Woods and Usury

Becoming increasingly interested in usury, I decided to read what Woods had to say about it in The Church and the Market. As I expected, Woods concludes that ordinary transactions in modern economies are not accompanied by usury. I’d need more time to give him a thorough reading, but a passage stuck out.

After considering Aquinas’ argument as presented in the Summa and the De Malo, Woods confidently raises the two immediate and obvious objections to Aquinas’ account: first, that we have never seen the selling of wine and its use and second (less of an objection) what is it morally wrong in selling a thing twice.

These “objections” are intellectually shallow and seem more the province of a sophomore than a schooled writer. In the first, it is entirely irrelevant as to whether or not such a thing has actually occurred as to it moral nature. Were it to occur it would be immoral. That it actually occurs with money and not wine is entirely beside the point regarding the morality of the situation, because it concerns the nature of money and lending in themselves. This is less of an objection than a distraction, because the actual substance of the argument has been ignored and avoided.

The second objection seems to attempt to reduce goodness to consent. What is morally wrong if they agree to it? Something intrinsically evil cannot be made licit simply by adding consent. Prostitution is not made licit by the sheer fact that both parts consent to it. Double charging is evil because the exchange is disproportionate.

A number of serious objections could be raised, but they do not beginning with the definition of usury. The argument proposed by Aquinas is correct. The way around it is avoiding the double selling or selling what does not exist by making reference to “extrinsic title” that oblige one to profit from something other than the lending itself, such as the cost of giving the loan (paperwork, employees, etc.)

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