Is there a straightforward way to tell if a simple loan for interest is usury?
Is the lender’s recourse for recovery of principal and interest, in a case of default, limited to the named collateral and only the named collateral?
That certain vices have become culturally associated with certain ethnic groups doesn’t turn vice into virtue. The fact that the Irish are (fairly or unfairly) associated with drunkenness doesn’t make sobriety a vice or turn drunkenness into a virtue, nor does it mean that any criticism of drunkenness is anti-Irish. The rhetoric of guilt by association may produce colorful emotions and conversations, but it probably obscures more than it reveals.
Several things may be noteworthy though, at least in terms of characterizing the association and the guilt – to the best of my knowledge, and with all the usual caveats, this being well outside the domain of what I consider substantively pertinent to the basic moral question.
Otherwise you are unjustly profiting financially from arbitrage over friendship
First, the fact that diaspora Jews in Christian lands gravitated toward usury as a profession is as much Christians’ fault as Jews’ fault. The attitude was that Jews were heathens and were going to Hell anyway, so the Christian sovereign’s law actually treated Jews more leniently than it treated Christians. Christians were prohibited from engaging in usury for the sake of their own souls; but Jews were damned anyway so why not let them do what they want? A libertine approach to the laws that applied to Jews was really a form of cruelty or at best indifference toward them, as is true of libertine legalism in general. Libertine legalism inherently expresses indifference about the good of persons subject to the law, and has had the detrimental effect of encouraging the pawn shops North Dakota growth of anti-Christian forces within Christian society over the long term.
Second, the situation illustrates the lie built into ‘libertine’ law in the first place, that is, the incoherence of the notion of the sovereign ‘leaving people alone’ to make whatever sorts of contracts they want to make. Without the Christian sovereign’s enforcement, usurious contracts would have no teeth. To the extent that the Christian sovereign enforced usurious contracts he formally cooperated with them: you can’t enforce contract terms without intending them. So professional usury on the part of Jews was really a partnership between Jews and their Christian enforcers. James I of Aragon (for example) couldn’t pass and enforce laws collecting up to 20% usury on behalf of Jewish moneylenders without intending the usurious lending in question. Law and law enforcement which “allow” people to sell themselves into slavery is not the passive thing that the question-begging term “allow” suggests.
Third, there were in fact significant non-Jewish tribes or dynasties associated with professional usury, notably the Lombards. As is the case in many high IQ professions Jews were doubtless overrepresented in part simply because, as a group, they have greater intelligence than most of the rest of the bell curve. But it isn’t as if Jews had a monopoly on the particular sin in question.
Certainly in the present age usury is not a “Jewish” thing. Usury is an “everyone” thing, so pervasive that most people have no idea what it even means. Usury is so prevalent that it has vanished into the background and become like the air we breathe. This has moral, practical, and economic consequences; and whatever one thinks of the historical, political, and moral situation it is worth actually understanding the subject before making judgments about it.
57) This all sounds so complicated, and use of the terms “loan” and “interest” to mean so many different things is confusing.