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Debt presents a dilemma to societies: successful societies benefit from a substantial infrastructure of consumer, commercial, corporate, and sovereign debt but debt can cause substantial private and social harm. Pre- and post-crisis solutions have seesawed between subsidizing and restricting debt, between leveraging and deleveraging. A consensus exists among governments and international financial institutions that financial stability is the fundamental normative principle underlying financial regulation. Financial stability, however, is insensitive to equality concerns and can produce morally impermissible aggregations in which the least advantaged in a society are made worse off. Solutions based only on financial stability can restrict debt without accounting for the risk of harm to persons least able to bear the risk, worsen pre-existing inequalities, destroy or impair the net worth of households, and impose unfavorable distributive consequences. This article offers a new approach to assist policymakers in developing and evaluating regulation to take criteria in addition to financial stability into account, but which do not undermine the aim of financial stability. It calls for a luck egalitarian approach, offering policymakers options to take the debtor’s choices into account while still accounting for cognitive mistakes people often make in debt decision making. It offers a general framework for the underlying principles for the regulation of debt: its focus is not on any particular forms of debt or its regulation but in structuring debt regulation more generally. It offers a set of recommendations on how regulators can take concerns about luck and equality into account in regulatory design.

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Regulations and Governance