Theology, Ethics, and Neoliberalism
216 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: October 2017
Debt—personal, corporate, governmental—is so pervasive in contemporary economies, with its moralistic logic nearly unquestioned. Debt’s necessity renders it morally neutral, absolving it of the dehumanizing effect it brings in unbridled financialization.
In Just Debt Ilsup Ahn explores ethical implications of the practice of debt. By placing debt in the context of anthropology, philosophy, economics, and the ethical traditions provided by the Abrahamic religions, Ahn holds that debt was originally a form of gift, a gift that was intended as a means to serve humanity. Debt, as gift, had moral ends. Since the late eighteenth century, however, debt has been reduced to an amoral economic tool, one separated from its social and political context. Ahn recovers an ethics of debt and its moral economy by rediscovering debt’s forgotten aspect—that all debts entail unique human stories. Ahn argues that it is only in and by these stories that the justice of debt can be determined. In order for debt to be justly established, its story should be free from elements of exploitation, abuse, and manipulation and should conform to the principles of serviceability, payability, and shareability.
Although the contemporary global economy disconnects debt from its context, Ahn argues that debt must be firmly grounded in the world of moral values, social solidarity, and political resolution. By re-embedding debt within its moral world, Just Debt offers a holistic ethics of debt for a neoliberal age.
1. The History and Taxonomy of Amoral Debt
2. Neoliberal Financialization and the Idea of Just Debt
3. Unpayable Debt and the Ethics of Default and Bankruptcy
4. Islamic Financial Ethics and the Case against Rentier Economy of Debt
5. Jewish Ethics of Jubilee and the Question of Debt Forgiveness
6. Christianity and a Virtue Ethics of Debt
Ahn impressively crafts an ethical discussion that is wide-ranging, engaging and readable, and draws on diverse voices and traditions. It should broadly interest social ethicists, economists and philosophers. His compelling proposal for ‘just debt’ balances realism and hope, and seems a feasible and timely intervention. Numerous examples and case studies winsomely illustrate his argument.~Jacob Rollison, Studies in Christian Ethics
Debt is at the core of the encompassing neoliberal economy and its logic. Ilsup Ahn, with compelling and highly readable analyses, explains why it must also be at the core of social ethics in the twenty-first century. This book is a deeply interrogative wakeup call to social ethicists and theologians—the era of ignoring economic ethics is over. Those of them who want to remain relevant must pay attention to the lessons of this book, broaden its insights, and savor its alternative logic.~Nimi Wariboko, Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics, Boston University, and author of Economics in Spirit and Truth: A Moral Philosophy of Finance
Ilsup Ahn adeptly shows how fantastic capitalist productivity combined with fantastic disparities has created a colossal, many-layered debt burden that crushes the poor of the world and inflicts immense harm on many others. His holistic approach to the problem creates an interdisciplinary conversation, emphasizes the ethical crisis, and sustains a hopeful spirit, all in perceptive and compelling fashion.~Gary Dorrien, author of Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealistic Logic of Modern Theology
This is an important and well-researched book that expands a conversation about wealth inequalities and poverty among theologians, ethicists, and religious leaders. It will be of particular interest to leaders in the ecumenical movement.~Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology
Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, the issue of increasing private and public debts has become topical in the field of the humanities and social sciences. Ilsup Ahn’s Just Debt: Theology, Ethics, and Neoliberalism contributes to an already lively debate by situating the discussion on the terrain of religious morality.~Jean François Bissonnette, Reading Religion