Saturday, September 3, 2016

Against Usury

The following is adapted from a speech I gave at the Yale Political Union in the Spring of 2015 on the topic: Resolved, Nationalize Banks. Much of the speech was delivered in jest, though not all of it. 

Mr. Speaker, when oh when did the Chair of the Party of the Left become such a staunch apologist for the neo-liberal consensus?! If we are to believe the previous speaker, the choice before us is between a slightly more capitalistic, and slightly more socialistic economy. Our options on this telling are limited to blindly obeying the dictates of a morally insidious “invisible hand,” or sheepishly bowing to a cadre of Ivy-educated technocrats. Mr. Speaker, this is a false choice. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, both socialism and capitalism are so steeped in the filth of modern liberal ideology, that to defend either is to endorse a vision of human nature as perniciously absurd, as it is absurdly pernicious.

Mr. Speaker, impassioned debate over the proper division between commercial and investment banking and the optimal level of risk and leverage, is to ignore the central moral evil at the heart of our modern financial system. I speak of an evil so repugnant, that it has been roundly rejected by virtually every moral and religious tradition in the history of mankind. I speak of an evil condemned by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, and Cato, and by the great traditions of Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. I speak of course, of the moral outrage that is usury.

For millennia a dirty word, usury today has become an object of veneration. Economics courses across our morally and fiscally bankrupt nation preach the virtues of interest as the motivating force behind commercial and economic success. This has become a central plank in the unassailable dogma of the docile modern mind. Yet it remains manifestly obvious that an economic system built on usury—that is to say an economic system built on the wealthy taking advantage of the poor—is morally abhorrent.

“No!” some of our neo-liberal peers may reply. “Usury is not taking advantage of the poor; it is an economic institution that affects pareto optimal results!” So deep lies our indoctrination that we have grown blind even of self-evident moral facts. But to briefly state the argument, interest enables a wealthy lender in a position of utter domination to profit off of the labor and struggle of an impoverished man entirely at his disposal. It is to objectify labor and dehumanize the laborer. In its effort to transform private vice into public virtue, it eviscerates the moral bonds between neighbors any rightly constituted state exists to promote.

Mr. Speaker, the moral question at the heart of this resolution is does our banking system participate in evil. And Mr. Speaker, be it in the hands of a group of small, elite, wealthy oligarchs who work on Wall Street, or in the hands of a group of small, elite, wealthy oligarchs who work for the Federal Government, so long as our banking system participates in the usurious world of global finance, our shared wealth and prosperity will be a crime.

To be clear, I am arguing for nothing short of an utter rejection of the modern financial system. I am advocating for what might reasonably be described as a system of “neo-feudalism,” for a return to the pre-modern economy. To combat our fetishization of materiality, we must return to a more traditional and philosophically coherent understanding of “property” not simply as “private” or “public”, but as essentially corporate. We must undo the vicious divorce between persons and their proper social roles, and we must structure our economic system to strengthen, rather than undermine, communitarian wellbeing.

To overcome alienation, we must recognize that “private property” is a cancer in our culture. What wealth we have is necessarily held in common, not as measured by income redistribution or gini coefficients, but as measured by a proper understanding of the duties and trusts that hold our intertwined lives together.

Mr. Speaker, I do not have the time now to discourse at length on what a banking system in a properly constituted society would actually look like. But in brief, our best models lie not in the great socialist experiments of the 20th century, but in workers’ cooperatives and credit unions. We should look not to the failed acts of massive state empowerment, but to smaller yet far more impressive distributist successes, like that of the Mondragon cooperative in Spain. Simply shifting ownership of our irredeemable banking system from privately employed oligarchs to publicly employed oligarchs will do nothing to combat the true moral evil at the heart of our global economy.

Mr. Speaker, the state should not nationalize banking, the state should criminalize banking!

No comments:

Post a Comment