Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Root Out Usury

 In the fascinating St Paul's protest that's currently dominating the news, this slogan stuck out for me. Of course it was Christ who - showing his less than meek and gentle side - protested against the money-lenders in the temple at Jerusalem by unceremoniously throwing them out onto the street. The Christian Church's ban on charging interest throughout history ( a proscription also upheld in Islamic law) was the motivation for money-lending to be placed predominantly in the hands of the Jewish community. So it's all the more interesting that the Church is in such conflict over the issue of St Paul's, with some elements at least on the side of the protestors, arguing against their forcible eviction and openly criticising the Mammonites of the banking system.
  But of course the word usury - cast in this demonising light - can only bring to mind Ezra Pound and to me fundamentally begs the question: did Pound really get it so wrong? I'll be the first to admit I know next to nothing about economics but surely the gist of what Pound was saying about usury is broadly similar to what so many are saying now: that it's basically an inethical, exploitative system that creates false social relations ("with usura hath no man a house of good stone") and obstructs the flourishing of a healthy culture which values free thought, public spending and the arts.
   Of course Pound was catastrophically wrong to infer from this some malign cabal of Jewish bankers deliberately undermining Western civilization and no doubt he fell into the Shelleyan fallacy of believing himself an "unacknowledged legislator" and overstating the validity of his own theories - certainly he paid a heavy enough price for this, as we know.
   But he also talked about artists being "the antennae of their race" and considering that he was inveighing against usury and the banking system from the 20s onwards - linking it to the Wall Street Crash, the Depression and both World Wars - when everyone thought he was a tiresome crank to do so, seems startlingly prescient now that it's clear that we have unregulated credit to blame for perhaps the worst economic crisis in history. Perhaps it has taken 80-odd years for the Usura Canto - rhetorically overblown as it may be, but somehow resonant nonetheless - to finally start making sense.

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