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A Debtor WorldInterdisciplinary Perspectives on Debt$
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Ralph Brubaker, Robert M. Lawless, and Charles J. Tabb

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199873722

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199873722.001.0001

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The Virtue of Consumer Bankruptcy

The Virtue of Consumer Bankruptcy

(p.217) 9 The Virtue of Consumer Bankruptcy
A Debtor World

Heidi M. Hurd

David C. Baum

Oxford University Press

This chapter lays out the foundations for a new positive theory of the consumer bankruptcy discharge that better coheres with common normative commitments and more persuasively explains doctrines that centrally define and limit today's right of discharge. It argues that our practices of debt-forgiveness are not about maximizing aggregate welfare, or about protecting individual rights, or about spreading wealth so as to achieve a more just distribution across society. Rather, they are about achieving and expressing personal virtue—not that of creditors or of debtors but of ordinary people, as citizens of a just and wealthy society. In short, the bankruptcy system is about the people, it is not about them; it is an institution required by persons of good character who live in a world of scarce resources with others of variable talents, dispositions, opportunities, and luck. It reflects the aggregation and coordination of the demands of the best “aretaic” theory—the best theory of what it means to be a person possessed of sound moral character within a society of unequally distributed benefits and burdens. When debtors are rightly forgiven, it is under circumstances in which all those to whom their debts are owed ought to forgive their debts, and all those to whom the costs of their default are passed ought to be willing to shoulder those losses.

Keywords:   consumer bankruptcy discharge, debt, debt-forgiveness, personal virtue, bankruptcy system

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