There's something about this debt that stinks!

The mountain of personal debt which many people are struggling to repay was leant by banks in the rapacious pursuit of profit, a hostile act that was not in the personal interest of borrowers – it is therefore ‘odious debt’ and should not be repaid.

 

Why am I in Debt?

Have you ever sat down and looked at your debt liability only to feel that somehow you’ve been played, duped or conned? Sure, you take responsibility for taking out all those cards and loans, after all, nobody was holding a gun to your head as you signed the agreements, but still, you can’t help feeling that it’s all a set-up. There’s something about it that stinks.

Why is it that you were lent so much money with few or no questions asked? Why didn’t the bank run a cross-check with other lenders to see how much existing debt you were already carrying? Yes, something’s not quite right. And if it feels a little like somebody maybe wanted you to be in debt then that’s because this is exactly the crux of the personal debt crisis and the reason why so many people are saddled with crippling liabilities: banks wanted people to have all their cards and loans because it meant big profits for them – they didn’t care whether it was going to be damaging for you or not.

And now you’re buckling under the weight of repayment. You’re looking at years of hard graft and are struggling to see the light at the end of tunnel. Well, there is an answer. As the world wakes up to the fact that the system is rigged in favour of the few, the legions of debtors in thrall to the power of the banks can, with a little smart thinking, extricate themselves from their trap by taking a cue from nation states who have successfully used the concept of odious debt to declare national debts unenforceable and as a justification for defaulting.

What is Odious Debt?

The term ‘odious debt’ is a fantastic phrase, evoking a sense that there is something rotten about a particular debt, that this debt stinks! But what exactly is odious debt?

The Wikipedia entry for Odious Debt describes the term as:

“In international law, odious debt is a legal theory that holds that the national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation, should not be enforceable. Such debts are, thus, considered by this doctrine to be personal debts of the regime that incurred them and not debts of the state. In some respects, the concept is analogous to the invalidity of contracts signed under coercion.”

The founding father of the odious debt principle was Alexander Sack, a lawyer in post-revolutionary Russia. In seeking to distinguish between debts incurred for the benefit of a nation and debts incurred by a regime for self-serving purposes, Sack also considered the role of the lenders, believing that creditors who lent to regimes in the knowledge that the money would be used for ends which were contrary to the interests of the nation had actually committed a hostile act (with regard to the people) and consequently could not expect a nation freed from that regime to assume liability for these debts.

From Macro to Micro – how is my personal debt odious debt?

It is Sack’s identification of the lender’s role and recognition of their awareness that they were lending money in an unethical manner, purely in the pursuit of profit and without caring for the purposes to which the money was being put to, that is transferrable to the current personal debt crisis and consideration on the part of individuals in deciding to default.

Creditors who lent to people in the knowledge that the money being lent was contrary to the interest of the individual, as occurred with the predatory lending practices of the banks during the easy credit era, have created an odious debt at the micro level and this can be used as an ethical justification for defaulting on personal debt.

Consider the fact that pre-credit crunch, the banks were actively targeting people who they knew would never be able to fully repay their debts as these people made for the most profitable customers. If foisting credit upon Bill & Nora Poorfucker living on a council estate and working part-time in the local charity shop is not a hostile act on the part of the lender then it’s difficult to imagine what is. Also, the banks were so aggressive in their marketing and promotion of credit (think constant mailshots and credit card cheques landing on the doormat every other day) and didn’t care two hoots what people they lent to would actually do with money or what they wanted it for – just the type of practices that can be considered contrary to the interests of the individual.

When we consider the nature of the money lent during the credit boom – particularly why and how it was lent – a strong case can be made for justifying default (on personal debt) on an odious debt principle.

 

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