Monthly Archives: July 2017

Fair Pay Is Not Usury.

Apparently some segments of the Catholic blogosphere are worrying about usuria again. The same people who understand that the Bible teaches that the laborer is worthy of his pay, and that the Valiant Woman has textile and real estate businesses on the side, do not understand that it also teaches (on the side) that investment and earning interest is better than burying your money in the ground.

A laborer’s time and work (and risk of injury or other problems) is paid back with money. In undeveloped countries, he is often paid per piece of work: so many widgets or so many bales, for so much money. But this does not adequately compensate the worker for his time or insulate him against risks that would prevent him from doing as many pieces as he would like. This is why wages are usually paid per hour, or why salaries are paid per year.

The owner of a rental object or real estate is paid back with money for the time of the rental. Usually any damages must also be paid by the renter. This is fair, because the owner cannot use the car or the house while the renter is using it. (The owner also risks the destruction of his property. Even getting a replacement isn’t as good as keeping the original and not having the stress.)

An investor’s time and money (and risk of getting nothing) is paid back with money. (If he makes anything.)

A lender’s time and money and risk is also paid back with money. (Hopefully.)

If I lend money to Bob, and Bob does his business and gives back every penny to me in the next ten seconds, obviously I have not lost any opportunities to do other stuff with my money. (Unless I missed a really sweet stock market deal that was only open for ten seconds.)

But if I lend money to Bob for a year, I cannot spend or invest or lend that particular bunch of money to anybody else… for a whole year.

If he just pays me back the exact amount of money I lent him, I have not been compensated for that year. If Bob is my brother or son, then maybe we have enough of a gift economy going that I can give him a year as a gift. But if we are doing business, and I’m not giving out interest-free years as a loss leader to attract buyers… then Bob needs to pay me for renting my money for a year, just like he would pay me for renting a house for a year.

We cannot pay back in kind for time or opportunity, because humans are not God. Therefore, we pay rent and pay interest.

Fair interest rates are fair payment for time and risk.

Unfair interest rates are loan sharking.

In a gift economy, interest is irrelevant because it all evens out. In an undeveloped economy, it is not fair to expect that people will be able to pay much interest. So even low rates of interest could constitute loan sharking, or usuria.

But in a developed economy, interest rates are just fair pay for fair work.


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Tolkien on the Heresy of Soulmates

I have a lot of favorite blogs that I don’t read every day, but that I tend to explore every month or two. Video Meliora is one of them. I should read him more often, especially since he’s an Ohio blogger and thus has a lot of relevance to my immediate concerns. But I’m a slacker by nature, so I get my fun in widely separated doses.

Anyway, he pointed out a Time magazine essay that included some thought-provoking quotes from Tolkien.

“Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgment concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married,” Tolkien wrote. “Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.”

Tolkien blamed our “soul mates” obsession on the Romantic chivalric tradition: “Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake. . . . It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man’s eye off women as they are” — that is, “companions in shipwreck not guiding stars.”

Our old notion of soul mates is not helpful. “The ‘real soul-mate,’” Tolkien wrote, “is the one you are actually married to.”

The desert monks used to teach that anybody you happen to be living around or working with is someone God has sent to you. Okay, sometimes as a penance… but sometimes to learn from, to teach, to pray alongside. Married people obviously have a pretty serious connection. Even if the initial connection was a mistake, people shouldn’t waste time looking for a redo. They should make things better where they are. (Unless you’re actually in a situation of danger, of course.)

We fans tend to get caught up in the romance of young John and Edith Tolkien’s persistence against the odds, and of course the whole Luthien and Beren motif. But we forget that there was a lot of nitty-gritty living between them, for years and years after they were young. Romance only counts if you do something lasting with it — and they did.

There is a lot of sense in the idea of a joint sainthood cause for John and Edith, and this is why. There are a lot of saints who became great individually; but usually people come from families of saints and communities of saints. Mother Teresa learned almsgiving out of poverty at her impoverished widowed mother’s side, not in India.

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