Friday, April 15, 2005

Debtors of the World, Unite!

The "bankruptcy reform" bill "passed the House on a 302-126 vote on Thursday, a month after the Senate voted 74-25" (Marcy Gordon/Associated Press, "Congress Passes Bankruptcy Reform Bill," The Guardian 15 Apr. 2005).

Techpolitics reports that not only did 73 House Democrats vote for the bill but those who voted for it "included 10 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, 13 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, 2 Progressive Caucus members and all but 3 Blue Dogs" ("Bankruptcy Bill Vote: 109th Congress, 1st Session," April 14, 2005). Be sure to look at Techpolitics' table of the bankruptcy vote, which sorts the data by "caucus, vote, party and Representative as well as by the median household income for the congressional district in the 2000 census" ("Bankruptcy Bill Vote: 109th Congress, 1st Session," April 14, 2005).

The most important vote, however, was taken on March 8, 2005, on the "Motion to Invoke Cloture on Bill S. 256," which passed 69-31. That was "the only vote that opponents of the bill had a chance of winning" in the words of Paul Krugman ("The $600 Billion Man," New York Times 15 Mar. 2005). Remember the 14 Democratic Senators who voted Yea, to cut off the debate on the bankruptcy bill and make it impossible to filibuster it:
Biden (D-DE)
Byrd (D-WV)
Carper (D-DE)
Conrad (D-ND)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Salazar (D-CO)
Stabenow (D-MI)
("U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 109th Congress - 1st Session: On the Cloture Motion [Motion To Invoke Cloture On Bill S. 256]," 8 Mar. 2005)
This is a bill that finance and credit companies have long sought for. Observe how they radically increased their bribes over the last several years:
Finance/Credit Companies: Long-Term Contribution Trends
Source:, "Finance/Credit Companies: Long-Term Contribution Trends"
How the finance and credit industry bought the "bankruptcy reform" is one of the clearest proofs that America is a plutocracy, not a democracy.

While it is important to attempt to replace the Democratic Senators and Representatives who voted for debt slavery by men and women who are actually committed to upholding the interests of the heavily indebted US working class, electoral politics alone will not break open the virtual debtors' prison that the "bankruptcy reform" will soon create. Money wins elections, more than 90% of the time: "In 95 percent of House races and 91 percent of Senate races . . . , the candidate who spent the most money won, according to a post-election analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. . . . The biggest spender was victorious in 415 of 435 decided House races and 31 of 34 decided Senate races. On Election Day 2002, top spenders won 95 percent of House races and 76 percent of Senate races" (, "2004 Election Outcome: Money Wins," 3 Nov, 2004).

It is time for the American wing of the global justice movement, which has been struggling to force the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to drop the debt under which peasants and workers of the global South groan, to take on the finance and credit industry that oppresses US workers by usury.
A Licence to Charge
Source: Patrick McGeehan, "The Plastic Trap: Soaring Interest Compounds Credit Card Pain for Millions" (New York Times 21 Nov. 2004)
Proclaim liberty to the captives, and open the prison to them that are bound (Isa. 61:1–2) -- at home and abroad. Why not begin this weekend, when global justice activists gather in Washington D.C. to protest the 2005 Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund?

Unless and until US activists of the global justice movement begin to connect the debt burden on US workers with that on workers and peasants in poor nations, the movement will never grow beyond usual suspects. Charity, an exercise in altruism, need not begin at home, but class struggle that has a winning chance surely does.


Anonymous said...

As long as I can be traced I can't comment. So goes free speech in america.

Louis Godena said...

Isn't a bit odd to identify the long-term structural debt of the developing world with the mainly credit card debt of the modern bankrupt? True, unpaid medical bills figure in some 60% of Chapter 7 bankruptcies, but then credit card and consumer debt account for nearly 90%. This surely underlines the need for a national health care system, but does it follow that the issue of debt relief in America is analogous to that in the Third World? And of course credit card companies are evil and buy and sell "democracy's" representatives like cattle. But we are unlikely to make much of a case when it comes to pleading the cause of people who fell victim to the seductions of America's consumer culture largely through their own insouciance and folly.

Anonymous said...

I've carried CC debt twice in my life.

One time, it was to loaf around, and I had a couple thousand in debt. This was pretty voluntary. I wanted to stay out of a down market, and lived off savings for a long time. Then I went into debt, and went back to work.

The first time, though, it was because the market was down, and I made too little money. I didn't qualify for food stamps, or so I thought, so I didn't apply. So I paid for food with the CC. I was around $1000 in debt. It wasn't fun. Paying it off required a lot of belt-tightening, and the damned thing was already pretty tight. I also had a medical emergency and that didn't help any, even with insurance, it cost some money.

The real issue, in my mind, is, should I have been given a loan by the state, at a low rate, or benefits for "free", or was it better to have a bank somewhere get 20% interest on my misfortune?

Anonymous said...

It is a mind set of the wealthy that the rich must stay rich, so the rich create a society that ensures there survival. So poor are like cattle creatures of habit poor do not raise there young right nor do the young see a future in which to strive, because the poor only hear promises which would be the offspring of the poor,.So much for loving mankind from the rich toward the poor Jesus does not exist to them only a Benz.

Anonymous said...

I think "Debtors of the World, Unite!" is erudite. Many more people in the global north are strapped with an amazing amount of debt. We live in a debtor society. Credit schemes (and inflated speculative stock prices) far outweigh those immediately predating the 1929 stock market crash. The situation for many that I know- work ing class and first generation "middle class" (based on education level and status, not necessarily in relationship to means of production) is getting worse by the day. With increased centralization of banks and quick amalgamation of the credit/ insurance industry and the emergence of tens of thousands of pay day loans and similar schemes, this seems much like the company stores and sharecropper debt peonage my grandmother told me kept her family in perpetual debt.

Unemployment is high. Wages are stagnant. High paying industry jobs are scarce. Many working young people opt for college- not only because of the social expectation to do so- but for what they hope to be increased job opportunities if not always upward mobility. But Higher education serves an important latent
function. It serves to artificailly lower official unemployment rates (the US masks our VERY HIGH unemployment (as well as underermployment, under-wageent and over-workment in a variety of ways, and many institutions' latent- if not always expressed- funtion is to lower nominal unemployment rate. In
the inner city this is jails and prisons, and community colleges. In the suburbs it is sometimes land grant universities.

But student debt has long not been covered under bankruptcy. The state disallows student loans from bankruptcy and under Clinton increases the age for independent student status to 25!!! It seems all too calculated attempt to reinforce the seemingly docile contemporary nature of the class.

My credit card and student debts are more than twice my annual salary. I know I am not alone.

Thank you, Yoshie for this post.

Robert C.