This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.
The idea of “Jubilee Economics” has been appearing in the public discourse more and more since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what exactly is Jubilee? Who does it help? Why should it be implemented?
Through this eight-part series, Heretic editor Ryan Lindsey gives an ethics- and faith-based case for the radical economic and social concept of Jubilee.
Introduction to Jubilee
The ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Christian Gospels was full-to-the-brim with Jesus challenging the presumed authorities of those with power in His society. Jesus was not afraid to confront and disregard the authority of everyone from the orthodox religious leaders, to the elite financial figures of Palestine, or even the whole Roman Empire itself.
Many of these stories and parables are undeniably concerned with economic matters. In most translations of the New Testament, Jesus uses the verb aphiemi regularly, which means to completely cancel, to send far away, to liberate, to forgive what is owed. Sewn all through the Gospels (the canonical four as well as many apocryphal gospels) are instances of Jesus explicitly posing a challenge to economic inequalities and poverty. No financial or political powers of the day were safe from Christ’s severe critique.
One of the ways that Jesus took on (again, explicitly so) the powers of the time was through His call for a reinstatement of Jubilee. But what is Jubilee?
Put simply, Jubilee is a time when debts should be cancelled, the enslaved and indentured should be set free, land and wealth redistributed, and the earth’s abundance allowed to provide. (Keep in mind that I am coming at explaining Jubilee from a strictly Judeo-Christian perspective, though I think that – while are justifications may differ – the ethics-based case for Jubilee is applicable to the secular as well. Good ideas are good ideas, regardless of whether they were birthed in secularism or religiosity.
Sadly, the economic and social radicalness of Jesus’ ministry fell out of favor with most Christian sects once Constantine and the Roman Empire co-opted the faith in the 4th century, and the radical edge has largely remained either worn down or sheathed since then. Jubilee has not been spared from this attempt at “respectability politics/religion”.
This series on Jubilee will try to show how Jesus’ challenges to the economic power system of His time can be (and should be) applied to the economic and political powers that laud over us here and now. My own journey into understanding and seeking Jubilee not only challenged, but shattered, my personal ideas about the role money should play in my life. I hope the same happens for any readers who are critical or skeptical of Jubilee.
More than mere changes in personal opinion though, I hope that this series challenges your preconceptions about the structure of our economy and how it should work (especially those preconceptions with a more conservative or typical-libertarian bent). It is these structural economic and power injustices that changes in personal beliefs and feelings must take a swing at.
I hope that at the very least, this series on Jubilee is somewhat evocative. May we all work to end the burden of debt and to foster an economy and polity that puts people first, always.