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Wall Street Journal Pushes Lie That Debtors’ Prisons Have Returned To America

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Posted on March 20 2011 10:00 pm

Another day, another leftist lie. This time it is an attack on the financial system that left-wing policies crippled over time. The lie is that bankers are conspiring against innocent people and having them rounded up and put in jail. It is complete and utter hogwash motivated by an abiding hostility toward markets.

Unfortunately, from time to time conservatives need to be reminded that apart from its op-ed pages the Wall Street Journal is not a conservative newspaper. Not even close. Take this drivel by Jessica Silver-Greenberg whose virtually fact-free hit piece suggests that debtors’ prisons have returned to America. It might as well have been written by ACORN propagandist Jeff Ordower whose “new” ACORN successor group Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) is pushing similar propaganda in an effort to make the current financial crisis worse. (If banks can’t foreclose, they fail.)

Silver-Greenberg writes:

More than a third of all U.S. states allow borrowers who can’t or won’t pay to be jailed. Judges have signed off on more than 5,000 such warrants since the start of 2010 in nine counties with a total population of 13.6 million people, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal of filings in those counties. Nationwide figures aren’t known because many courts don’t keep track of warrants by alleged offense. In interviews, 20 judges across the nation said the number of borrowers threatened with arrest in their courtrooms has surged since the financial crisis began.

Capitalism-hater Michael Moore himself couldn’t have written a more misleading paragraph. That’s because there is no such thing as imprisonment for debt in the United States. It simply does not happen and is not allowed by law. It is not a crime to owe money. Not ever.

Debtors can be imprisoned for failing to honor an order to appear in court or for a debtors’ examination or for some other legitimate legal purpose. Americans cannot be put in jail simply for owing money. There is no doubt that some creditors have abused the people who owe them money but this article is abject nonsense calculated to stip up anger against the banking system. (It is a pale imitation of a much better written but equally bizarre article by Greg Beato that ran in Reason in November.)

If someone doesn’t appear when a court orders him to appear and the person has been properly notified, he can go to jail. There is nothing unfair about it –and the capitalist system would collapse without such compulsory legal process– but left-wingers love using debtor sob stories to score points against the supposedly unfeeling, oppressive capitalist system.

Creditors have to be able to enforce contracts and collect debts. Debtors have every legal right to their day in court — but they have to actually show up when their day in court arrives! The Wall Street Journal and Reason articles defend these devil-may-care scofflaws who can’t even be bothered to show up in court to explain themselves. Ironically, many of the debtors would be able to obtain more favorable repayment terms if only they managed to spend an hour or so in court.  Judges typically don’t like foreclosing on people’s homes and try to help a homeowner to keep his home.

But the left’s narrative requires that bankers be vilified so we can expect more of this garbage as the Great Obama Depression continues.

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