One thing to change the world

By JubileeCentre 15 May 2014

by Guy Brandon

Over lunch in the office yesterday, the conversation turned – via a series of torturous segues through a Cambridge blogger’s visit by the police about a fake UKIP manifesto and the merits of cold chilli sandwiches over hot ones (the flavours are better when it’s cold, and the bread doesn’t disintegrate) – to how we would go about changing the world.

You’re allowed one thing. It can be anything, but it can only be one thing.

Some of the answers? Universal education. Establishing the rule of law at the international level. Free ice cream (any flavour permitted). Mine: ban interest.

Anyone who has spent any time around Jubilee Centre or their work will know it’s not my idea, but I’ve been working here for eight years now so perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve ended up drinking a certain amount of the Kool-Aid. (For background, you can read this Cambridge Paper, amongst others.)

Why is interest such a big deal? From the biblical perspective, a loan is supposed to be a form of welfare – a way of helping someone in dire need (Leviticus 25:35-38). The Israelites were forbidden from charging interest to one another under any circumstances, and loans were cancelled after a maximum of seven years. That meant no one was able to profit from another’s poverty.

In our debt- and interest-driven economy, a loan is primarily a revenue-generating tool. It’s a way for those who already have money to extract even more from those who do not. Proverbs 22:7, ‘The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.’ Here’s the risk analysis from the modern point of view, or the paradox from the biblical one: If someone can’t afford something, you charge them more for it.

What would banning interest achieve? An end to unpayable debts and loans that serve to keep people in destitution, rather than lift them out of it. The Jubilee 2000 and subsequent campaigns notwithstanding, ‘The poorest 90 countries have debts totalling US $1.3 trillion, whilst for the poorest 144 countries, it is over US $4.9 trillion.’

At home, it would end entrenched and lifelong poverty; decrease family breakdown (money worries are a major cause of separation, and separation is a major cause of financial pressure); prevent reckless lending by the banks; increase rootedness and family/community cohesion (see the Jubilee Roadmap); curtail the long-hours work culture’ and narrow the inequality that is so toxic to society. That’s just for starters.

One thing to change the world. What would yours be?

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