John Calvin – the usury suspect?

A fascinating thought from one of this year’s speakers at Greenbelt, Ann Pettifor, was the role that the theologian John Calvin played in the formation of modern economics.  By lifting the church’s ban on "usury", i.e. the charging of interest on loans, Calvin allowed the creation of credit.  This moved us from a feudal economy, where people could only borrow money from their lord, to a modern economy, where anybody could borrow money from a bank.

No credit, no credit crunch, right?  So, I thought it would be quite fun to reinvent Calvin’s TULIP for the bankers who got us into this whole sorry mess we find ourselves in.  So, here goes…

Total depravity [this one can quite happily stay the same!]
Unconditional greed
Limited responsibility
Irresistible temptation
Perseverance of the wealthy

So I was thinking about this yesterday, and I thought this was probably all a little too harsh on Calvin.  He’s hardly the inventor of modern capitalism, and i’m not convinced that capitalism is entirely responsible for the mess we’re in.  Capitalism has had some pretty bad press recently (and not so recently), so as a counter to that I thought I’d share this quote from J. Gough:

 "The extraordinary thing about capitalism is its humility and refusal to judge.  It will give us what we want; it will not force on us what it thinks we need.  Often we are disgusted by what we discover that we want – but that reflects on us not on the servant who brings us our fetish gear and saturated fat.  It would bring us organic turnips just as happily."
Capitalism’s fault, or our own?  Sobering stuff.

So, there it is, my first ever blog post.  Feel free to comment!

2 thoughts on “John Calvin – the usury suspect?

  1. I’m not inclined to blame capitalism, being a free market woman myself. Individuals have to bear a lot of the blame/responsibility–we aren’t willing to wait for anything, but want things NOW. That desire for instant gratification leads to many of us overextending ourselves with credit to get what we feel we HAVE to have, rather than waiting till we can afford it.

    And often, the things we feel we HAVE to have aren’t necessities at all–just things we WANT. That’s something else we’ve lost along the way–the ability to distinguish between a need and a want.

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