Debt Cancellation in Mesopotamia and Egypt from 3000 to 1000 BC

Published on Global, by Eric Toussaint, September 04, 2012.

We must pierce the smoke-screen of creditors and re-establish the historical truth. Repeated and generalised debt cancellation has occurred throughout history … //

… The limits of debt cancellation:

  • In Mesopotamia, during the Bronze Age, debt-slaves were freed, unlike other types of slave such as those seized at war.
  • Nevertheless, this debt cancellation must not be presented as if it were a form of social emancipation. It was merely a way of restoring the pre-existing social order, which was rife with forms of oppression. Without wishing to embellish the organisation of these societies of 3000 to 4000 years ago, it should be noted nonetheless that their rulers sought to maintain social cohesion by preventing the constitution of big private domains, and took measures to ensure that peasants enjoyed direct access to the land. They limited the rise of inequality while overseeing the development and maintenance of irrigation systems. Michael Hudson also insists that any decision to declare war was taken by a general assembly of citizens – the “king” did not have the power to make such decisions alone.
  • It seems that Bronze Age Mesopotamians did not believe in divine creation as the explanation for life on Earth. The ruler, confronted with chaos, reorganised the world to establish normal order and justice.
  • No further act of debt cancellation has been found for the period after 1400 BC; inequality increased and intensified. Land was taken over by big private land-owners and debt enslavement became commonplace. A large part of the population migrated north-west towards Canaan, with incursions into Egypt, which displeased the Pharaohs.
  • The ensuing centuries are known by historians of Mesopotamia as the “Dark Ages”, because of the dearth of written records. However, we do have evidence of violent social struggles between creditors and debtors.

Egypt: the Rosetta Stone confirms the tradition of debt cancellation: … //

… Conclusion:

  • In the present day, debt repayment has become a taboo subject. Heads of State and of governments, central banks, the IMF and the mass media, all present it as though it were inevitable, unquestionable, and obligatory. Citizens must resign themselves to paying off the debt. The only discussion possible focuses on how to distribute the burden of sacrifice needed in order to free up enough budgetary resources to fulfil the commitments of the indebted nation. The governments who have borrowed were elected democratically, goes the reasoning, therefore their actions are legitimate. The debt must be paid off.
  • We must pierce the smoke-screen of creditors and re-establish the historical truth. Generalised debt cancellations have been enacted repeatedly throughout history. These cancellations correspond to different contexts. In the cases mentioned above, proclamations of general debt cancellation were made at the initiative of rulers concerned with upholding social peace. In some cases, cancellations resulted from social struggles exacerbated by economic crisis and the rise of inequality. This was the case in Ancient Greece and Rome. Other scenarii can also be envisaged, such as debt cancellation decreed by indebted countries that decide to take unilateral sovereign action, and debt cancellation conceded by a victorious country to a vanquished one and/or its allies. One thing is certain: historically speaking debt has always played a major role in social and political upheaval.

(full text and Notes).

(Translated by Vicki Briault and Charles La Via.
Eric Toussaint (doctor in political science, president of CADTM Belgium, member of the Scientific Council of ATTAC France). Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint directed the collective work La Dette ou La Vie, Aden, CADTM, 2011, which received the Political Book Award at the Liège Political Book Fair in 2011. Most recent publication: Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint, AAA, Audit, Annulation, Autre Politique, Le Seuil, Paris, 2012.
See Eric Toussaint, Belgium, also on YouTube, on World People’s Blog, on en.wikipedia and on fr.wikipedia


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