October 07, 2011
A follow-up on my OWS post, Prof. McDonnell's comments to it, & Reflections on my 1st week of guestblogging
Posted by David Groshoff

Apologies in advance to anyone who beleives that this post should go in the comments section of my prior post, but because I'm going to discuss some other issues as well, I felt that it should go in as a post (I'm still learning my way around here!).

First, I’d like to thank Professor McDonnell for taking on some of my posted ideas and comments regarding Occupy Wall Street (and for his understanding of the technical issues that Usha and I dealt with this morning relative to reposting his comment)!

Second, while I stand by my post’s end quote of Murray Rothbard and ignorance of economics, I’m happy to admit my own relative ignorance of economics compared to Professor McDonnell.  Nonetheless, that won’t dissuade me from responding to a few of his points regarding my post, not only substantively but also in terms of what I’m learning about academic blogging during my guest stint here at the Glom.

While I hadn’t thought religion was necessarily appropriate for me to discuss, given (1) the Glom’s dedication to “business, law, economics, and society,” and (2) that I’d recently written a whole lot about religion in my forthcoming “God, Guns, and Gays” article and symposium presentation,  Professor McDonnell makes an excellent point about Deuteronomy 15:1 regarding debt repudiation.  And since we live in a nation of free religious exercise, we could also add to the discussion Islamic or Sharia law, which, I understand, generally prohibits payments of reba, or interest, on debt and instead requires investments such as cash flow sweeps or partnership-like transactions to remain as Sharia-compliant investments.  Given that Oklahoma  and at least a dozen other states have attempted to ban Sharia law, my statement is not to heighten the condescending and dismissive attitude I employed in my post, given that I agree with Gov. Chris Christie, that this [bashing] “Sharia law business is just crap. . . and I’m tried of dealing with the crazies” who seek to attack Americans of the Muslim faith.  Professor McDonnell’s comment about Deuteronomy also reminds me that I have yet another sin (of many) for which to repent during Yom Kippur, beginning tonight.

However, I respectfully and vigorously disagree with Professor McDonnell’s assertion that my “snide reference to Kunta Kinte show[ed] little recognition of a huge, shameful part of American history.”  My reference was not snide.  Demonstrating my recognition of this huge, shameful part of U.S. history was precisely why the name “Kunta Kinte” in my prior post hyperlinked to the scene in Roots that I thought could best contextualize, in a brief manner, the disgusting, graphic, and violent nature of slavery in the U.S.  As I argue in my above-referenced “God, Guns, and Gays” article, witnessing graphic visual violence via media often can serve as an agent for social change and understanding on important social issues.  And, thus, after linking to that graphic scene, I made the point that “I’ve never witnessed or heard of a debtor in my lifetime in the U.S. who was treated like Kunta Kinte  [in other words, in such a systematically vicious manner] because of incurred debts,” because most all U.S. debt is dischargeable.  As I then said, equating dischargeable debt to human slavery “fails to advance the legitimacy of whatever cause or demands the Occupy Wall Street crowd has,” and I stand by my assertions there.

Having said that, I quickly learned after reading my initial blog posts, that law blogging is so much harder for me than traditional legal writing, because I don’t have time to reflect and choose just the right word, share the idea and language with colleagues in the academy, and so on.  But I knew that a reference to Kunta Kinte might be provocative, which is why I ensured to limit my statement to my prior knowledge, my lifetime, and the U.S.  I intentionally referenced George Clason (hyperlinking his name in my post to his book The Richest Man in Babylon), as someone who might support the idea of debt as slavery.  I did so because Clason’s text is a classic tome about personal finance that takes place in a land in which slavery exists, slaves are bought and sold, and in which at least one character, Dabasir, tells the story of how his debt ultimately led to creditors pursuing him, his wife leaving him, his having to leave his community, and his resultingly becoming a slave (as well as an eunuch, interestingly enough).  And so to respond to Professor McDonnell’s inquiry regarding debt peonage, while I did not explicitly discuss the topic because I limited my assertion to debts in my lifetime within the U.S., I intentionally implicitly attempted to reference that debt has, in the past, and outside of the U.S., led to slavery via my mention of Clason and the hyperlink to his famous book.  Outside of the overly broad “eliminate all debt worldwide” statement, I didn’t see Operation Wall Street as having made any claims about debt peonage (though, perhaps, OWS has).

And I agree with Professor McDonnell that “we law professors should show rather more sensitivity to distress about high debt levels given the situation of many of our recent students.”  I favor a system in which student loan debt can be modified through a relaxation of “undue hardship” in a Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy scenario. And while I disagree with nearly any government-funded bailout that I can think of, if, however, a bailout had to have occurred in the U.S., my preference would have been for the bailout funds to have gone in some form to consumer debtors on their primary residences, and particularly to those consumers who were unknowing victims of fraudulently documented loan documents, not to the creditors who exacerbated the problem by drying up consumer credit after receiving bailout funds.  

I also agree that OWS might be able to spark a meaningful dialogue, and if a dialogue is indeed the endgame, then sure, it’s working, we’re talking about it on the Glom, and many other non MSM media outlets are discussing the matter as well.  But without real solutions, goals, or marketing strategies, I question the quality and expedience of any productive solutions in a terrible economy for many people.  Underscoring Professor McDonnell’s final point of attempting to pull the dialogue to “consider[] . . . stronger measures to end the depression,” my school still has a few spots open at our Symposium regarding the Great Recession and what has happened to the law since the Great Recession’s inception and what yet remains to be done, so if any academics on the Glom would like to submit and present a paper to continue the dialogue more formally in our law review, please let me, as the Symposium Organizer, know of your interest or our e-mail our law review’s Symposium Editor.

Lastly, what I think I’m also learning about blogging about law, business, economics, and society, in a more casual but still academic setting versus law journal-type scholarship, is that I can’t rely on hyperlinks to serve as “below the line” footnotes do.  For example, I can’t link to the exact page from Clason to underscore my point about debt leading to slavery, and I don’t know how often readers even actually click the hyperlink to see what it is I’m even attempting to say via the link. 

Regardless, I’m glad that I have more time left here to explore that inquiry further.  The sun will be setting soon.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

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