Sunday, July 16, 2017

over at Aeon, a piece surveying how usury stopped being thought of as sinful in the Judeo-Christian millieu and became respectable finance

Much of the time pieces sent to Aeon can be unconvincing and even insanely stupid.  But the price of promulgating think-pieces is sometimes the think pieces have dumb ideas, like the idea that children should be redistributed by the state across all racial lines so as to ensure racism never happens again, as though the totalitarian regime that would be necessary to enforce such a policy over against "genetic narcissism" would only be a benefit to the human race. 

But sometimes there are useful or at least interesting surveys and to such a little survey we turn:

In Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011), the anthropologist David Graeber argues that before the advent of money, economic life within a community was a web of mutual debts. People did not behave as self-interested individuals – at least not from the perspective of a single transaction; rather, they would share food, clothes and luxuries, and trust that their peers would repay the favour in return. When we consider these origins of debt and credit – as a system of mutual aid between people who trust each other – it’s no surprise that so many cultures viewed charging interest as morally wrong.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church played its own part in sowing the seeds of a change of attitude. In the 13th century, it introduced the concept of Purgatory – a place that had no basis in scripture but did offer some reassurance to anyone committing the sin of usury each day. ‘Purgatory was just one of the complicitous winks that Christianity sent the usurer’s way,’ wrote the historian Jacques Le Goff in Your Money or Your Life: Economy and Religion in the Middle Ages (1990). ‘The hope of escaping Hell, thanks to Purgatory, permitted the usurer to propel the economy and society of the 13th century ahead towards capitalism.’

and here's more along those lines.  Indulgences do get a mention. 

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