Economist, Michael Hudson, is an iconoclast who writes and speaks against neoliberal economic orthodoxy. His latest lecture connects early Christianity with economic history, and argues that the reason Jesus was crucified was because he advocated a jubilee, or debt forgiveness.
“The fight of Jesus against the Pharisees was about this. At first Jesus said: “Good to be back in Nazareth, let me read to you about Isaiah.” In Luke 4 says it that this was all very good, and they liked him. But then he began talking about debt cancellation, and they tried to push him off a cliff. So basically you have the whole origin of Christianity was a last gasp, a last fight, to try to reimpose this idea of the economic renewal – of a Clean Slate – that goes back at least to the 3rd millennium BC and probably all the way to the Neolithic.”
In America, the idea of a debt-forgiveness is abhorrent to the vested interests. To these ruling elite, debt is manifestly useful in maintaining their hierarchical system of control. The rich benefactors of both parties, especially the financial ones, would blow a gasket if any candidate would even dare mention a debt jubilee.
Of course, debt relief is anathema to the Republicans, but the Democrats, presently in thrall to technocratic liberalism, also reject this sort of economic populism. Technocratic liberals in the Democratic party pretend that they are simply neutral parties who eschew politics while enacting policies that benefit all Americans. But, this claim is rubbish. Follow the money, as the saying goes, and you will discover that technocratic liberalism is simply neoliberalism in disguise, and the beneficiaries are financial interests. Meanwhile, the rest of us bear the burden of this arrangement.
After all, politics is, at its most basic, who gets what and who pays the cost.
Hudson describes what happens when debtors are subjugated by creditors. “Either you’re going to have economic renewal and restore people’s ability to support themselves; or you’re going to have feudalism. That basically is how the Roman historians described Rome as falling. The debtors were enslaved, not only the debtors but just about everybody was enslaved, put in barracks on the land. Finally, you needed to have a population, so you let people marry and you gave them land rights – and you had slavery develop into serfdom. Well we’re going into a similar situation today, where I think we’re going into a kind of neo-feudalism. The strain of today’s society is as much a debt strain as it was back then.”
Hudson’s depiction of Jesus’s radical message of a debt-forgiveness jubilee is revolutionary and has particular resonance for me. In college I read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, where Jesus is confronted in prison by the Grand Inquisitor. Wow. This radical Jesus was certainly not the Jesus I had learned about in Methodist Sunday-School, where he’d been transformed into a non-threatening figure-head in order to disguise political and economic interests.
In America, Christianity has been hijacked by conservative prosperity-gospel, which says the rich are good and moral while the poor have no one to blame but themselves. Instead of debt-forgiveness and economic renewal the poor are begrudgingly offered charity.
In my opinion, if we’re going to be successful in resistance to Trump we have to reclaim the radical message of Jesus– love, fairness, and jubilee. Going further, we must also reclaim our basic humanity and reject the fundamental idea of neoliberalism–that people only have value as actors in a market.
To do this we need to radically transform the Democratic party.
The Democrats since Bill Clinton have retreated from traditional liberal goals: expanding opportunity, fighting for social justice, and ensuring that workers get a fair deal, to meritocracy, which is the same essential message as conservative prosperity-gospel. Only instead of the savagery of “Dickensian” poorhouses offered by Republicans, the Democrats offer charity to the working-class in the form of unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid, while lecturing them on the value of education.
My dream is of a different Democratic party offering an alternative to neoliberalism. Imagine the radical politics of debt relief to young Americans, burdened as they are with student loans. Imagine an embrace of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), where the US government, as the issuor of a sovereign currency, would spend money into creation on universal projects, instead of granting this power of money creation to the banks, who use it to enslave us in debt.
Blow a gasket does not even come close to the apoplectic response we could expect from the financial elite in regard to such policies.
Jesus was a radical.
If we expect to change our world, we must become radical too.
Paraphrasing Populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease, we need to “raise less corn and more hell.”