Monday, April 25, 2005

You use usury...

To return to a point raised by a couple of commentors, via Shakespeare again:

Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3.
[Aside] How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian,
But more for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
'Shylock, we would have moneys:' you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: moneys is your suit
What should I say to you? Should I not say
'Hath a dog money? is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?' Or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
'Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys'?

Now, note above, the christian lends money gratis to his friends.

Lets look at this closer, in terms of Mauss' ideas on gift relations. If I lend someone money, I am not making a gift of it, so it's return to me does not count as an equivilant gift. i.e. if I gave someone money that person some money, the gift relationship wopuld require them to give me a gift of the same value/sort at a later date, and that would be it.

When I lend money, I expect to get it back anyway, what I am giving is my trouble in not having my own money to hand. The person who borrows owes me recompense for that trouble, to reciprocate the gift or face the shame of charity/inability to reciprocate.

Now, usury allows for this by making it a purely monetary payment. When Antonio in the Merchant of Venice lends money he does so to his friends, that is the polite gloss of talking about his network of dependence and clientalism that made up his place in feudal society, the people he lends money to may pay back only that monetary value, but they owe him gratitude. Again, the sin of the Jew figure is to monetize social/personal relations and thus dissolve feudal loyalty. Hence the plays triumphant denument when racial law is used to stop the base abstraction of Shylock's contract.

Anyway, my point is this, you cannot have money lending without usury, without interest of some sort, whether its called that or not.

As an aside, next month's Socialist Standard has a small article on Islamic interest making much the same point.


Blogger John said...

I think I understand your point but I'm not entirely sure: Why is there some intrinsic difference between lending someone money and lending someone my broom? if I loan it to someone I know, I anticipate that my generosity will be reciprocated at a later date should I be the one in need. The act of loaning renders the recipient indebted even if they return the broom intact; in that sense, there is an interest just as there is when I lend money.

What usury does is to enable money to be lent to strangers, so that the reciprocity of indebtedness is paid off, but that's also true of other forms of loan. If I ran a business loaning out items other than money, say machinery, to strangers, I anticipate not just getting the machinery back in time but also that I receive an additional payment to pay off the reciprocity.

Does that make sense? What I'm trying to say is that it's not just money lending that entails usury, but all lending involves interest of some sort.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I think it's important to distinguish elements like risk premium and pure time preference from usury as a monopoly return on money. Time preference, from the perspective of the labor theory of value, could be considered (as Maurice Dobb did) a sort of scarcity rent on present as opposed to future labor. As such, it would exist even in a market economy entirely made up of producer cooperatives; it would enter into the calculation of workers themselves deciding how much of their present income to defer and plow back into their enterprises to increase future consumption.

But true usury is an income over and above this, resulting from a state-enforced artificial scarcity of capital.

5:37 AM  

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