I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that for most of it’s existence the Christian Church outlawed the lending of money for interest. This was called ‘usury’ and was regarded as a great evil.
I found a great paper on it here.
The paper points out that most of the worlds religions and ethical codes have also outlawed usury; from the ancient Greeks and Hindus through to Buddhists and Muslims, it seems everybody has condemned usury.
The reasons across the globe were fairly similar and summed up by this passage in the paper:
“The Church’s simplest and perhaps earliest objection to usury was on the basis that it constituted unearned income, an idea which stemmed from its general doctrine of Just Price. The Lateran Council of 1515 clearly expressed such a view by the Church: ‘This is the proper interpretation of usury when gain is sought to be acquired from the use of a thing, not in itself fruitful (such as a flock or a field) without labour, expense or risk on the part of the lender’. Birnie reinforces this point by noting that ‘to live without labour was denounced as unnatural, and so Dante put usurers in the same circle of hell as the inhabitants of Sodom and other practisers of unnatural vice’ (1952: 4). This is also the rationale Ahmad uses to explain why, in Islam, God7 ‘permits trade yet forbids usury’: ‘The difference is that profits are the result of initiative, enterprise and efficiency. They result after a definite value-creating process. Not so with interest’; also, ‘interest is fixed, profit fluctuates. In the case of interest you know your return and can be sure of it. In the case of profit you have to work to ensure it’ (1958: 25). Perhaps Aristotle had similar sentiments in mind when he argued that ‘a piece of money cannot beget another’.”
It wasn’t until 1620 that usury stopped being regarded as a crime by the Catholic Church and even Adam Smith, the great guru of free-market capitalism, had serious doubts about the charging of interest and although “he opposed a complete prohibition of interest, he was in favour of the imposition of an interest-rate ceiling. This, he felt, would ensure that low-risk borrowers who were likely to undertake socially beneficial investments were not deprived of funds as a result of ‘the greater part of the money which was to be lent [being] lent to prodigals and projectors [investors in risky, speculative ventures], who alone would be willing to give [an unregulated] high interest rate’ (Smith, 1937: 339)”
And yet today the entire world economy is entirely dependent upon usury and indeed the usurious excesses of the deregulated financial market nearly brought about it’s own destruction, taking the rest of us with it, and was only saved by the use of taxpayers money.
The Daily Mail Tories, many of whom will regard themselves as CofE Christians, are always banging on about the ‘money for nothing’ dole scroungers, yet see nothing wrong in the ‘money for nothing’ money lenders? Yet it is clearly the ‘money for nothing’ criticism that forms the basis of the almost universal moral condemnation of usury across human history.
Now there are plenty of things that religion outlawed that most of us now regard as perfectly morally acceptable, homosexuality and free thinking for a start, but is it not ironic that the same people who condemn homosexuality because it is outlawed by the God and the Church seem to have no problem with usurious money-lending which was in previous times regarded as equally heinous a sin? “Dante put usurers in the same circle of hell as the inhabitants of Sodom and other practisers of unnatural vice.”
So perhaps on this rare occasion I can find agreement with the world’s ancient religions in condemning usury (I.e. the lending of money for interest) on the grounds that it is in effect getting money for nothing and is in that sense no different than benefit fraud or indeed straightforward theft.
In which case the wealth of all the rich people in the world is underpinned by venal sin and is by the theology of Christian churches unjust. i.e. rich people are not morally entitled to their wealth any more than is a mafia Capo Di Capi.