|In the 1990s, campaigners began a|
momentous undertaking that changed
how millions of people see the world.
Photo: Luis Perez/AFP/Getty Images
Historically, Jubilee represents forgiving debts, recognising sustainable limits and allocating wealth fairly. These principles should be at the heart of development
The millennium development goals (MDGs) were agreed 15 years ago against a backdrop of unprecedented popular campaigning. The Jubilee debt campaign was at the heart of it. When the G8 met in Birmingham in 1998, for instance, tens of thousands of Jubilee protesters formed a human chain around the city centre.
It was an unparalleled mobilisation, with unprecedented results: low-income countries’ debt fell from 69% of their national income in 2000 to 29% today.
Now we face a year in which similarly groundbreaking mobilisation is needed. The world is struggling to muster the political will for a 2C climate deal at the COP21 conference in Paris. And there is little sign of an action plan for delivering the new sustainable development goals that matches the ambitious nature of the targets themselves. The goals will be agreed in New York in September.
The Jubilee debt campaign succeeded in large part because it was based around a powerful framing. The biblical idea of Jubilee – a festival that the Israelites were supposed to observe every 49 or 50 years, when all debts were to be forgiven – resonated with people far beyond the church groups that formed the campaign’s backbone.
But the campaign was always about more than debt relief. For one thing, Jubilee campaigns were about sufficiency, recognition of sustainable limits and the need for nature to rest. Each Jubilee year was also a Sabbath year – a time of “solemn rest for the land”, as the Bible puts it. No crops were sown; people lived off what the land produced naturally.
These years were about rest for poor people, too. Liberty was proclaimed throughout the land; everyone, slaves included, was free to go home. No one was to lend money to poor people at interest, or sell them food for profit.
They were also about the fair allocation of wealth. Jubilees called for a managed reset of land ownership, which – in the agrarian context of the time – was effectively a reboot of wealth distribution, designed to reduce inequality.
These three themes – living within environmental limits, ensuring everyone can meet their basic needs, and keeping inequality from getting out of hand – are at the heart of the sustainable development agenda.
And they are also, we argue in a Tearfund report published on Thursday, the three defining features of a restorative economy – a new growth model that would embed these Jubilee principles right at its heart.
The genesis of our report was the recognition of a paradox: that while the past 15 years have in many ways been a golden age for poverty reduction, they have also made it clear that the more our current economic model succeeds at development, the more it fails on sustainability.
The Earth’s life support systems have become stretched to breaking point as more people achieve greater affluence. Tear fund is already seeing the consequences of this for people living in poverty with whom it works.
To resolve the problem, a transformation of our economy is needed. And given the formidable barriers to this happening – inertia, vested interests, institutions built for another age, public apathy – a new theory of influence is needed too.
As the report sets out, this is going to mean less time spent on insider lobbying and more on building a movement that lives the values of a restorative economy and mobilises to demand political change – exactly what we saw in the US civil rights struggle, the campaign to abolish slavery, and other movements that have overcome apparently impossible odds.
We think the movement will be shaped by a few key shifts in perspective. We need to move our thinking from “people like us” to just “people – like us”. We need to look longer-term – beyond the next news cycle, the next financial quarter, the next election. We should also be moving towards a different good life – one that understands that security, wellbeing and consumption do not mean the same thing.
These themes are vividly present in the notion of Jubilee – an idea intimately bound up with the restoration of right relationships between God, people and creation.
In the 1990s, development campaigners began a momentous undertaking that changed how millions of people see the world and the life chances of hundreds of millions living in poverty. Now, it is time to complete our unfinished millennium Jubilee through changes in our lifestyles – from living within our fair share of the world’s resources to using our power as voters, citizens and consumers – and in how we campaign for transformative political change.
• Richard Gower is co-author of the Tearfund report, and director of Foresight Economics consultancy
Source: The Guardian