Many ancient civilizations, aware of the burden that permanent debt could impose on a society, celebrated a special year (in Egypt the 30th year of a pharaoh’s reign) when debts were relieved and slaves freed. The Hebrews developed this into a year when the land was to be rested and the return of all property to its original owners of their heirs.
“The land is not to be sold for ever, for the land is mine, for you are strangers, my tenant farmers.” Leviticus 25:23
The Christian church took this even further. In 1300 Pope Boniface VIII declared a holy year, when sins would be forgiven and debts annulled for all who undertook a pilgrimage to Rome.
In modern times the Jubilee Debt Coalition called for the unpayable debts of the poorest countries to be cancelled.
Nobel winning economist Paul Krugman, one of the few to see the debt crisis coming, has argued that the only way to prevent the world suffering a twenty year depression would be for all international debt to be cancelled.
However, it is going to be difficult to persuade the rest of the world that, just because her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been sitting on the throne for 60 years, all debt everywhere should be cancelled. Just cancelling debt in the UK will achieve little, although it would solve my problem of how to pay for Christmas 2010.
Instead I propose the more modest solution of abolishing slavery in this country.
Illegal immigrants perform the work traditionally done by slaves, the unpleasant things that the indigenous population no longer wants to do: care work, cleaning, vegetable and fruit picking. Being illegal they cost us dear. In the London Review of Books immigration expert Jeremy Harding quoted a study from the National Audit Office estimating that it costs £28k to remove a family of failed asylum seekers so that the bill for deporting all unauthorised migrants and their dependants could be as high as £8 billion and, at current deportation levels, would take between 15 to 30 years to achieve as well as causing crisis in the industries who depend on their labour.
In 2009 a report commissioned by the Mayor of London and carried out by the LSE suggested that an amnesty for irregular immigrants could produce £846m extra a year in tax and insurance revenues.
So let’s get back to basics. By all means plant a tree for the Queen’s jubilee if that’s what you want or swell with pride as a Herefordshire made barge carries Her Maj down the Thames. But also let’s have a real jubilee and free the slaves that are amongst us.