image: Wikimedia commons (link).
Above is an image of the Liberty Bell, which rang out in the Old State House of Pennsylvania (a building which later came to be known as Independence Hall) to summon the people to the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776. The Declaration of Independence was itself adopted in the same building, as was the later Constitution.
The words imprinted on the Liberty Bell, when it was forged in 1753, come from the text of the scroll of Leviticus chapter 25 and verse 10:
Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.
You can see these words on the image above, if you zoom in enough (they wrap all the way around the bell, and at the end of the verse itself is stamped LEV XXV X, which you can see coming around from the left at the top of the bell).
As Professor Michael P. Hudson points out, in an important interview recorded with Bonnie Faulkner of Guns & Butter from September 26, 2007 (interview #141, embedded below), the word translated "liberty" in the King James version of Leviticus 25: 10 is the Hebrew word "deror" or דְּרוֹר (Strong's number H1865), which means "uninhibited flow" and, by metaphorical extension, the forgiveness of debts. Later, the same Liberty Bell and its ancient message became a powerful symbol among the movement to abolish slavery in the decades prior to the Civil War.
As this article from 2017 by texas university (t.u.) Professor Jonathan Kaplan explains (and as Professor Hudson also points out in his 2007 interview), that specific Hebrew word for the forgiveness of debts is cognate with an earlier Akkadian terms dararum and andararum, which also refer to the forgiveness of debts and which appear in proclamations on ancient Mesopotamian tablets dating back to the second millennium BC.
Ancient civilizations -- and ancient scriptures -- had a very clear understanding of the significance of debt, and of the importance of keeping debt from devouring the people of a society. In the gospel account recorded in the text of Luke chapter 4, when Jesus is described as beginning his ministry with the reading of a text from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue, the text that he reads is Isaiah chapter 61, verses 1 and 2, which also contains the same phrase, translated "proclaim liberty" using the word "deror" (forgiveness of debt). The ancients understood that credit in society was necessary, and that it could serve productive purposes, but that it could also become predatory and lead to a downward spiral which could only be corrected through the cancellation of certain types of debt.
Recently, Michael Hudson has released his latest book exploring this very subject, entitled . . . and forgive them their debts, taking its title of course from the verse in the Lord's Prayer, which Michael Hudson points out is often mis-translated as "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" rather than as "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," even though the Greek words employed in the original text itself are opheilema and opheiletes, which unequivocally mean "debts" and "debtors."
In that interview from September 2007, when the global financial crisis was just beginning, Professor Hudson explained how issuance of mortgage credit at levels far beyond anything that would have been permitted in previous decades led directly to the housing bubble and subsequent collapse -- and how the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall provisions in the 1933 USA Banking Act invited the types of securitization of mortgages that played a central role in the financial crisis.
Now, more than ten years after that earlier interview, Professor Hudson has recorded a more recent interview on Guns & Butter, which goes even deeper into the ways that credit can be used productively instead of destructively, tying the discussion in to the larger context of economic rent and neoliberal fiscal austerity.
Tying the question of government spending (fiscal policy) to the subjects of economic productivity and the reduction of rentier interests (defined in the interview) or their proliferation, Professor Hudson explains during this interview that:
Classical economists saw the proper role of government as being to create social infrastructure and upgrade living standards and productivity for their labor force. Governments should build roads to minimize the cost of transportation, not private companies creating toll roads to maximize the cost by building in financial charges, real estate and management charges to what users have to pay. [ . . . ] The great question is, what is the government going to spend money on, and how can it spend money into the economy in a way that helps growth? [ . . . ] Instead, the rentier classes have hijacked the government, taking over its money creation and taxing power to spend on themselves, not to help the economy at large produce more or raise living standards.
These are concepts which impact every one of us in modern society, and which it would behoove everyone to understand, but which are rarely if ever explained. Indeed, as Michael Hudson makes quite clear in that second interview, the neoclassical economics doctrine which is almost universally taught in schools (all the way up through college and postgraduate level economics) is deliberately deceptive -- hence the title of this most recent Guns & Butter interview, "The Vocabulary of Economic Deception," and the title of Professor Hudson's second-most-recent book, J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception.
The divide between the conventional neoclassical "orthodox" economists and the so-called "heterodox" economists such as Professor Hudson is clearly laid out and explained in another essential text which will help make some of the points he brings up in these interviews much more understandable: Modern Monetary Theory and Practice, by Professors William Mitchell, Randall Wray, and Martin Watts.
As long as people do not understand these concepts, it will be much easier for those who have in Professor Hudson's words "hijacked the government" to continue running it into the ground, and running the people into unsurmountable debt.
It is quite clear, however, that the ancients understood these concepts, and that they included them as central themes in the Biblical scriptures -- as well as in texts from other, even earlier cultures (you can even see debts involved in creating the central crisis in the Mahabharata of ancient India). They knew that it was a societal issue, and that the very structures of society had to be designed to ensure that debt did not end up enslaving the majority of the population.
The period of the New Year (albeit often observed around the period of the equinoxes rather than around the period of the solstice) was the time when deror or andararum was proclaimed in the ancient traditions. Thus, as we prepare to observe another New Year, it would be very appropriate to take some time to examine these concepts more deeply, in order to prevent the kind of economic deception which is presently being practiced on a wide scale, and which is in fact being taught in even the most respected of economics departments, with very few exceptions.
As resources, I would recommend the two Michael Hudson interviews discussed above, and embedded below, as well as the three books linked above, and also the eBook entitled Diagrams and Dollars referenced in this previous post.
And, of course, we also have the precious resource of the world's ancient wisdom, entrusted to our ancestors in remote antiquity, and preserved for our use today as a treasured inheritance, as relevant and necessary to our lives today as ever in the past -- and perhaps even more so than ever.
"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."
Guns & Butter #141, September 26, 2007:
Guns & Butter #395, December 12, 2018: