“nature follows-as she takes her course-
the Divine Intellect and Divine Art;…
when it can, your art would follow nature,
just as a pupil imitates his master;
so that your art is almost God’s grandchild.
From these two, art and nature, it is fitting,…
for men to make their way, to gain their living;
and since the usurer prefers another
pathway, he scorns both nature in herself
and art, her follower; his hope is elsewhere.”
Dante quotes both Aristotle and the Bible to praise creativity and condemn usury, i.e. lending money at an interest (not only exorbitant interest, but interest in general). He made me rethink interest and profit, and I have to admit, I’m absolutely perplexed. Economics is not my strong suit. Perhaps I should leave Dante and read Keynes instead.
Usury is condemned in the Mosaic Law (Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36, Deuteronomy 23:19-20), the Book of Ezekiel and a few other places in the OT.
I think the idea is that usury is a type of unnatural and false increase and a means of defrauding your neighbor. It does not create value but extorts value from the victim. If this is true, it behooves all devout Jews and Christians to refrain from charging or receiving interest. Needless to say that’s not the norm today.
While discussing this in our group, people have come up with a few arguments supporting interest. I’ll list them below and present my counter-arguments.
1. Borrowing money is just like renting a car or a house, you pay for the use of the thing.
From a classical economics pov, money is the token of value created by labor, and introduced for the purpose of exchange.
When you rent an apartment, you pay money for the usage of the apartment. As Aristotle wrote, wealth consists in usage not ownership. So if we use it, we should pay for it. There is an equal exchange of value.
Money is different. In and of itself, money is completely useless. It cannot feed us, clothe us, nor shelter us. It’s a token, nothing more. It has to be exchanged for something else to be useful. When we borrow money, we are not getting any direct usage out of it. Why then are we paying extra in interest? The usurer gives less but receives more in return by charging interest. That is not an equal exchange.
2. There are people who borrow money but don’t pay back. So the banker lends money at a risk. Charging interest is a way to cover the risk.
People who don’t pay back the principal are not paying the interest either, so the interest will fall on those who do pay back the money in the course of time. Essentially this is forcing some honest people to pay for others’ delinquencies. It doesn’t seem fair to me at all.
3.The Parable of the Talents in the New Testament implicitly endorses usury.
Understood in context, the parable is a lesson on how to attain spiritual growth. Things that don’t have life in them, such as money, don’t grow by themselves, if you bury them (in your own backyard, or in a bank’s vault), they will remain the same; OTOH, living things do grow and multiply. God gives life to all, and it is “God who gives the increase”. So to “deposit your money with the bankers” really means to sow to the Spirit, receive increase from God, and reap everlasting life.