The Bankruptcy Bill and Indentured Servitude
March 9, 2005
By Dan Gougherty
You really have got to hand it to the credit card companies, Republicans
and a handful of Democrats. They have accomplished something in
the new bankruptcy bill rarely seen in legislation – they have turned
bankruptcy laws on their head and staged an attack on the Constitution.
Since the Constitution was ratified, Congress has passed several
bankruptcy laws that have generally grown more progressive. Our
current bankruptcy laws were largely established with the Bankruptcy
Act of 1898 that allowed for our current system of voluntary and
involuntary personal bankruptcies.
The Federalist Papers state:
The power of establishing uniform laws of bankruptcy is so
intimately connected with the regulation of commerce, and will
prevent so many frauds, where the parties or their property
may lie, or be removed into different states, that the expediency
of it seems not likely to be drawn in question.
In a weird way, the Founding Fathers' intent sounds like Bush's
so-called self-regulation. The idea is that if given the proper
financial incentives and penalties, businesses will self-regulate
themselves. Bankruptcy laws that help debtors would ideally cause
creditors to employee fiscally responsible lending practices, hence
a sort of self regulation. For the most part the bankruptcy laws
have worked as intended when creditors extend credit in a judicious
The new bankruptcy law basically removes most opportunities for
consumers to file Chapter 7 bankruptcies which discharge debts and
instead dictates Chapter 13 laws which generally require full repayment.
While Conservatives like to focus on "individual responsibility"
when it comes to consumers, why should corporations suddenly be
absolved from any degree of responsibility? That's what the new
bankruptcy law does.
With the new bankruptcy law in their pocket, it is now open season
on consumers. Without the risk of consumers defaulting on their
20% interest credit card balances, credit is going to be issued
faster than ethics violation warnings to Tom DeLay.
Which brings us to the dirty little secret of the new bankruptcy
law - an attack on the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
For those of us who slept through high school civics or just don't
flat remember, this is the amendment abolishing slavery and indentured
While the bankruptcy law won't bring back slavery, it does appear
to lay the groundwork for a new form of American indentured servitude.
By taking away a persons choice to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and
start over clean, the debtor can now be obliged to pay everything
back to the creditors no matter how long it might take. A debtor
suddenly becomes an indentured servant to the creditor. A kind of
debtor prison without the three squares a day.
Think of the possibilities. Give some 18 year-olds credit cards
with a $25,000 credit limit and let them go to town. Before you
know it, the poor suckers will only be making the minimum payment
which makes the $25,000 worth of CD's and fast food dinners infinitely
more valuable to the creditor.
Got unexpected troubles? Lost your job? Divorced? Injured on the
job? Tough luck. You're stuck, indentured if you will, to paying
that credit card off for years to come.
Sounds far-fetched? Not really. I am old enough to remember when
getting credit meant something. Credit was not extended to college
students or very young adults as they were rightfully deemed a poor
credit risk. Even to this day, it is nearly impossible for someone
less than 25 years of age to rent a car because of the insurance
risk, yet they can get tens of thousands of dollars in credit to
purchase the latest fashions from Old Navy.
So while conservatives and credit card companies like to rant
and rave about personal responsibility, remember it is the creditors
who will continue to irresponsibly issue credit, not be held accountable
and effectively "indenture" debtors for years to come.
What's next? Who knows, maybe we will see the return of debtor's
Visit Dan Gougherty's blog at www.ltobs.blogspot.com.