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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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The number of asset-less debtors going bankrupt has reached such levels that the cost of processing these bankruptcies is becoming unsustainable for the Insolvency Service, according to Stephen Speed, chief executive and inspector general of the Insolvency Service, who was speaking at the recent Insolvency Today annual conference.

While this news of asset-less debtors using our easy bankruptcy laws to start afresh is encouraging, Speed also said that a point had almost been reached whereby taxpayer money would be required to cover the shortfall of the processing costs, which, according to reports, seems likely given that the Insolvency Service was forced to write of £81 million earlier this year.

Try the Banks

No, you're not having any of it back

Following the great taxpayer robbery of the banking bailouts – where free-market profit-chasers brought the world to its knees with their financial jiggery-pokery and eye-watering bonuses and then went cap in hand to the state when it all blew up – the idea of more taxpayer money being required to plug a hole, this time to cover the mistakes of individual borrowers, will no doubt result in more opprobrium being directed at debtors by the more pious sectors of society. Yet, and now stop me if this sounds ridiculous, surely it would be better to assess each individual’s case and try to determine whether the lenders had been at all culpable and had irresponsibly lent to people they knew would have little chance of paying the money back?

Making the banks pay for their mistakes and their greed – what a ridiculous notion.

Your bankruptcy will appear in the newspaper

To anyone who is maybe worried about their bankruptcy appearing in the newspaper, here I am talking about it in my home town newspaper. However, despite the publicity I am still a long way behind Kerry Katona.

You can view the pdf of the article here: Chron article 2

 

Talking about the Bankruptcy Diaries

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed about my book by the lovely people at Hackney Hive. It was great to talk about the work and some of the issues around it. Thanks to all those at HH for showing their support for local artists. 

Below is an excerpt:

Hackney’s rich history has many aspects, but it is particularly feted for two things: being London’s revolutionary corner and its importance as an artistic hub. Often, these two collide and have provided many high points in Hackney’s cultural palette, especially its literary output. The best known of today’s Hackney literati is Ian Sinclair, a beacon for London literature. Lee Rourke is also proud to call Hackney ‘home’. It is time to welcome a new addition to Hackney’s artistic – and artistically revolutionary – spirit: Paul Broderick, author of the recently released The Bankruptcy Diaries. I was fortunate enough to be afforded a short audience with the author to talk about his book, why he wrote it and what he will be working on next.

“The Bankruptcy Diaries is truly a banquet for the soul of our modern moralists,” said Paul. “It’s one man’s journey – mine – from the youthful naivety of university and entering working life and my role in the broader fiscal complexities of the state to an enlightened awareness of the actual depth of today’s corporate exploitation of the individual. I present the work as a choice that many people are now – and many more soon will be – confronted with: levels of debt that can never be repaid. I took my choice on this – it’s all in the book.”

To read the rest of this article click here. 

 Please do not be alarmed, I am not about to start a ‘Politician of the Week’ feature – once you’ve been ‘Clegged’ faith can never be fully restored – but I was nonetheless heartened to learn of MP Andrew Percy’s remarkably candid revelations about his own problems with debt during a Commons debate (on the Finance Bill) earlier this week. Percy revealed to the House how he had repeatedly maxed out credit cards and is still saddled with enormous repayments. The MP said:

“I certainly understand having debts to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds.

In my case, it was credit card debt, and I am not alone in that. It started at university and I went down the line of paying off one credit card by transferring it to another on 0% for a year or a number of months before conveniently forgetting that and maxing out the one that I had just cleared. I now pay about £600 a month to clear all my credit cards, which I have had to roll into a loan since my election. I understand what debt is like and I know how once someone is on the conveyer belt, it is difficult to get off, and that is just with credit card debt.”

Aside from being evidence of the extent to which debt culture has permeated all levels of society, Percy’s statement shows that we at least have some Parliamentarians with first-hand experience of the harmful effects of the debt industry; if credit, or debt (as they are one and the same), is to be more tightly controlled in order to prevent people’s lives from being ruined, then this can only be a good thing.

Leading the charge

The specific subject of the debate was a proposed amendment to Clause 11 of the Finance Bill, relating to high-cost lending: that most damaging sector of the credit industry which consists of companies who lend at extortionate rates to those who cannot get credit elsewhere, including payday and doorstep loan companies that also target the most vulnerable groups. Only this afternoon I saw a TV commercial from one of these companies, Wonga, advertising a 4,500% interest rate.


Could a doorstep loan be the answer to your problems?

 

 

Also deserving of special mention was the leading voice on the subject, Stella Creasy MP, who has been ardently campaigning for greater regulation of the high-cost credit industry for some time. Creasy told the House:

“the companies have specifically said that the lack of regulation in the UK compared with other countries makes it a target market for them.”

And,

“…in its ‘Keeping the Plates Spinning’ report, Consumer Focus estimates that payday lenders are expected to quadruple the scale of their operations in the UK in the next few years alone.”

Business as usual

Typically – in accordance with le libéralisme sauvage, which despite the crash and its fallout, shows no signs of being supplanted as the ruling ideology in Britain – those suffering most in these hard times are being pummeled for profit by the money-men and shareholders who operate these parasitic companies. Despite the best efforts of Andrew Percy, Stella Creasy and many others, the light-touch regulation mob prevailed and the motion was defeated by 273 votes to 228.

You can read the full text of the debate here.


I'm Rich Beyond My Wildest Dreams...

Tonight’s episode of Dispatches on Channel 4 focused on the lower echelons of the credit industry – doorstep loans, payday lenders and what they termed ‘rent-to-buy’ companies, all of which are effectively forms of sub-prime lending targeting the poor, and a very profitable business to the companies pedalling it.

In the days following my bankruptcy I began receiving mail-shots from some of the doorstep loan companies mentioned in the programme. It was immediately obvious that they must have some form of monitoring system that alerted them to new and potentially vulnerable targets. Just been made bankrupt? Here’s a dummy cheque for £500 – turn this into CASH – NOW!

Such is the size and power of the credit industry in Britain, that the loan companies are permitted to target people who have just been declared insolvent with more credit, allowing them to immediately begin racking up new debts, which they have even less chance of repaying. Whilst the exorbitant interest rates on these loans are admittedly made clear in the adverts, they are unmistakably designed to ensnare people into another particularly nasty debt trap.

Say 'Yes' to a Lifetime of Poverty

The programme also highlighted American payday loan companies who have begun moving into the British high street. Having had restrictions imposed on the interest rates they are able to charge in the US, these companies have found somewhere with less  regulatory inconvenience to do business. So whilst the British government dithers on whether to introduce a cap on the rates these companies can charge, the money lenders can continue to enjoy rich pickings to the detriment of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Never mind the credit crunch – Britain is still a great place to do business.  

 

We used to have a long history of credit controls in Britain, but these were done away with under the Thatcher government and her policies of deregulation. If America, the home of free market fundamentalism and lax regulation can clamp down on these despicable companies and their insidious practices, then surely the British can follow suit?

Personal debt is the scourge of our generation
 
The era of easy credit may be over, at least for the foreseeable future, but for the thousands of people saddled with huge credit card and personal loan debts from a decade of laissez faire lending, the legacy of debt misery is still very much an issue of the day.

The predatory lending propagated by the avaricious banks and lending institutions has created a new class of modern day serfs enslaved to the minimum payment. The lenders have gambled on the compliance of the masses – that the people would simply blame themselves and continue to pay. It’s time to throw off the shackles and reclaim our lives.

An easy way out

Historically, bankruptcy has always been seen as something to be feared and avoided – but not any more. The rules have changed. We may live in an age when indebtedness has never been so widespread, but at the same time it has never been easier to discharge your debt through the streamlined insolvency laws in Britain. These days bankruptcy is a doddle, no more difficult than filling out a loan application. If you’ve no assets then you’ve nothing to lose. Bankruptcy really has become a legitimate lifestyle choice for the debt generation.

Why struggle?

Why strive to pay off thousands of pounds of debt to keep those at the top of the economic pyramid comfortable in their penthouse apartments and fancy restaurants? Bankers are still partying like it’s 2007, drawing obscene bonuses for fixing the mess they created, whilst the dole queues grow and the national debt balloons. As the champagne continues to flow in the city, the people fret and strive to keep up with their payments. The government will do nothing to redress this gross inequality except offer empty rhetoric. Your continuing compliance also keeps the system propped up. The answer? Hang your debts and start living.

A.N. Other

Debt Renegade

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