Posts tagged with: interest

Banca_Monte_dei_Paschi_di_Siena_in_Pisa“Money has not only the character of money,” says Samuel Gregg in this week’s Acton Commentary, “but it also has a productive character which we commonly call capital.”

Like all medieval clergy, Olivi and Bernardine fiercely opposed usury. “Usury,” Bernardine wrote, “concentrates the money of the community in the hands of a few, just as if all the blood in a man’s body ran to his heart and left his other organs depleted.” Yet the same Bernardine also invested time in explaining why it was legitimate for creditors to charge interest on loans to compensate themselves for relinquishing the opportunity to invest their money elsewhere. In such circumstances, the lender had a right to be compensated for what amounted to foregone profits. “What,” Bernardine maintained, “in the firm purpose of its owner is ordained to some probable profit has not only the character of mere money or a mere thing, but also beyond this, a certain seminal character of something profitable, which we commonly call capital.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

19893712-mmmainAbout twenty years ago I made some terrible choices and found myself in a serious financial bind. The amount I needed wasn’t much — about $200 — but without it I wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent. I took out a payday loan that cost me $30 every two weeks. It took about eight weeks to get clear of the loan, resulting in a cost of $120 to borrow $200 for two months.

Was I fooling myself thinking the loan could be paid in two week? Not at all. In fact, I knew quite well that there was likely no way possible for me to pay it off in that timeframe. I knew precisely how much money I was going to be able to earn and how much my expenses would be during that two-week period. I had, roughly speaking, about $40 a week that I could apply toward the loan.

But $40 was not sufficient to cover the balloon payment of $200 that was due at the end of two weeks. So I had to roll over the loan, applying $15 a week to the new fees and saving $25 a week to be paid toward the principal. That is why it took me eight weeks to pay off the original loan: $25 a week for principal + $15 a week for fees = $40 x 8 weeks = $320 ($200 for principal + $120 for fees.

If you’re middle class and think of it in terms of interest rate, that repayment cost sounds appalling usurious. And it is. But as the poor will tell you, man does not live on APR alone. Having to pay an extra $120 was cheaper than having to find a new place to live. Yes, it was a bad deal. But it was better than all my other choices. I didn’t agree to the loan because I was bad at a math; I did it because I was desperate. And the payday lending company was more than willing to take advantage of my desperation.

How then do we solve the problem of rollover fee that take advantage of the poor when they are in dire straits? As I’ve argued before, I believe a helpful first step is to get churches and other faith-based organizations involved in providing alternatives to commercial lending agencies. The Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama seems to be providing a wonderful example of how Christians can help.

This past Sunday the church announced it will pay off the payday loans of 48 people — a combined total of more than $41,000 on high interest rates of 36 percent or higher.


Interest-Rate-burdenUsury is the practice of making immoral monetary loans intended to unfairly enrich the lender. But what, for Christians, counts as an immoral loan?

For much of church history, any interest was considered immoral. The 12th canon of the First Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th canon of the Council of Aix (789) declared it to be reprehensible even for anyone to make money by lending at interest. But that view eventually changed, and today even the Vatican participates in modern banking.

Some Catholics have used this example to argue for other changes, such as contraception. As Jay Richards notes,

davebratIn a piece today for the NYT Magazine, economics reporter Binyamin Appelbaum examines David Brat’s fusion of faith and free-market economics. Appelbaum finds that mixture problematic, to say the least, but it’s hard to sort out whether it is the religious faith or the free-market sympathies that Appelbaum finds more troubling.

In the opening paragraph, Appelbaum asserts that before Brat’s rise to prominence “there was plenty of skepticism about whether he merited the label of academic economist.” Who these skeptics are, who knew so much about Brat “even before” his “out-of-nowhere” victory, we are simply left to ponder. It seems some of his colleagues at Randolph-Macon College now harbor such skepticism. (Brat is running against a Randolph-Macon sociologist, Jack Trammell. Brat once wrote that “Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful.”)

Brat’s academic record is a wortwhile question to take up, and one that there has been a great deal of interest in following his primary victory. I, like many others, wanted to find out more, and went in search of Brat’s publications (with the help of one of our interns). I’ve had a chance to look at a few, and even turned up the paper on Ayn Rand that had gained such notice. The Rand paper turned out to be a co-authored piece with a student, and something which barely qualified as a poorly-edited introduction to a conference presentation. It is certainly not a smoking gun for tracking down Randian sympathies.

The problem with Appelbaum’s piece isn’t that he is asking questions about Brat’s academic record. These questions should be asked. The problem is the tone of Appelbaum’s inquisition and his presumption against the coherence of Brat’s position. The sarcasm oozes from Appelbaum’s prose: Brat “is certainly not in danger of winning a Nobel Prize.” Likewise Brat has written “discursive papers devoid of math,” “cited Wikipedia as a source,” and “never been published in a significant journal.”

On Exchange and Usury, Cajetan, ThomasChristian’s Library Press has released a new translation of two treatises on exchange and usury by Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534), a Dominican theologian, philosopher, and cardinal.

Although best known for his commentaries on the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, Cajetan also wrote dozens of other works, including short treatises on socioeconomic problems.

Published under the name On Exchange and Usury, these treatises reflect on the banking industry of the early modern era in the context of the Church’s usury doctrine, examining which transactions were licit, and which involved usury, among other things. The book is part of CLP’s growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

In the introduction, Raymond de Roover summarizes some of the historical context, as well as Cajetan’s contribution therein:

Because of the Church’s usury doctrine, bankers were not supposed to charge interest and, consequently, had to look for some other way of lending money at a profit, with the result that banking became tied to exchange: local banking to manual exchange (cambium minutum), and foreign banking to real exchange or exchange by bills (cambium per litteras). Since the discounting of commercial paper was ruled out by the usury prohibition, bankers bought bills of exchange at a price that was determined by the foreign exchange rates… (more…)

Wolfgang Musculus, usury, oathsChristian’s Library Press has released a new translation of Wolfgang Musculus’ commentary on Psalm 15, which includes two related appendices on the topics of oaths and usury. Released at the end of 2013, On Righteousness, Oaths, and Usury comes on the 450th anniversary of Musculus’ passing. The book is part of CLP’s growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Musculus (1497–1563) was a second-generation reformer in the cities of Strasbourg, Augsburg, and Bern, and produced a variety of works, including an influential collection of theological topics, the Loci communes, or Common Places.

The contents of this new translation come from his commentary on the Psalms, his largest exegetical work and one of his most popular. Portions of the commentary were originally published in German, Dutch, French, and English throughout the sixteenth century. Although Musculus has been somewhat overlooked among the likes of Luther and Calvin, particularly this side of the Atlantic, his works had a significant impact on the Reformation and post-Reformation eras.


Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, has a piece in today’s Detroit News titled, “Will Quran limit growth of Muslim nations?” The commentary addresses the economic outlook of Muslims, and Islamic nations, considering their religious position against the charging of interest. Gregg notes:

Given the Arab world’s increasing religiosity, however, one potential obstacle could significantly handicap these nations’ financial creativity and economic diversification policies: Islam’s prohibition of interest-charging.

Gregg also briefly examines how Christians settled the moral dilemma regarding interest:

Christianity once had a usury issue. Christianity began resolving this matter in the medieval period. Scholastic theologians established that, under certain conditions (such as free exchange economies), money was not simply a means of exchange, but also “capital”: that is, a productive good whose owners could legitimately charge others for its use. Not all interest-charging, the scholastics concluded, constituted usury.