Why have you instigated this project?
We learned from years of struggle that all our lives are absolutely dictated by money, by nothing more than luck we are born into our circumstances, and they then set the parameters of our childhood experiences and our beliefs about what may be possible as an adult. Whether rich or poor, our choices and the very fabric of our lives are defined by money - but what is it? Where does it come from? These questions began to obsess us more and more. As young artists we spent one month to the next attempting the seemingly impossible, trying to pay the bills and keep on the straight and narrow, we wanted to 'neither a lender nor a borrower be'; we tried to 'cut our cloth according to our kind' - but we didn't understand the very basic, fundamental drivers of our economic reality - that almost all money in our system is created by banks at the very moment they make loans. This means that our money system is effectively on loan to us all, so for every pound in my bank account as I write this - there's a pound of debt in someone else's. This seems complicated, but actually it's devastatingly simple. Once you understand that our money is debt based, you see that really the whole economy is a house of cards. As we researched the contemporary history of banking in Britain and the US, we began to see that we were living in an era of creditor rule - since the 1960's in Britain there has been a 25,000% increase in the amount of money and debt in circulation. This means that the British are in the grips of a massive personal debt crisis and perversely that the banks have never been more powerful. The deregulation of banking has ushered in an era of creditor rule, but how do we deal with this?
When I purchase a note what does it buy?
You yourself own the note, which is an artwork by Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn created with skill and labour and involving the work of many people connected to the project - designer Phil Seddon, printmakers Spike Gasgoigne and Stephanie Turnbull, print studios Paekakariki Press, papermaker Helen Porter and a team of local people including artists Farah Ishaq and Alistair Gentry. First and foremost you now own a beautiful note. The production of the note is effectively paid for by us - and the proceeds from the note are split into two:
1) The first half of the money goes into a pot to be shared by the four causes which we have chosen for the front of the notes - ie Food Bank, Homeless Kitchen, Youth Project and the art and culture classes of one of our local primary schools (Barn Croft)
2) The second half of the money goes towards buying up and abolishing £1m of local payday debt.
Is using the word 'bank' and printing 'money' legal?
Someone wrote to me saying that using the word bank on your building is illegal and Bank of England would be obliged to come and shut us down at some point in the future. We are not legal specialists in this - and haven't sought out legal advice on this point. Our money is not legal tender - so we believe we are perfectly entitled to print it, we're not pretending it's pound notes, so there's no counterfeiting here. And our cultural message is clear and honest too.
Why are you buying debt?
We believe that debt is the natural companion to the money system, as explained above. Therefore our act of debt abolition is a way to show people how unfair the system of money creation actually is, particularly in an era of massively deregulated banks, leading to boom, bust and and in which it’s the people at the bottom who have to pick up the broken pieces over and again. It is first and foremost an act of economic education aimed at empowering people who don’t understand the basic trick of contemporary banking.
How are you buying debt?
We’re working with a lawyer / debt buyer – you can’t just walk off the street to buy up debt. It’s impossible – nor can you choose whose debt it is you’re buying up. You have to have FCA regulation to do this.
I'm in debt, where can I get advice?
Step Change are really good.
How is this project helping to educate people about debt?
Well it’s giving them an insight into secondary debt markets on the one hand – but it’s primarily helping them to understand how banks generate money and debt by typing into a screen. The process of money creation is one of the wonders of contemporary civilisation.
The banks win because they get to generate more and more debt, and they are effectively being bailed out by the central bank every time they run out of liquidity. The banks are not winning through our action – that said there are debt buyers who are selling us portfolios of distressed debt who are making money through our action. Of course we would prefer this wasn’t the case, but we aren’t arguing that this is the way to solve the problems of our debt based economy, rather it’s a symbolic gesture which draws people in to the story of money and banks, educating them and helping to pave the way for a fairer future.
Whose debt will be paid off? How do you know they are deserving?
We don’t know. We have targeted payday debt as it’s one of the most predatory forms of debt. We don’t know whose debt it is – as for whether they are deserving or not, we are not going to judge. Whereas we believe that we should all be responsible and we should repay our debts – and this is the cornerstone of most morality, we also believe this should not just apply to the people at the bottom. Let’s shine the light of our enquiries up to the top floor. The 2008 financial crisis was created by banks over-extending their loans, and creating too much money and debt – this was only made possible because ratings agencies were falsifying debt bundles – or securities. The financial elites were in collusion yet only one banker was sent to prison – Kareem Serageldin – who said “I am ready to pay my debt to society.” No matter how bad Kareem was, the crisis was not just something of his making – yet the cost of this crisis is not something that the banks or bankers have had to pay. The cost of the financial crisis has been passed over to the tax payers, who are now living under austerity conditions, a major assault on our welfare system has taken place, the cause of which has been pinned on the financial crisis. This is the true scam that has been taking place – so whether Jane or John have over extended themselves in buying a flatscreen is beside the point, this film and story are looking to create one morality for all of us: if we at the bottom have to pay our debt, then let’s also demand the same from the people at the top. And on top of that let's look at how inequality and poverty are the natural companions to our current system of money creation - and put our heads together to work out how we can do better.
Can the notes be used to buy things?
They can only be used to buy a nice warm feeling of having done something to help others and to bring economic and social justice back onto the urgent agenda of the British imagination. They are now in the collections of the Museum of London and V&A Museum. Their value is not defined by their sale price (face value).
How are people notified that their debt has been written off?
We will be legally bound to write to all the people whose debt we have paid off.
Will this mean that people's credit history will improve when their debt has been written off through Bank Job?
Probably not – this debt will be mostly quite delinquent, the damage will already have been done.