Debtors’ prisons

People underestimate just how much the glibertarian right likes the idea of a return to 18th century mores. Because if you put people in jail for having debts (via David Dayden), then people wouldn’t go into debt and the FREE MARKET would take care of the rest.

And, no, he’s not talking about AIG and Citigroup, as far as I can tell.

The guy in the video is the CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, an anti-Social Security Broder favorite. Peterson himself was head of the Council on Foreign relations for 22 years, which means he probably was responsible for hiring Amity Shlaes.

These are just some of the very serious people who dominate the economic debate in this country.






72 replies
  1. 1
    Douglas says:

    UPDATE: The propaganda may have wound up being too subtle. Via the America Speaks twitter feed, the top three options at the meetings selected by the participants were: raising the limit on taxable earnings in Social Security, a 5% tax increase on people making over $1 million dollars a year, a carbon tax, and a tax on financial transactions. Whoops!

    Obviously those people aren’t REAL AMERICANS

  2. 2
    wobbly says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06.....g.html?hpw

    Off topic, but Dwight Armstrong just up and died. RIP, anyone?

  3. 3
    mclaren says:

    Well, don’t you worry, buckaroos, because good times are headed your way. Debtors’ prisons have now made a comeback here in the land of the free and the home of the brave:

    In Jail For Being In Debt

    From sea to shining sea, bitches. Yeah! Go America! NUMBER ONE!

  4. 4
    c u n d gulag says:

    The only problem with Debtors Prisons is that, there’ll be nasty ones for most of us. NASTY!
    The Wall Street and Whoreporate boys and girls will have ones with 18-hole golf courses, and dining rooms where Wolfgang Puck and Emeril come and provide the meals.

    HA! Who am I kidding? There’ll only be ones for us regular folk. The ‘Masters of the Universe” will continue to whatever the fuck they want to do. No questions asked. No penalties.

  5. 5
    WereBear says:

    Out of the debtor’s prisons; came Charles Dickens.

    Perhaps this is all a grand scheme to insure we have literary geniuses!

    Well, probably not.

  6. 6

    Actual debtors prisons would probably not be very popular. A lot of people would probably go for debt servitude, though. [I have very little faith in the human race.]

    It does surprise me, though, that a lot of folks are amenable to going back to the 19th Century. How far back, I wonder. When they start talking about it, I get the idea that they are aiming for the first quarter of the century.

    Life in that era wasn’t good for most people. Life was quite difficult for everyone but landed, adult males of European descent. Actually, the whole Century was fairly nasty for most of our ancestors.

    Why would people want to go back to that?

  7. 7
    Sly says:

    “These are just some of the very serious well funded people who dominate the economic debate in this country.”

    Every generation has its John Raskob and Irenee du Pont. The script doesn’t change, just the actors do.

  8. 8
    WereBear says:

    @Linda Featheringill: Why would people want to go back to that?

    I think it’s for the same reason that they are always reincarnations of Cleopatra or Napoleon; not anonymous pyramid builders or foot soldiers.

    Everyone stars in their own movie.

  9. 9
    stacie says:

    Depressing. My first thought was that the US didn’t have debtor’s prisons, but it turns that Congress didn’t outlaw the practice until 1833.

  10. 10
    bjacques says:

    @3 mclaren

    technically, it’s not debtor’s prison, but missing court-ordered payments and not being aware of an arrest warrent being out for her. And the guy being held over the $300 lumber yard debt probably has grounds to appeal and go after the judge legally, but will never have the means to do either.

    But if creditors and courts manage to streamline this judicial assembly line, it will be as near to debtor’s prison as makes no difference.

    Involving the courts more closely in debt collection in no way requires bigger government. It can probably be financed by a tax cut for the rich and tax credits for the poor.

  11. 11
    Shalimar says:

    If we do go back to having debtor’s prisons, I’m praying that asshole loses all his money and becomes the first prisoner.

  12. 12
    woody says:

    @Linda Featheringill: asked why anyone would want to go back to th e 1st quarter of the 19th?

    Pretty simple, imho, really: no matter how tough it was, white folks were totally in charge. No ambiguities. If you were white, you were the boss. Nobody gave you shit. Nobody said “you can’t do that.” Nobody said you can’t thrash that negro, fuck that little brown woman, kill that uppity mexican. It was the best of times, while it lasted…And that’s what they want to return to.,..

  13. 13
    Comrade Javamanphil says:

    All serious people know that to become a better society we must experience some pain. And by we, I, of course, mean you.

  14. 14

    Not to derail the snark train, but of course, bankruptcy proceedings are an important component of a society that encourages the taking of economic risks.

    If the consequences of failure are poverty (i.e. bankruptcy), and/or some loss of access to credit, then folks can weigh that risk against the rewards of ambition.

    If they are imprisonment, destruction of family life and all the rest…not so much.

    So, given the theme today of Republican attempts to derail economic advance in order to regain power this November, debtor’s prisons make perfect sense. If you happen to hate America, that is.

  15. 15
    Sly says:

    David Walker would probably find a better audience for his rugged self-sufficiency on SkyNews, incidentally. George Osborne’s emergency budget for Britain will probably necessitate the rebuilding of all the prisons they demolished, or turned into postal centers, in the 19th century.

    Austerity, bitches!

  16. 16
    WereBear says:

    Once again, the Right Wing reiterates their belief that by simply making certain things lead to jail, they make sure people don’t do those things.

    But if they are wrong; they don’t go to jail.

    We’ve got a glitch here.

  17. 17
    wobbly says:

    Ever read “Little Dorrit”?

    Spendthrift dad gets three hots and a cot for life, courtesy of the taxpayers of merry old England. His kids get to live with him in prison, in fairly decent conditions. Not the best, mind you, but surely not the worst.

    No one starved to death in debtors’ prison. The kids were allowed to go out to work-there were actually jobs available!- and make something of themselves…and return to a secure home at night.

    Beats sleeping in the old car in Las Vegas, begging for food at the food bank, as too many of our kids do nowadays.

    Debtors’ prison really wasn’t such a bad deal.

    I still can’t figure out how it actually discouraged debt.

  18. 18
    kay says:

    @mclaren:

    I don’t understand why people who live there don’t object to this, mclaren. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s expensive to put someone in jail for 48 hours. Why are these judges using public resources to collect a private debt? Courts aren’t collection agencies. Creditors are supposed to pay to collect their own bad debt. It’s not my job to cover the cost of collecting a loan that went bad. Lenders get access to process and a judgment. Taxpayers don’t pay to collect the debt.

    Taxpayers foot the bill for arresting and jailing debtors. In many cases, Minnesota judges set bail at the amount owed.
    In Minnesota, judges have issued arrest warrants for people who owe as little as $85 — less than half the cost of housing an inmate overnight. Debtors targeted for arrest owed a median of $3,512 in 2009, up from $2,201 five years ago.

    It’s an incredibly stupid idea. I can’t believe this guy is selling “fiscal prudence”.
    He’s a moron who apparently can’t do basic arithmetic. How much is it going to cost taxpayers to put every bankruptcy filer in prison?
    It might be cheaper to let the irresponsible lenders who make loans to everyone with a pulse take huge losses on uncollectable debt and go out of business. Problem solved.

  19. 19
    funluvn says:

    Let’s do a trade with the righties. They can have debtors prison for people that don’t meet their financial responsibilities if we can make the rules for what is financially responsible.

    It’s a win / win situation! Kind of like when Adali Stevenson made this declaration back in the 1950’s:

    I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends… that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.

  20. 20
    burnspbesq says:

    @mclaren:

    Don’t be ridiculous. If you miss a court-ordered payment, you don’t get thrown in jail for being in debt; you get thrown in jail for being in contempt of court. Or is that distinction too subtle for you?

  21. 21
    kay says:

    @burnspbesq:

    I can’t believe municipal judges are ordering and then administering payment schedules, for a private debt. That’s insane. They wouldn’t do anything else.
    I can see victim’s criminal restitution, or child support, or tax arrears, some public interest, but a private debt? I can’t imagine how that would work.
    They’re not doing it here. They get a judgment and then it’s “good luck collecting that”. I’d refuse to pay for it. Why is it my job? Minnesotans are getting played.

  22. 22
    Bill Arnold says:

    I’m cool with this, IF we do away with the legal construct of limited liability corporations and jail all shareholders of corporations that go bankrupt, and their families, if they can’t pay their share of the corporation’s debts.

  23. 23
    harlana peppper says:

    “we need to hold people accountable when they do imprudent things”

    Somehow, I don’t think he was taking into consideration the fact that a corporation is legally a “person”

  24. 24
    Keith says:

    This guy would totally be my bitch in debtor’s prison.

  25. 25
    kay says:

    Unsecured lenders collect astronomical interest because they are taking the risk that the credit they extended is uncollectable, and it isn’t secured by any asset. That’s how they get paid. Collecting interest.
    I don’t think we should coddle them by securitizing their risk through the court system. It’s unsecured debt. I didn’t tell them to extend it, and there are few or no limits on the interest they can charge. Credit card lenders get huge interest payments and a court-enforced secured debt? Sweet deal.
    If they’re bad at assessing risk, and have default after default, they don’t belong in that business, and they should go out of business.

  26. 26
    frankdawg says:

    @wobbly:

    Discouraging debt is very very very simple – don’t offer credit to poor risks. Don’t give credit cards to teens without jobs, don’t give home mortgages to people with no proof of income, don’t give multiple credit cards who’s total credit limit exceeds the persons ability to pay.

    Of course there will be a substantial impact on the American GDP & hamper many individuals pursuit of happiness.

    It would also help prevent bad debt if credit cards companies could not make minimum payments less than enough to cover the interest accrued or to change interest rates once the contract is agreed to.

    That would discourage a lot of the behavior in the first paragraph.

  27. 27
    frankdawg says:

    @wobbly:
    Dwight Armstrong:
    A sad little man caught up in the times & reacting in anger to a horrible situation he wanted to change but could not.

    You cannot defeat an enemy by taking up their habits, you become the enemy.

  28. 28
    lawguy says:

    @burnspbesq:

    You are still in jail right? Or am I missing something. You are still in jail because you can’t pay a court ordered amount of money that you couldn’t pay before it was court ordered, right?

  29. 29
    kay says:

    @frankdawg:

    Of course there will be a substantial impact on the American GDP & hamper many individuals pursuit of happiness.

    Bingo. Not to mention they won’t collect all that interest while they’re waiting for the debtor to totally implode. I love, love, love how conservatives want to return to days of yore unless we’re talking about the finance industry, or the creditor end of the creditor-lender relationship.
    Can I have usury laws back? I’ll make a trade. I think a lot of these debtors can make these payments if they weren’t paying 28% on the debt, and making tens of thousands in interest payments that never reach the principle.
    “Usury” is an old-fashioned, conservative word. What was wrong with that? I want a return to old fashioned values. For bankers.

  30. 30
    Honus says:

    @Bill Arnold: Good point. In fact, debtors prison was abolished at roughly the same time the private business corporation was authorized so that’s appropriate. Of course Mr. Walker would find this linkage absurd. You obviously can’t imprison businessmen and speculators for precisely the same bad decisions as working class individuals in order to teach them fiscal discipline.

  31. 31
    cmorenc says:

    Has this David Walker realized just how many Wall Street masters of the universe over at AIG, (the former) Lehman Bros., etc. this debtor’s prison notion would include? Or do they get to walk away scott free because technically, these people were working for corporate entities (but taking immense personal profit from them because of directly undertaking immense financial risk on behalf of the corporation)?

  32. 32
    cmorenc says:

    Why didn’t the hosts over at CNBC question Mr. Walker about this very clear potential implication of his “debtor prison” ideas – that if it could apply to ordinary consumer debtors, how does he draw any meaningful distinction with masters of the universe over on Wall Street who incur huge financial indebtednes risks in order to enjoy immense personal profits if their gambles pay off?

  33. 33
    Honus says:

    OT, but relevant in that the Pope is upset that his organization is being treated the same as a suburbanite who downloads child porn:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new.....hurch.html

  34. 34
    Michael says:

    The good part for the corporatists is that Evangelicals LOVE the idea of debtors prisons. It gives them somebody to make the right concerned sounds and prayers about while doing nothing to mitigate it (the typical fucking lazy assed right wing conservative Christian way), something for the preachers to rail at their congregations to avoid, and it turns into bunches of low wage prison guard jobs to sop up the unskilled angry male bullies that Evangelical congregations seem to spawn in such great number.

    “Morning in America”, bitches.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU-IBF8nwSY

  35. 35

    Don’t worry. I’m sure those prisons would be privately run in order to limit government interference in free enterprise, hooray!

    What?

  36. 36
    Allison W. says:

    Do these guys realize the impact on the economy and multi-million dollar bonuses for CEO’s? You know, all those jobs they care so much about?

  37. 37

    19th century? If they want to go back there, let’s take away their air conditioning.

  38. 38
    ET says:

    And then when in their fantasy world we colonize Mars we can send them to the out space penal colony……

  39. 39
    ET says:

    I wish I could ask him who pays for that.

  40. 40
    Roger Moore says:

    @harlana peppper:

    I suspect that what he really meant was, “we need to hold the little people accountable when they do imprudent things”. That would be much more in keeping with contemporary Conservative thinking. It wouldn’t do to hold the Masters of the Universe accountable for their bad decisions.

  41. 41
    Bill Murray says:

    The thing I don’t get about throwing debtors in prison, is how exactly the debtor is supposed to get the money to pay off their debt while in prison?

  42. 42

    I was a member of the Concord Coalition during the 90s.

    I noticed the group didn’t raise its voice (effectively) against either Bush tax cuts or the Iraq War.

    That was when I stopped believing the organization cared about the federal debt/deficit.

  43. 43
    Nylund says:

    I’ve had a fair amount of interaction with economists in both academic and government settings and I’d say most are very reasonable and clear headed. I’m not really sure why its the crazy ones that dominate the debate in public.

  44. 44
    Jules says:

    This is going on in Arkansas…
    And the thing to remember is that we are talking about unsecured credit card debt that is not even owned by the original CC company. These debts have normally been sold and there are companies out there who buy the debts, try to get money and when they don’t take the debtors to court for what was an unsecured debt. They then get a judgement which can then jump a debt of $600 to over $1000 or so. If they can’t garnish wages or bank accounts then they can ask the judge to issue a warrant.

    (don’t ask how I know…but let’s just say I have nightmares about the Sheriff coming to my door.)

  45. 45
    Jules says:

    I should add that there is a whole industry here of lawyers for whom collecting the debt via the court system is all they do.

  46. 46
    tractor says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out that Walker is the former US Comptroller General, which is kind of like being the head accountant of the government. This is the first time I’ve heard him talk about debtor’s prison. Generally his focus has been the future problems we face due the escalating national debt, something he started addressing during the Bush years. You can take a 30 second clip and use your quaint bloggerism to call him a “very serious person”, but really he does have a firm grasp of the economic numbers. And while he says Social Security will cause us some problems, he rightly targets Medicare as being the the big problem going forward. For the most part, Walker has simply done calculations of our future liabilities, has concluded that we are unprepared to meet them.

    Personally, I think this post is a case of some pretty lazy blogging (identify the man’s credentials correctly at least). Is this man a part of the “glibertarian right”? And “he’s not talking about AIG and Citigroup, as far as I can tell”? Does DougJ actually know Walker’s opinion on the credit crisis?

    Yes, the whole idea of debtor’s prison is bad. But our current crisis is due to over-leveraging throughout the system, banks, individuals, and the government included. The problems are only going to get worse. Generally speaking, that has been Walker’s main point. If you really listen to everything the man is saying , it’s hard to argue with his numbers.

  47. 47
    Violet says:

    @cmorenc:

    Why didn’t the hosts over at CNBC question Mr. Walker about this very clear potential implication of his “debtor prison” ideas – that if it could apply to ordinary consumer debtors, how does he draw any meaningful distinction with masters of the universe over on Wall Street who incur huge financial indebtednes risks in order to enjoy immense personal profits if their gambles pay off?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Wait, have to catch my breath.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Thanks for a good laugh. As if the CNBC hosts would ever ask someone like Mr. Walker a question like that.

    Ha.

  48. 48
    tractor says:

    Walker on the Daily Show:

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/wa.....vid-walker

    Jon Stewart: “This may be the most sensible book I have read on the way the government finances itself.”

  49. 49
    TuiMel says:

    @kay:

    Agree.

  50. 50
    Davis X. Machina says:

    The thing I don’t get about throwing debtors in prison, is how exactly the debtor is supposed to get the money to pay off their debt while in prison?

    Edifying spectacle, not asset recovery, is the point of the operation.

  51. 51
    Corner Stone says:

    @Honus: I read that blurb off Yahoo!News, except the headline there was “Pope Deplores Belgian Sex Raids”

    I was confused but intrigued.

  52. 52
    LD50 says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Edifying spectacle, not asset recovery, is the point of the operation.

    Yes, conservatives are more than happy to lose money for the gratification of punishing people.

  53. 53
    sunsin says:

    @Linda Featheringill:

    Life was quite difficult for everyone but landed, adult males of European descent.

    Now, what is the demographic most enthusiastic for this regression again? Right, landed, adult males of European descent — and their kept women, of course, who might be in for a nasty surprise nevertheless.

  54. 54
    PurpleGirl says:

    @tractor: Walker has currently whored himself to Peter G. Peterson as the head of the Peterson Foundation. Peterson has pledged to spend $1 billion to end Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Therefore he follows the company line… entitlements bad and fiscally irresponsible people deserve bad treatment and never being fiscally secure again in their lifetimes. Sounds hyperbolic, I agree, but I believe that this is in essence what Peterson wants. Of course Peterson has more money than he can spend in several lifetimes.

  55. 55
    Corner Stone says:

    @PurpleGirl:

    Walker has currently whored himself to Peter G. Peterson as the head of the Peterson Foundation.

    Agreed. Anyone who allies themselves with Peterson deserves a very sceptical reception, no matter what they have said or done in the past.

  56. 56
    bemused says:

    @LD50:
    You said it. Middle class & moderate income R’s get livid if their next door neighbor gets something they don’t ranging from people on food stamps to teachers getting the summer off. They resent unmarried teen mothers getting any kind of help and think city/county/employees get paid way too much. They always say they don’t want their taxes paying for any of that but are pretty silent on massive tax breaks ultra wealthy & corps get. Very odd disconnect.

  57. 57
    Brachiator says:

    we need to hold people accountable when they do imprudent things

    This is the best argument I’ve heard yet for throwing the BP executives in jail immediately for their part in the Gulf oil disaster.

    @tractor:

    Yes, the whole idea of debtor’s prison is bad. But our current crisis is due to over-leveraging throughout the system, banks, individuals, and the government included. The problems are only going to get worse. Generally speaking, that has been Walker’s main point. If you really listen to everything the man is saying , it’s hard to argue with his numbers.

    It’s not only that the whole idea of debtor’s prison is bad, it is that Walker’s comment, especially for someone who used to be Comptroller General, is incredibly dumbass. It’s not like Walker made any coherent argument that debtor’s prisons contributed to the financial stability of 19th Britain or the United States.

    As for his other points: I’m just not impressed. I wonder, for example, why it is a good thing for the Fed to push interest rates down to near zero, but to still allow credit card rates to hover steadily in double digits, especially as wages continue to stagnate and unemployment climbs. Individuals and businesses are over leveraged with debt because for some credit is the only way that they think that they can make ends meet. This may be unsustainable in the long run, but in the short run for some it’s the only game in town.

  58. 58
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @LD50: Them’s what got, don’t need more, not right away.

    Them’s what don’t still need to sign off on things, at least every other November.

    You’ll get them to screw themselves over only if you provide them with a narrative, starring themselves, or people who look like them, in which people who don’t look like them get punished, that is so familiar, and so entrancing, that they keep on voting for it, even though the ground is opening up under their feet.

    The rich can afford to play the long game, provided they can get the poor to live in the moment. If my balance sheet feeds your morality, or vice versa, though only one of us goes home to a hovel, we both go home happy.

    It’s not like Walker made any coherent argument that debtor’s prisons contributed to the financial stability of 19th Britain or the United States.

    Moral rectitude, not profit-maximization, is the goal.

  59. 59
    Kyle says:

    @LD50:

    Because bullies get a boner at the thought of punishing people. And right-wing bullies get an extra boost from getting to judge people and feel self-righteous and morally superior. Actually solving the problem is for demoncrats and soshulists and wusses.

    And like most bullies they are cowards, which is why they go after schoolteachers and the needy instead of the rich and powerful, like corporations getting multi-billion-dollar tax breaks.

  60. 60
    Davis X. Machina says:

    you can’t have a viable GOP, and MA certainly doesn’t.

    Well, they do, but it’s more of a modeling agency than a political party….

  61. 61
    pj says:

    @Honus: “A second raid took place at the nearby home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 77, where police officers seized a personal computer belonging to the former head of Belgium’s Catholic Church.”

    Godfrey Daniels!

  62. 62
    Bill Murray says:

    @Davis X. Machina: ah so it’s the death penalty argument

  63. 63
    Bill Murray says:

    @Corner Stone: I wonder where the pope plores sex raids

  64. 64
    Corner Stone says:

    @Bill Murray: I think we all know the answer to that.
    Sleepover!!

  65. 65
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Linda Featheringill:

    Why would people want to go back to that?

    Presumably because people of color knew their place (in the field or in the kitchen), gays were dead or in jail, and white males could do no wrong.

  66. 66
    celticdragonchick says:

    There should be a sarc tag on my post, btw.

    I love re-enacting the late 18th Century, but I would not want to live there…

  67. 67
    Honus says:

    @Bill Murray: you just don’t get it. Everything in our society is a free choice. If these people didn’t hoose not pay their debts, they wouldn’t be in debtor’s prison. To get out, they simply have to choose to pay their debts.
    Or, as Kurt Vonnegut said, “one of the cruelest things about our society is the idea that a man can solve his own problems.”

  68. 68
    russell says:

    Ever read “Little Dorrit”?

    Dude, that was a novel.

    For the most part, Walker has simply done calculations of our future liabilities, has concluded that we are unprepared to meet them.

    Yes, he ran the numbers and figured out that we’re on track to be heavily in debt. Clearly, the man is a genius.

    His solution is that we should all wake up, smell the coffee, and begin to act responsibly.

    The example he offers of that principle in action is debtors’ prison. Because clearly the heart of our financial problems is household debt, and the solution to that is throwing people in jail if they can’t make their bills.

    Bankruptcy is just a way of coddling lazy-ass spendthrifts. It’s a get-out-jail-free card.

    So yeah, he has a nice resume, but I don’t want this guy within 100,000 miles of making any kind of policy I am going to have to live under.

  69. 69
    Zach says:

    It’s hilarious how the same people who deride Obama for overstepping the bounds of his constitutional power with the stimulus and health reform go in for this stuff (this, along with the hope that the Federal government will crack down on mortgage defaulters, strategic and otherwise). Stepping in and inventing new penalties for violating existing contracts is way less intrusive than a healthcare subsidy, right?

  70. 70
    kcdad says:

    Uh… WHEN did we ever have debtor prisons in this country, this society, this continent?

    Is this person confused about who WE are?

  71. 71
    Corner Stone says:

    @kcdad:

    Is this person confused about who WE are?

    He’s not confused in the slightest. WE are the ones who pay the rent. THEY are the rent collectors.

  72. 72

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