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Pandemic Jubilee

Why debt forgiveness of biblical proportions would be a game-changer.


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Dr. Tiffany Jana

3 years ago | 5 min read

Historically, a jubilee erased the debts of the poor, restored property to its rightful owners, and freed the enslaved. 2019 marked the 400th year since the first enslaved Africans were brought to America.

Reparations were a topic in the 2019/2020 US Presidential primary cycle. 2020 marks the first global pandemic resulting in wartime casualty levels and Depression Era unemployment and poverty. This is the right moment to consider:

  • Debt forgiveness at all levels of the global economy (personal, institutional, and national)
  • Restoration of liberties and rights for the currently incarcerated (Look to the humanity of the German penal system or consider the abolition of prisons. Stay with me. Crisis conditions call for radical action. Retribution bias blocks us from experiencing “criminals” as equally human.)
  • Re-enfranchisement for those whose freedom is limited by felony records after their debt to society has been paid.

The disparate impact of the Coronavirus alone should be enough for systems to offer immediate relief in the form of debt cancellation for developing nations and the most economically disadvantaged people around the world.

Yet the reality of contemporary life is that even in wealthy nations like the United States, an increasing majority of residents have been buckling under the weight of crippling debt for decades.

So a jubilee year would also alleviate pressure on the shrinking, struggling middle class and the small businesses that sustain the American economy by employing the lion’s share of the US workforce.

It may be time to reconsider innovating alternative forms of currency including–– and beyond–– digital and democratized barter systems.

Economic recovery will be exponentially faster and more efficient if people know they can spend guilt-free (and save for the next crisis) instead of getting back on a the unforgiving hamster wheel of financial despair.

It has become clear that the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will be felt for years to come.

The bounce-back from our steep decline in jobs and economic activity will be crippled even further if people realize that the diameter of the hole they were already existing to dig out of has only expanded.

I worry most for the mental health of the underserved and the working class.

We are already seeing spikes in depression, alcoholism, intimate terrorism, and child abuse.

How long before people start turning the guns that are flying off shelves at unprecedented speeds on themselves and others? We can not afford a failure to provide relief from the seemingly insurmountable pressure of our debt systems — social debt through incarceration or financial debt.

Economic recovery will be exponentially faster and more efficient if people know they can spend guilt-free (and save for the next crisis) instead of getting back on a the unforgiving hamster wheel of financial despair.

Early signs of compassion need to extend beyond the pandemic. Releasing non-violent and vulnerable individuals from prison early, expanded healthcare coverage, paid employee leave protections, and rent forgiveness for the economically impacted are steps in the right direction.

As we reimagine a better world for ourselves on the other side of tragedy, can we invent our way out of the broken models we’ve exalted for far too long? Are we going to hold industries like Big Pharma accountable for literally price gauging us to death? Will we stay silent as corporations extract Earth’s resources at the expense of our own existence? Our species and our planet can no longer afford systems that privilege the few over the many, profit over people and planet.

Look to the B Corp movement for a better way to do business while making a difference.

We may not have invented the broken systems bequeathed to us, but we tacitly endorsed our inheritance as we opted in through our selfish complicity.

None of us wants to live locked indoors — under-resourced, alone, and afraid. People in our prison systems live that way ad infinitum. Quarantine references to the “Groundhog’s Day” movie aren’t so funny to the population of people who happen to be incarcerated. We know our suffering will end, yet we remain distraught.

Watch 13th on Netflix to understand how unjust our criminal justice system is and why I would choose to conflate these issues at this time.

I pray we find deeper connection to, and empathy for, the breadth of the human condition through these experiences. Liberating people who have often been unnecessarily imprisoned instead of helped or treated, will add beautiful, productive souls back into our communities.

Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, grandparents, entrepreneurs — you name it. Societal wealth languishes in cells beyond our sight because of the legacy of the delusion of white supremacy.

I have come to know amazing people who have exited their cells and shone their lights back into the world in extraordinary ways through extraordinary programs. Innocent people are still imprisoned for being poor.

Now is the time to course correct. Our collective karma is awful. Let’s get right with humanity.

Globally, we can afford to take care of the sick, feed the hungry, and empower the poor — if we reconsider the availability of resources. We must reimagine how to care for the least privileged among us as lovingly and thoughtfully as we care for those with means, or those like us.

We must never forget that the world that yielded this disaster is one entirely of our own creation. We may not have invented the broken systems bequeathed to us, but we tacitly endorsed our inheritance as we opted in through our selfish complicity.

The way out will require collective intentionality about an equitable path forward.

We must learn from the past. The economic and systemic strides that were made after the Black Plague have echoed for generations.

We have an opportunity to hit the reset button. Mother Nature made the first move. Our ancient wisdom teaches us the power of debt forgiveness and restoration of liberty through jubilee as a powerful next step.

Dr. Tiffany Jana (they/them) is the author of four books published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers: Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships across Differences , Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion, the IPPY Award winning second edition of The B Corp Handbook, and Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions.

Follow their YouTube docuseries Life With Doc Jana for a more personal journey.

Dr. Jana is an international public speaker, and the founder of the TMI Portfolio of Companies — a collection of socially responsible and interconnected companies working to advance more culturally inclusive and equitable workforces.

Now offering 100% virtual JEDI support. TMI Consulting, a portfolio company, is a Benefit Corporation as well as a certified B Corporation and earned the 2016, 2018, and 2019 Best for the World honor from the nonprofit B Lab that certifies B Corps worldwide.

They have been featured in the New York Times, Psychology Today, Fast Company, SXSW, and Forbes. Dr. Jana gave a TEDx talk in December 2012 as part of TEDxRVAWomen.

They earned the 2017 Enterprising Women of the Year Award from Enterprising Women Magazine. They were named one of the 2018 Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc.com and are a columnist for CEO World Magazine.

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