In this short but substantial book, Andrew Ross argues that we live in a creditocracy: a society in which state power serves the interests of a creditor class, and access to the essentials of life – like education, housing, healthcare, often even food – is only available for everyone else through debt.
Ross, a scholar-activist, argues that it’s time to apply the doctrine of ‘illegitimate debt’ – developed in the 1980s by the Jubilee South movement in response to the debt crisis in Africa, Asia and Latin America (slogan: ‘don’t owe, won’t pay’) – to the enormous levels of household debt in the US and other industrialised countries today. Ross offers nine reasons why collective debt refusal is justified – and has become a moral act of civil disobedience necessary to restore the foundations of democratic life.
It’s the most detailed articulation yet of the thinking behind Strike Debt – arguably the most significant political group to emerge from Occupy Wall Street. Ross calls for a long-term debtors’ movement with a level of organising at least as momentous as the labour movement in its heyday. This would refuse the illegitimate debt burden, support the invisible millions who are already in default, and work towards the kind of alternative economy (a mixture of public and co-operative) that could restore debt to the service of social objectives, as well as avoid the small matter of eco-collapse.
Readers might wonder if the practical obstacles to a debt strike aren’t too great. Even so, six years after the crash, with the banks returning to record profits and debt levels on the rise again, it doesn’t take much persuasion to acknowledge that a creditocracy has become firmly entrenched. Or that governments – not least our own in London – have no intention of switching sides. As Ross says, this is ‘a movement book’ for a movement that is ‘still finding its voice, and its feet’. The debt strike’s time will come.