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Debt relief is the partial or total forgiveness of debt, or the slowing or stopping of debt growth, owed by individuals, corporations, or nations. It concerns in particular the Third World debt, which started exploding with the Latin American debt crisis (Mexico 1982, etc.).

Debt relief for heavily indebted and underdeveloped developing countries was the subject in the 1990s of a campaign by a broad coalition of development NGOs, Christian organizations and others, under the banner of Jubilee 2000. This campaign, involving, for example, demonstrations at the 1998 G8 meeting in Birminghammarker, was successful in pushing debt relief onto the agenda of Western governments and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fundmarker and World Bank. Ultimately the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative was launched to provide systematic debt relief for the poorest countries, whilst trying to ensure the money would be spent on poverty reduction.

The HIPC programme has been subject to conditionalities similar to those often attached to IMF and World Bank loans, requiring structural adjustment reforms, sometimes including the privatisation of public utilities, including water and electricity. To qualify for irrevocable debt relief, countries must also maintain macroeconomic stability and implement a Poverty Reduction Strategy satisfactorily for at least one year. Under the goal of reducing inflation, some countries have been pressured to reduce spending in the health and education sectors.

The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) is an extension of HIPC. The MDRI was agreed following the G8's Gleneagles meeting in July 2005. It offers 100% cancellation of multilateral debts owed by HIPC countries to the World Bank, IMFmarker and African Development Bank.

Origins

Debt relief existed in a number of ancient societies:
  • Debt forgiveness is mentioned in the Book of Leviticus, in which God councils Moses to forgive debts in certain cases every Jubilee year – at the end of Shmita, the last year of the seven year agricultural cycle or a 49-year cycle, depending on interpretation.
  • This same theme was found in an ancient bilingual Hittite-Hurrian text entitled the "The Song of Debt Release".
  • Debt forgiveness was also found in Ancient Athensmarker, where in the 6th century BCE, the lawmaker Solon instituted a set of laws called seisachtheia, which canceled all debts and retroactively canceled previous debts that had caused slavery and serfdom, freeing debt slaves and debt serfs.


Arguments against debt relief

Opponents of debt relief argue that it is a blank cheque to governments, and fear savings will not reach the poor in countries plagued by corruption. Others argue that countries will go out and contract further debts, under the belief that these debts will also be forgiven in some future date. They use the money to enhance the wealth and spending ability of the rich, many of whom will spend or invest this money in the rich countries, thus not even creating a trickle-down effect. They argue that the money would be far better spent in specific aid projects which actually help the poor. They further argue that it would be unfair to third-world countries that managed their credit successfully, or don't go into debt in the first place, that is, it actively encourages third world governments to overspend in order to receive debt relief in the future.Others argue against the conditionalities attached to debt relief. These conditions of structural adjustment have a history, especially in Latin America, of widening the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as increasing economic dependence on the global North.

Personal debt relief

Personal debt has become an increasingly large problem in recent years. For instance, it is estimated that the average US household has $19,000 in non-mortgage debt. With such large debt loads, many individuals have difficulty making repayments on debts and are in need of help.

There are many companies who offer debt consolidation services. However, such services may not always be in the best interests of the person involved and may involve taking out a loan secured by a person's home. Marketing materials are designed to persuade customers to take up the company's offer rather than offering a personal best solution for reducing debt. Where debt has become a problem, it is often best to turn to an independent consumer's association for advice before calling debt consolidation companies as consumer's associations often have great experience with such problems and may be able to advise the most effective avenues for debt relief.

As long as some form of Chapter 7 bankruptcy debt relief exists within American law, the credit card companies must pay attention, and do as much as they can to help their clients repay debts through relatively traditional means (depending upon the service those clients have entered). Even leaving bankruptcy aside, it is in the best interest of credit card companies that their debtors at least feel some motivation to continue repaying their accounts and not simply disappear or view those ever growing balances as untouchable.

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