Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Bankers as Immoral? The Parallels between Aquinas’s Views on Usury and Marxian Views of Banking and Credit

Lambert, Thomas (2019): Bankers as Immoral? The Parallels between Aquinas’s Views on Usury and Marxian Views of Banking and Credit.

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Abstract

Throughout history, the performance, practices and ethics of bankers and banking in general have received mixed reviews in both popular and scholarly writings. Early writings by philosophers, clerics, and scribes played a crucial role in the perceptions of banking and banking occupations. Thomas Aquinas’s thoughts and writings were greatly influenced by the Romans’ and Aristotle’s opinions on usury and the charging of interest, and Aquinas was in a position to have his opinions implemented in policy and practice. Marx noted how banking and credit were used to expand the production and sales of a capitalistic economy beyond certain limits, although his focus was mostly on credit extended to businesses. At the same time, he wrote about how the credit system could lead to economic crises as well as to the concentration and centralization of capital. While lending is motivated by profit, and while households are not coerced into borrowing money, the justice of a system which exploits workers and at the same time encourages them to borrow money in order to maintain a certain standard of living can be viewed as unfair and immoral. The value of goods, according to Aquinas and Marx, should mostly reflect the value of labor embodied in them, and for that reason, labor should be compensated fully for its work. For these reasons, Aquinas and Marxian economists offer somewhat similar views on both the labor theory of value as well as on the morality of certain banking practices. If credit and the banking system also bring about crisis and the greater concentration and centralization of capital, then the morality of these outcomes also needs to be examined.

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