Submitted by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, contributor to Of Two Minds
Unleashing The Future: Advancing Prosperity Through Debt Forgiveness (Part 1)
My last article on debt forgiveness, Endgame: When Debt is Fraud, Debt Forgiveness is the Last and Only Remedy must have struck quite a chord in discussions of the future of the economy. It was re-posted on scores of websites and received over 20,000 reads on Zero Hedge. It also resulted in a reference on the Max Keiser Report and a subsequent interview with Max Keiser. This led in turn to a popularization of a term I used, “fake assets,” to denote the true nature of “toxic assets”.
The good news is that people are talking, attempting to assess the situation in real terms, and looking for an alternative to the broken system. The bad news is that this discussion has not been turned very much toward practical directions. The main contention in my original article on debt forgiveness and subsequent interview was simply that ignoring the mathematics of debt (where debt grows exponentially and real growth is limited), especially when magnified by tens, if not hundreds, of trillions of dollars of additional fraudulent debt, is a dangerous fantasy that worsens insolvency and accelerates collapse. “Extend and pretend” cannot provide an answer but can only amplify current destructive trends and delay serious preparation of an alternative.
This series outlines some of the alternatives to the current impasse.
Principles and issues in debt forgiveness administration:
Before embarking on a mission to address the standoff between people who cannot pay their debts and international economies that have been running on massive debts for the last three decades, one must do a reality check and establish sane observations and principles.
1) Debt that cannot (vs. “will not”) be practically paid is not a debt in its classical sense. It’s a default. Whether or not people want to recognize this reality is another issue. We recognize that a law that cannot be enforced is not really a law in any practical sense, so why are we dragging our feet with debt? Greece cannot pay its debt by any rational formula. It is already in default. Extending and pretending does not materially change this fact, it only delays recognition of the stark, enduring reality.
2) Debt based in fraudulent lending is also not true debt in any meaningful sense, since the loan along with its obligations originated from something (private fiat) that had no valid authority or exchange value to begin with. Much of the current worldwide debt simply stems from lending based in fraud numbering in the hundreds of trillions of dollars by institutions who did not have adequate collateral (i.e. held insufficient capital reserves, engaged in mark-to-fantasy accounting of their assets, assigned real value to fake assets like credit default swaps, etc.). A lending body cannot give effectively nothing to someone (claiming it is something) and legitimately expect to get something real back.
3) When debt systems are flooded with fraudulent currencies and claims, it is not true that someone, either the borrower or lender, will have to pay the “false value”-backed debt. You are not legally allowed to profit from crime nor legally obligated to support crime. This precludes the payment of many of the debts currently in circulation. In committing wide-scale control fraud, major financial institutions have broken laws. The laws they have broken are enforceable; they just have yet to be enforced.
However, even with successful prosecution, bankruptcy proceedings, and nationalization/receivership of offending institutions, we are left with a practical problem: Real currency has been mixed with fake currency, real debt with fake debt. Chains of title and claims to property have been so forged, electronically registered, diced up, and distorted as to make it difficult to sort valid ownership from invalid. When real money has been high-jacked and “disappeared” as with Bernie Madoff, what can be done to address this? These will be points of discussion later in this article series.
4) The mathematics of debt, even without fraud, would require periodic forgiveness or at least abatement. There must be ways for debts to be adjusted to contingencies. Economies, like families, go through good and bad times. Debt obligations are constructed as if there are only good times. Basically, the only way to pay off a debt is to outrun it in a time of relative stability. Even in eras of surplus, debt takes a big bite out productive effort, but it quickly becomes consuming as one gets behind in payments and as more and more of the fruits of effort must go to servicing debt.
At that point, loans become chains that tie people to mediocre jobs and underwater houses and no longer engines of mobile growth. Debt forgiveness recognizes this contingency and facilitates liberty, productivity, and global quality of life as the more salient indicators of vital economies. Policies and contracts ultimately must be in the interests of people’s well-being for them to be legitimate. Conversely, when debt is ring-fenced from contingency as with student loans, it will be become inherently corrupt and unjust.
5) In any rearrangement of the debt system, productivity and stakeholdership should be rewarded and parasitism should be punished. It’s easy to forget that people used to go to a banking agent to get a loan to grow their net financial worth through productive enterprise. In such a relationship the bank gained a stake in your success, not your misfortune. If we are serious about rewarding well-applied effort, then it would make sense to peg debt and debt obligations to the productivity growth curve of an enterprise or domestic product. Lending institutions, then, would essentially buy a longer term stake in the success of enterprises it funds, exert a due diligence proportional to its interest, and both benefit from and share the burden of inevitable rises and falls in growth.
In the housing-bubble debacle the incentives were exactly opposite. Irresponsibility was rewarded precisely because banks could sell off fraudulently documented loans as quickly as they could be signed. In late capitalism, bank support for productivity has been converted into support for exploitation and victimization, using repayment shortfalls to repossess assets from borrowers even though the bank loans were drawn from “money” backed by counterfeit assets. That has to be reversed—real money for real enterprise backed by real assets.
6) Things go down and not always up. “New era” rhetoric where financial gravity is suspended is a dangerous delusion. When we realize this simple fact and combine it with rewarding productivity and stakeholdership, we realize that our revenues and values will fluctuate dependent upon demand, environmental limits, and a host of other factors, some within our control and some not. Fighting this empirical fact, on the other hand, creates damaging and unsustainable living. Why not tie notions of prosperity and economic organization to optimizing our productivity, by identifying and working within the changing conditions, not distorting those conditions by taking on debt-credit to be paid by later generations?
7) The living shall not be beholden to the dead. When an individual person dies with debts, what can be collected from their remaining assets is collected and the rest is written off. Yet the opposite occurs with generational debt. Irresponsible borrowing by past generations is foisted on succeeding generations. The sins of the forefathers are preserved with interest to gouge the quality of life of younger people who neither decided upon nor benefited from irresponsible borrowing.
Certainly, we now see scorched-earth class warfare of the 1% against everyone else, but we are ignoring an even more profound unintended warfare by an entire generation of post-WWII world citizens against the wellness and interests of its own children. How could such a destructive myopia so thoroughly pervade society and bring us this critical historical inflection point? This will be examined in the next part.