If you don’t like my cooking, try consuming the Magisterial text

June 9, 2018 § 34 Comments

“Loan for consumption” is the way that the Latin term “mutuum” is sometimes translated into English.  Any (and all) profits from mutuum contracts are what constitutes usury.  Profits on non-mutuum contracts are not usury: such profits may or may not be licit on other grounds, but they are not usury specifically.  The great majority of present day business investment is not usurious: usury occurs mainly in lending to consumers, especially in the form of credit cards, student loans, and the like.

I’ve given my own various descriptions of what distinguishes a mutuum from other contracts.  A mutuum is secured by the promise of the borrower as opposed to (or in addition to) collateral property.  The agreement is that the borrower may consume all of the actual property – that the property lent and any collateral may be fully alienated from the possession of both borrower and lender – and yet the borrower’s obligation to repay remains.  The lender has recourse to the borrower himself through his promise, and not merely to an inventory of collateral property, for recovery of what the lender invested.  The “asset” securing the loan simply is the promise or personal IOU of the borrower: it literally does not exist as something distinct from the contracting parties themselves.  The modern terminology for this distinction is (at least roughly speaking) “non recourse” lending, as distinct from “recourse” lending or lending backed by a personal guarantee.

Citing a blogger with a goofy pseudonym doesn’t really do it for many people though, and understandably so.  If someone asks you for a Magisterial citation for what distinguishes mutuum contracts (where profit is immoral) from contracts which may give rise to morally just profits, a helpful one comes from Pope Callistus III (1455-1458), Usury and Contract for Rent, from the Constitution “Regimini universalis” May 6, 1455 (quoted in Denzinger).  In this citation Pope Callistus III describes what specifically makes the charge of rent or interest morally licit, that is, non-usurious:

“As guarantee for the payment of the aforesaid revenues and rents [borrowers] mortgage those of the aforesaid houses, lands, fields, farms, possessions, and inheritances that have been expressly named in the relevant contracts. In the favor of the [borrowers] it is added to the contract that in proportion as they have, in whole or in part, returned to the said [lenders] the money just received, they are entirely quit and free of the obligation to pay the revenues and rents corresponding to the sum returned. But the [lenders], on the other hand, even though the said goods, houses, lands, fields, possessions, and inheritances might by the passage of time be reduced to utter destruction and desolation, would not be empowered to recover even in respect of the price paid.”

Enforced question begging

June 4, 2018 § 13 Comments

Despite its unwieldiness I prefer the phrase “decline to enforce usurious contracts” over the phrase “prohibit usury,” because the latter begs the question1 of authority in favor of usurers.

Begging the question of authority is pervasive in modernity, because modern people raised on liberalism try very hard not to believe in the reality and real legitimacy of authority.


[1] As usual I use the phrase “beg the question” in its classical sense, where it means assuming the very thing one sets out to demonstrate.  In this case the phrase “prohibit usury” assumes that by default those in authority should enforce usurious contract terms and frames declining to enforce them as “prohibition”.

Clanging cymbals

June 3, 2018 § 23 Comments

If we don’t grasp that love is rooted in truth, all of our attempts at love devolve into the empty and dissonant clanging of cymbals.

And if we fail to understand and unequivocally oppose usury then all of our opposition to sodomy, contraception, fornication, adultery, abortion, torture, unjust war and the like is self-defeating.

(HT TomD)

Don’t waste time with those antibiotics; maybe leeches will work!

April 25, 2018 § 24 Comments

IMG_8914

A reader posted a link to the Usury FAQ in a Twitter discussion with HJA Sire, the author of The Dictator Pope.  (I have a Kindle copy of the first edition of that book, written under a pseudonym.  It is pretty interesting and worth your time to read).  The screencap shows the response he got.

I’d just suggest that in the context of the present crisis in the Church, people who studiously look away from the elephant in the room will inevitably fail to adequately grasp the situation.

Victim status

April 12, 2018 § 32 Comments

Rejecting the death penalty for women who murder their own children raises the question of what punishment a properly ordered society ought to have in place for murdering unborn children.

There is an enormous amount of room between the death penalty and, not only no punishment whatsoever, but a general freakout over the very suggestion that this form of murder ought to carry some sort of punishment — any punishment at all.

Voluntary abortion only has “two victims” in the same sense that any kind of voluntary murder has “two victims” – that is, when we cast the perpetrator as a kind of victim. There is some truth to that, but it doesn’t keep us from punishing murderers.

Women should be tried as adults

February 6, 2018 § 153 Comments

Some days it seems like I am the only person on earth who actually respects women.  Men and women are different, both individually and when considered as populations.  But one of the ways we are the same – at least in my view – is that both men and women are moral agents, responsible for the behaviors we choose.

Yet a great many people – notably feminists and the mainstream pro-life movement, though those two are hardly exhaustive – really don’t seem to think this is the case at all.

In the comment thread below reader Jay posted a link to the following image:

consent

This image was allegedly posted in a Facebook advocacy group started and governed by the very same young woman who accused her ex-boyfriend of rape (a year and a half after the alleged incident), in a case we discussed here.

There are several things to observe about this image.  I’ll point out a few.

First, the image characterizes the distinction between rape/sexual assault (a very serious matter) and consensual sex (at best a minor matter, probably nobody else’s business) as something which occurs strictly and only in the woman’s mind.  If she was subjectively afraid to say no and did not actually say no, he is guilty of sexual assault or rape.

Personally I would have no problem with colleges punishing extramarital sex – as demonstrated by actual evidence – severely, independent of consent.  The idea that consent turns extramarital sex into a minor matter in the first place is simply wrong.  Premarital sex is a grave, despicable, life-wrecking moral wrong.  Consenting to fornication is a grave moral wrong.  Physically forcing someone else’s participation in a morally despicable act is itself a morally despicable act, but the idea that fornication is just no big deal while rape is a terrible moral violation is false.  They are both grave moral wrongs and should be treated as such.

Second, we would never buy the “I was afraid to say no” line of argument if the action was, for example, murder. The particulars matter, as always, but the most the particulars could do – even when in fear for your own life – is mitigate some of the guilt for actively participating in a murder.  Saying no, resisting attempted persuasion or compulsion to do evil, is a basic obligation of every moral agent without exception.  Failure to resist evil is itself a moral failure.  And yes, this of course includes women – at least if you have any respect for women.

Third, if this image in fact comes from the alleged source – from the actual young woman who years after the fact accused her boyfriend of “rape” in the Shenandoah wilderness where she drove him – it appears to be a tacit admission that, whatever actually did happen between them, she didn’t actually say “no”.

Selling infected glass beads to Indians

December 20, 2017 § 171 Comments

In this post I will present an argument that it is immoral to sell digital pornography and/or bitcoin.

Premise 1: It is immoral to sell property for an unjust price.

Premise 2: Context can make particular property more or less valuable; for example, water is more valuable in the desert than in a mountain lake. Call this a context multiplier.

Premise 3: Personal preferences or needs can make particular property more or less valuable to a particular buyer. I like whiskey but I don’t care for wine. Call this a subjective multiplier.

Premise 4: It is possible for particular property to have zero or negative intrinsic value: for particular property to be literally useless or harmful.  (Alternatively, it is possible for the typical and intended uses of a particular kind of property to have zero or negative intrinsic value.  Call this “Premise 4 light”).

Premise 5: When property (or its typical use case: call this “Premise 5 light”) has zero or negative intrinsic value, neither a context multiplier nor a subjective multiplier can make its just price greater than zero.

Digital pornography has negative intrinsic value: its typical use case is destructive to the user.  Unlike paper pornography it has no useful material substrate which enables atypical uses: paper pornography might be used as fuel for a fire, for example, but digital pornography cannot even be burned to produce heat.  Purchasing copies of digital pornography might be justifiable when doing so is part of a plan to destroy it or to attack its production; but this limited warrant to purchase-for-destruction does not justify the sale of digital pornography to purchasers who are likely to use it for its intended purpose.

Pornography has negative intrinsic value because it promotes vice, a false picture of reality, and other disorders in relation to the truth about the good.

Bitcoin is also a digital product which promotes vice, a false picture of reality, and other disorders in relation to the truth about the good.

Therefore selling bitcoin is immoral.  (“Light” version: therefore selling bitcoin to buyers who are likely to use it for its typical use cases, is immoral).


Obviously Premise 5 is doing the heavy lifting here, though Premise 4 may also be controversial.

Each breath will cost you a nickel

November 14, 2017 § 50 Comments

The basic principles behind the prohibition of usury are simple.  Financially, usury is any contractual profit for the lender stemming from making a “loan for consumption“: a loan which authorizes the borrower to consume or alienate the actual property lent, while personally guaranteeing that he will restore to the lender the amount lent.  Morally, personally guaranteed loans are only licit as acts of charity or friendship made to a borrower in need: they are never licit under any circumstances as acts of financial self-interest on the part of the lender.

Intuitively, charging rent for the use of collateral property owned by the lender – actual alienable property which is later returned to the lender intact or ultimately bought out by the borrower – is not intrinsically uncharitable.

Intuitively, charging a man rent for the use of his own person, for each breath he takes from his own lungs, is intrinsically uncharitable.  Interest on a personal IOU is a charge of rent against a man for the use of his own person, since his obligation to repay simply is personal.

It is also intrinsically uncharitable to make a mutuum borrower responsible for the lender’s changing circumstances.  In general with a mutuum loan the borrower is not responsible – cannot be made responsible – for all of the circumstantial changes which occur in the universe during the duration of the loan.

People use terms like “inflation” in economic theory to refer to aggregate indexes of relative price changes over time.  An index is just a representative sample of statistically aggregated spot prices of particular goods and services, measured in some particular unit (US dollars, McDonalds Big Macs, etc).  There are as many possible relative price indices as there are discrete combinations of goods, services, transactions, and time periods.  But folks tend to treat “inflation” as if it were a basic feature of reality as opposed to a particular heuristic/statistical guesstimate about certain historical circumstantial changes in relative prices (measures of who in fact bartered what in exchange for what) for certain goods and services (and only those goods and services, etc).

I once bought a house by selling some stock, paying for the house with the proceeds.  When I sold the house it had “lost value” in terms of US dollars but had “gained value” in terms of the stock I sold. Whether the house had inflated or deflated in price over the period I owned it depends on what measure we use for price.  If I had sold the stock, rented a place to live, and made an interest free mutuum loan of the remainder of the proceeds I would have been financially better off still, assuming the mutuum was repaid.  If I had rented and not sold the stock at all I would be worst off of all, in terms of financial outcome.

This all would have been the result of changing circumstances.  In general it is not the responsibility of mutuum borrowers – it cannot be a mutuum borrower’s responsibility in justice – to compensate lenders for changes in the lender’s circumstances.

Inflation is a heuristic measure of aggregated circumstances in the economy, crafted and reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Even if inflation were a measure of the actual concrete and personal changing circumstances of the actual lender, which it isn’t, it remains intrinsically unjust to charge mutuum borrowers rent for the use of their own persons simply because of the changing circumstances of a lender.

More on the intrinsic viciousness of ‘pastoral accommodation’

November 5, 2017 § 94 Comments

Since 1999, I have directed a pastoral counseling agency that conducts over 12,000 [hours] of pastoral counseling per year.  That means that, over the last 18 years, I have either personally conducted, or been directly responsible for, over 216,000 hours of pastoral counseling, which is all about asking how one can apply the teachings of our Catholic faith to some of the most complex situations one could encounter in life.  Our agency’s services are delivered in English and Spanish to Catholic couples, families, and individuals across North and South America, Europe, Asia (primarily Hong Kong and India), Australia, and Africa, which has given me a uniquely multi-cultural lens through which to view this question of pastoral practice.  I am a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, and I serve as the Chair of the Education Committee for the Catholic Psychotherapy Association, which is responsible for the professional  development of the next generation of pastoral psychotherapists.  I also direct a graduate program in pastoral studies which is forming the next generation of pastoral ministers.  I have written over 20 books and programs on a host of serious, practical, faith-based topics that have been translated into at least 7 languages.

The idea that the laity are doomed to be spiritual also-rans strikes me as a particularly pernicious failure of pastoral practice.  I am, frankly, appalled that what appears to be driving the progressive advocacy of an interpretation of Chapter 8 of AL that supports communion for Catholics who are remarried without the benefit of annulment is that lay people are just too weak to live holy lives.  It seems to me that some 50 years after Vatican II, lay people deserve a little better than “we think we have to lower the bar because, well, you suck.”

… I happen to work with an awful lot of people who have been heroically bearing the cross of living faithfully in their irregular marriages for years and who are a testament both to the fact that  the current teaching bears real personal and relational fruit AND the fact that heroism is for the average Christian (thank you very much).  On their behalf, I can only say, “How dare you.” to anyone, who out of their misguided approach to pastoral practice would seek to demean the witness of such faithful, courageous, godly, and yes, heroic people.

(HT: LMS Chairman)

 

Gonna party like it’s 1312

October 25, 2017 § 71 Comments

Now and then you’ll encounter the claim that although usury (contractual profit from a mutuum loan) is morally wrong as an agreement between individuals, it becomes morally licit when it is authorized by the positive law, sometimes referred to as “the law of the Prince”.  Various rationalizations were suggested for this proposed title to interest – German positive law at the time enforced contracts charging up to 5% interest on mutuum loans – as within the legitimate power of the Prince, starting with the theories of Adam Tanner (SJ) of Ingolstadt in 1620.   Tanner and his pupil Christopher Haunold argued that:

This custom … was morally justified, even though the lender had no title to interest.  The State validated the custom by its power of eminent domain, transferring the property of the borrower to the lender [in the form of interest].  The State, it was generally admitted, had the power of eminent domain to dispose of private property for the common good.  — Noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury, page 353.

According to Noonan this purely positive law argument gained no traction outside of Ingolstadt (a two and a half hour drive from Cardinal Kasper’s see today) until 1736, when Vitus Pichler (SJ) and Francis Barth worked it over into a theory.  Noonan describes the theory:

The premium paid for a loan in such a situation was not usury in a strict sense, but a reward to a lender which the law allowed on the occasion of a loan.  … As in the conferring of property rights by adverse possession, a private person was given the right, which he would otherwise not have, to take the property of someone else, in order that the general welfare be promoted.

No surprise that this is yet another case of selective, willful amnesia.  Because centuries beforehand the constitutions of the Council of Vienne had ordered the excommunication of government officials who craft statutes asserting such a title:

Serious suggestions have been made to us that communities in certain places, to the divine displeasure and injury of the neighbour, in violation of both divine and human law, approve of usury. By their statutes, sometimes confirmed by oath, they not only grant that usury may be demanded and paid, but deliberately compel debtors to pay it. … We, therefore, wishing to get rid of these pernicious practices, decree with the approval of the sacred council that all the magistrates, captains, rulers, consuls, judges, counsellors or any other officials of these communities who presume in the future to make, write or dictate such statutes, or knowingly decide that usury be paid or, if paid, that it be not fully and freely restored when claimed, incur the sentence of excommunication.

 

 

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