforts due to the burden of debt laid upon them. These nations must devote resources to debt service that could otherwise be used to fund goods and services that benefit the general populace, such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure. The economic surplus produced by these nations exits their borders for the purpose of paying off debt, and their communities are often forced to forfeit valuable resources when domestically owned enterprises, land, petroleum, and water supplies are privatized and sold to foreign multinational corporations that take on debt obligations as a condition of ownership of such resources.
The debt-based “development” model has left many trapped in a cycle of dependence upon lenders that gradually erodes traditional values and sovereignty over the administration of their own communities. This dominion by debt impedes true development, locking millions of people throughout the world into a cruel cycle that restrains them from being able to cultivate their abilities due to the denial of personal agency that debt servitude entails.
This is not a new concept; in fact, it is well documented in the Tanakh. Nehemiah, the governor of Persian Judea in the fifth century BC, recorded a scenario in which the daughters and sons of the poor were forced into slavery and were unable to be redeemed because their parents had lost control of their lands and vineyards on account of debt. In order to remedy the situation, Nehemiah said:
I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury! Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them (Nehemiah 5:10-11, NKJV).
Is something similar happening today in the Majority World? Members of poor, indigenous communities are not being lured into such an obvious type of slavery, but it is certainly a form of bondage, for in their indebted circumstances they must live for the purposes of their lenders, as opposed to those of God. Because usury leads to slavery, the Lord admonishes us against it. Further, to ensure that those who disregard His precepts against usury do not perpetually enslave their brethren, He instituted the release of debts every seven years:
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release (Deuteronomy 15:1-2, NKJV).
Also, every forty-nine or fifty years, there is to be a Jubilee in which slaves are freed and debts are forgiven (see Leviticus 25:10).
The promotion of other policies aimed at egalitarianism is empty phrase in comparison to such a concept as the Jubilee. Are we willing to support such a powerful idea? Is it possible for us to institute such a policy in our personal lives with regard to those we hold in debt? Can we root out from the social mind the debt mentality we have come to accept?
Jamin Casciato has spent years studying sustainable development throughout the non-industrialized world. He has taught economics in Mexico and Iraq, where he traveled extensively among the indigenous communities of the regions, studying local social traditions, music, and alternative medicine. He has also spent time among the nomadic communities of northern India and Egypt, and has undertaken economic development research in Central America, Africa, and East Asia.