Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 22 November 2006

By Jim Jordal

You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through l the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.

Leviticus 25:10 (NASB)

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden."

Luke 4:17-18 (NASB)

You may remember the Jubilee 2000 debt relief movement launched in the late 1990s and continuing to the present under other names. The worthy idea--originating in Britain--was to spur the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Group of Eight (G8) creditor nations into providing massive debt relief to 45 impoverished Third World (now called Developing World) debtor nations. Under the inspired leadership of founders Bono, lead singer of U-2 rock band fame, and Gordon Brown, chancellor of the English exchequer (treasury), the crushing debt of many poor countries came to be seen as a cancer needing immediate excision. The plan was to remove the cancer by forgiving--not merely reducing--billions in oppressive debt, much of which was seriously in default already.

First the good news. Third World debt relief is no longer a forgotten subject in international banking circles, the world media, and even in many governments. The suffering encountered by the poor in countries struggling with massive debt is no longer hidden from public view. And the World Bank, IMF, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) now take notice of the economic and social devastation their policies have helped create.

Most recently, in late 2005 the IMF Executive Committee approved debt cancellation for 19 impoverished countries, to begin in early 2006. This action follows 6 years of other forms of debt relief under which some $50 billion of world debt has either been canceled or the terms moderated. So the worm has begun to turn.

The bad news is that debt is seldom forgiven unconditionally. Creditor institutions habitually attach strings to debt relief for the purpose of creating economic conditions within debtor countries aimed at ensuring repayment of future loans. So even countries now "clean" of foreign debt remain victims of policies dictated by international lenders.

These policies, formerly known as "structural adjustments," now have the friendlier-sounding but no less threatening title of "poverty reduction and growth facilities." But by whatever name, they result in devastation for native persons and economies. A few weeks ago newspapers carried the picture of a young indigenous boy rioting in Ecuador. The protest centered on impossible increases in public transportation fares and prices for gasoline and cooking oil--absolute necessities for the poor. It's a cruel, heartless policy that calls itself "poverty reduction" while targeting goods and services desperately needed by the poor. And why the poor? Because there are so many of them, and because they have no voice in the matter other than to riot.

What's going on is that government-mandated price increases in consumer necessities result in less consumption of these goods or services, thereby reducing imports and freeing a larger part of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for debt service. That these nefarious policies fall most heavily upon the most vulnerable hardly matters. And sometimes it's even worse than cooking oil and gasoline--it's medical care, education, and even food that are sacrificed to the debt monster.

And that's not all. Debt relief is not available for all of the 82 countries determined to so desperately need it, nor does it apply to more than a small fraction of the approximately $500 billion total debt estimated by Worldwatch. No, it goes mainly to those countries compliant enough to accept the attached strings. So what you read in the newspapers about promised debt relief and what actually happens are two different things.

About the same time debt relief began to be seriously considered, the United Nations developed a set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at halving desperate world poverty (incomes of less than $1 daily) by the year 2015. America's contribution to the MDGs was to be 0.7 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or some $70 billion from a $10 trillion economy. So what have the other G8 nations and the U.S. actually delivered?

According to latest reports the U.S. has contributed about $14 billion, or one-fifth of what we promised. Most of the other G8 nations have contributed lesser amounts, although their efforts represent a larger proportion of their smaller GDPs. Congress keeps waffling on delivering the promised U.S. amount, even though we spend vastly greater amounts for security from terrorism and many other goals

So the present-day status of Jubilee 2000 is problematic at best. Most debt remains as many Third World countries continue to sink as new debt exceeds repayments. Debt relief is a Biblical concept with vast benefits, but it remains for Western powers to take it seriously enough to sacrifice a small portion of their wealth to see that it reaches fruition.