Sunday, January 17, 2010

Debt forgiveness and Slavery?

I've seen several discussions around the net this week about the perpetual history of poverty in Haiti, and the role Haitians and outsiders have played in keeping this country so desperately poor. The topic of debt forgiveness came up and reminded me of the economic system as set out by God in ancient Israel which included slavery for unpayable debts (or servanthood depending upon which translation of the bible we read.) It also included debt forgiveness.

In ancient Israel a Jubilee year was defined ever 50th year when all debts were cancelled and families returned to their ancestral lands. So, selling land in Israel must have been more like leasing it for whatever number of years were remaining to the Jubilee. In the meantime, anyone who fell into unpayable debt would enter slavery - but this is not slavery as we think of it now. It was more of an 'indentured servitude' and there was onus on the servant and the master to train and build up the servant and his forfeited lands towards a return to independence.

If a "slave" did well while working for his master and if the master agreed then the servant could choose to remain in service for life. Not everyone is cut out to be self-employed.

There are ways that an economic system can be designed to build people up no matter what their abilities - but this is not (yet) something we see much of. Our current Western capitalism is based mainly on exploitation.

Apparently there is no record that a Jubilee year was actually ever carried out - how quickly we wander from our ideals.

I guess we need something even better? Like continual grace?

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