Distributive Justice and the Relief of Household Debt

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Sturm College of Law


Debt, Bankruptcy, Overindebtedness, Debt abolition, Credit, Interest, Distributive justice


Household debt has been widely discussed among social scientists, policy makers, and activists. Many have questioned the levels of debt households are required to take on, and have made various proposals for assisting households in debt. Yet theorists of distributive justice have left household debt underexamined. This article offers a normative examination of the distributive justice issues presented by proposals to relieve household debt or protect households from overindebtedness. I examine two goals at which debt relief proposals aim: remedying disadvantage and stabilizing expectations. I then examine strategies for relieving existing debts such as debt abolition, forgiveness, bankruptcy, and mitigation, as well as strategies that aim to prevent future indebtedness, such as public provision or financing of costly goods and credit or interest rate regulations.