Debt Repudiation: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

As I noted in November:

Debtors are revolting against exorbitant interest rates and fees and other aggressive tactics by the too big to fail banks. See this, this, and this.

Congresswoman Kaptur advises her constituents facing foreclosure to demand that the original mortgage papers be produced. She says that – if the bank can’t produce the mortgage papers – then the homeowner can stay in the house.

Portfolio manager and investment advisor Marshall Auerback argues that a debtor’s revolt would be a good thing.

And even popular personal finance advisor Suze Orman is highlighting the debtors revolt phenomenon on her national tv show.

Walking away from home mortgages has actually become mainstream, being trumpeted by:

  • Many others

In addition, as I pointed out in February:

There is an established legal principle that people should not have to repay their government’s debt to the extent that it is incurred to launch aggressive wars or to oppress the people.

Matt Taibbi wrote Monday:

As powerful as these Wall Street banks may seem, they are also exquisitely vulnerable. Right now virtually all of them are dependent upon the government keeping accounting standards lax enough for all of them to claim to be functional businesses. It is generally accepted that if the major banks on Wall Street were forced to mark all of their assets to market tomorrow, they would all be either insolvent or close to it.

Thus their “healthy” financial status is already illusory. So imagine what would happen if large numbers of those dubious loans on their balance sheets that they have marked down as “performing” were suddenly pushed ahead of time into the default column. What if Greece, and the Pennsylvania school system, and Jefferson County, Alabama, and the countless other municipalities and states that are wrapped up in these corrupt deals just decided to declare their debts illegitimate and back out?

I think it’s an interesting question and would like to hear what knowledgeable people in the field have to say about it. But the big picture, to me, is that these companies are almost totally dependent not only upon the continued good faith of aggrieved debtors, but upon the government recognizing the (sometimes fraudulent) loans made to those debtors as fully performing.

Similarly, Gregor MacDonald argued in February 2009:

The private sector debt in the United States exerts the same power over the banking system as the public debt of the United States exerts over our international creditors. Collectively, the debtors are in control. Not the creditors. This is why the the Creditors, not the Debtors, will be making most of the concessions in the years ahead. Whether the US public debt is inflated away, rescheduled, or repudiated–or some combination of all three–it doesn’t matter much. The process is already underway.

Former Managing Director and board member of Wall Street investment bank Dillon Read, president of Hamilton Securities Group, Inc., an investment bank, and former government servant Catherin Austin Fitts wrote Tuesday:

Look up “fraudulent inducement.” My position as the former Assistant Secretary of Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner and then as lead financial advisor to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is that the majority of the mortgages originated in the United States after 1996 were fraudulently induced.

The way to deal with criminals is to treat our contracts with them in a manner reciprocal to how they have treated their contracts with us.

Will a growing movement to abrogate contracts with institutions who have broken the law be disruptive? Yes. Will that require painful adjustments? Yes. That is the price we pay to deal with the challenges we face. This includes the fact that the banks have sold criminally originated debts to our pension funds and retirement accounts as well as to allies and institutions around the world.

It is much less painful, however, than the price we will pay if we continue to operate by a double standard whereby large institutions and a small group of people are permitted to live and operate above the law. So let’s address the lawlessness in the financial sector, face the national security issues involved in using our financial markets for economic warfare and begin the transformation.

Austrian economist Murray Rothbard wrote in 1992:

I propose … out-right debt repudiation. Consider this question: why should the poor, battered citizens of Russia or Poland or the other ex-Communist countries be bound by the debts contracted by their former Communist masters? In the Communist situation, the injustice is clear: that citizens struggling for freedom and for a free-market economy should be taxed to pay for debts contracted by the monstrous former ruling class. But this injustice only differs by degree from “normal” public debt. For, conversely, why should the Communist government of the Soviet Union have been bound by debts contracted by the Czarist government they hated and overthrew? And why should we, struggling American citizens of today, be bound by debts created by a … ruling elite who contracted these debts at our expense?


Although largely forgotten by historians and by the public, repudiation of public debt is a solid part of the American tradition. The first wave of repudiation of state debt came during the 1840′s, after the panics of 1837 and 1839. Those panics were the consequence of a massive inflationary boom fueled by the Whig-run Second Bank of the United States. Riding the wave of inflationary credit, numerous state governments, largely those run by the Whigs, floated an enormous amount of debt, most of which went into wasteful public works (euphemistically called “internal improvements”), and into the creation of inflationary banks. Outstanding public debt by state governments rose from $26 million to $170 million during the decade of the 1830′s. Most of these securities were financed by British and Dutch investors.

During the deflationary 1840′s succeeding the panics, state governments faced repayment of their debt in dollars that were now more valuable than the ones they had borrowed. Many states, now largely in Democratic hands, met the crisis by repudiating these debts, either totally or partially by scaling down the amount in “readjustments.” Specifically, of the 28 American states in the 1840′s, nine were in the glorious position of having no public debt, and one (Missouri’s) was negligible; of the 18 remaining, nine paid the interest on their public debt without interruption, while another nine (Maryland, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida) repudiated part or all of their liabilities. Of these states, four defaulted for several years in their interest payments, whereas the other five (Michigan, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida) totally and permanently repudiated their entire outstanding public debt. As in every debt repudiation, the result was to lift a great burden from the backs of the taxpayers in the defaulting and repudiating states.


The next great wave of state debt repudiation came in the South after the blight of Northern occupation and Reconstruction had been lifted from them. Eight Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) proceeded, during the late 1870′s and early 1880′s under Democratic regimes, to repudiate the debt foisted upon their taxpayers by the corrupt and wasteful carpetbag Radical Republican governments under Reconstruction.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in 2009:

In the end, the only way out of all this global debt may prove to be a Biblical debt Jubilee.

Economist Steve Keen is also calling for a debt jubilee, stating:

We should write the debt off, bankrupt the banks, nationalize the financial system, and start all over again.

We need a twenty-first century jubilee.

[We’re going into] a never-ending depression unless we repudiate the debt, which never should have been extended in the first place.

If we keep the parasitic banking sector alive, the economy dies. We have to kill the parasites and give a chance to the real economy to thrive once more and stop the financial [crooks] doing what they did this time around ever again.

And economist Michael Hudson – who also calls for a debt jubiliee – wrote yesterday:

The only way to resolve the [European debt crisis] is to negotiate a debt write-off…

The most cynical (but not necessarily inaccurate) view of debt I’ve seen is that banks loan out imaginary money they don’t really have, which money is “collateralized” by capital they do not really have, which is, in turn, based upon central bank printing presses which create money out of thin air which the central banks don’t really have. But then when debtors have trouble repaying onerous loans, the bankers seize real assets. See this and this.


In First National Bank v. Daly (often referred to as the “Credit River” case) the court found that the bank created money “out of thin air”:

[The president of the First National Bank of Montgomery] admitted that all of the money or credit which was used as a consideration [for the mortgage loan given to the defendant] was created upon their books, that this was standard banking practice exercised by their bank in combination with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneaopolis, another private bank, further that he knew of no United States statute or law that gave the Plaintiff [bank] the authority to do this.

The court also held:

The money and credit first came into existence when they [the bank] created it.

(Here’s the case file).

Justice courts are just local courts, and not as powerful or prestigious as state supreme courts, for example. And it was not a judge, but a justice of the peace who made the decision.

But what is important is that the president of the First National Bank of Montgomery apparently admitted that his bank created money by simply making an entry in its book …

The judge voided the mortgage, since he found that the bank hadn’t given any real consideration, but simply created money out of thin air.

In other words, according to the most cynical view, the entire debt-money system is a scam … and should be repudiated.

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