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Mon Mar 9, 2015, 04:09 PM

Professor Richard Wolff: Jubilee, Denial and Beyond

by Richard Wolff.

Thousands of years ago, various religions developed an idea some called “jubilee.” It entailed the acts of canceling or reversing income and/or wealth inequalities (especially of land holdings and debts) that had developed in their societies. Often, jubilees were stipulated to occur periodically every 49 years, more or less. The point was not to change the socio-economic system; it was rather to redistribute property and then restart the same system again as a way to preserve it. Variations of the jubilee idea have survived and occasionally surfaced into public discourse ever since.

The idea of jubilee was based on recognizing two tendencies in those societies and how they could threaten social cohesion. The first tendency emerged from their economic systems (their modes of producing and distributing wealth). It was movement toward ever-greater inequality of wealth and income until political authorities intervened to stop, slow or reverse that movement. The second tendency entailed beneficiaries of inequality using their wealth to prevent the political authorities from intervening in those ways. When both tendencies prevailed, the resulting extreme inequalities eventually brought the economy and society to crisis. Jubilee, it was thought, was the ultimate mechanism – the last political resort that was also sanctified by religion - that could forestall crisis by canceling or reversing such extremes.

Pre-capitalist economies based on individual farmers or slaves or feudal serfs often contained their tendencies toward inequality for centuries. Eventually, however, the beneficiaries of rising inequality blocked political authorities from mitigating inequalities. As the latter then worsened, the question was whether jubilee would re-emerge as the last-resort solution. When jubilee was forgotten, ignored, or repressed, such societies’ economies descended into extreme inequalities of wealth and income. Crises followed that could and sometimes did dissolve social cohesion and provoke revolutionary transitions to differently structured societies and economies.

Capitalism is no different. In the US, for example, economic inequality is reaching extremes not seen since the end of the 19th century. The reversal of inequality provoked by the Great Depression proved temporary. Even the crisis since 2007, the worst since the 1930s, has not deflected the US from its descent into extreme inequalities (as illustrated by the following chart from Too Much):

As Thomas Piketty’s and Emanuel Saez’s works have shown empirically, capitalism displays powerful, enduring tendencies toward ever greater inequalities. When these have approached extremes in the past, crises emerged that sometimes provoked reverse tendencies from political authorities. Considerations of jubilee were avoided. For example, income and wealth redistributions occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s and/or after World War 2 with labels like the New Deal or Social Democracy. Yet they were soon slowed and then mostly stopped. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://rdwolff.com/content/jubilee-denial-and-beyond

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Reply Professor Richard Wolff: Jubilee, Denial and Beyond (Original post)
marmar Mar 2015 OP
NaturalHigh Mar 2015 #1
Corruption Inc Mar 2015 #2

Response to marmar (Original post)

Mon Mar 9, 2015, 07:14 PM

1. Jubilee was an important part of Old Testament society.

I'll have to read up on it in the Scriptures.

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