Read Chapter XVII - Equal rights of men of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

All men have sacred rights that must be regarded. That these rights are equal is so familiar and stale an expression that it hardly need be spoken. “All men are created equal,” each having rights, that are inalienable, and each having the right to resist the encroachment on his rights by another. To protect these rights governments are instituted.

The vital energy of a man is his own and his right to it must be regarded. Since the abolition of chattel slavery this has been indefeasible except for crime.

He has a right to his own vital energy and to all that his own vital force produces. He has a right to his property inherited, earned, or however secured, except by fraud. He has no claim against the vital energy of his fellow man, nor has he any claim whatever against the property of another.

The working man needs capital. His vital energy must waste unless there is material upon which it may be expended. There must be the tree, land or material in some form, upon which he can work. But give him the world raw and unsubdued and he can transform it again as he has. He can build again everything on land and sea, the farms, towns, and cities, and the floating palaces. He can again dig out the mines and refine the silver and gold, mould the clay, smelt the ore and shape the iron. His needs and his power, however, give him no claim to the property of another.

The man of property is dependent upon the laborer. He may be the owner of farms, forests and mines, of horses, flocks and herds, of railroads and oil wells, yet these will not minister to him nor serve him without the laborer. His coffers may be filled with gold, and his barns bursting with grain and his stalls filled with fatlings, yet all this wealth is useless and lost, unless touched with the vital energy of an intelligent laborer. But his dependence and losses give him no right to the labor of another.

He has no right, no just claim, to the services of another man, his equal. All his wealth cannot confer the right. Wealth is but a thing, in itself without rights, and can therefore add nothing to the rights of its owner.

He may however use his wealth to command service by might, but not by right. A club is but a thing having no will and no rights, yet in the hands of a savage it adds greatly to his power and may be used by him to oppress another of his tribe. A ruffian with his gun meeting a defenseless man may so command him, that he is ready for the most abject obedience. An armed highwayman may compel a brave man “to stand and deliver.” So a man may use his property to secure the service of another but it gives him no right to that service.

The usurer, who has himself no rights against his fellows, uses a thing, his property, as an instrument or weapon to command service.

He may place his hand upon every material thing another must have, and withhold it, and the other is shut up and compelled, he has no alternative. He must yield to the demands or suffer. Many men are driven to the last extremity before they will borrow.

But if the borrower is very willing and urgent for the loan, this does not change the nature of the act. The game may be shot upon the wing as it is endeavoring to escape, or it may be snared in a trap by a tempting bait. The wild broncho may be captured in chase, or beguiled into the corral.

The voluntary sacrifice of others to the usurer does not make his gains just. The foolish ones are now willing to invest in lottery tickets, yet that does not make the lottery lawful. Slot machines are being put out of the cities, because so many are ready to part with their nickels. If there were none ensnared by them, they could stand harmless.

The borrower may be greatly elated with the hope of gain, but the injustice is the same, whether the services be secured by compelling force, or by guile, or by the folly of the victim.

If we admit the supremacy of man over the material creation, all subordinate to him, and no right to be, except to serve him, and also admit the equal rights of all men, there is no escape from the conclusion that the usurer can have no rightful claims to any portion of the labor of the borrower, without surrendering to him some portion of his property as compensation for the services received. He must have less property when the service is rendered and the borrower must have more property if the rights of both are regarded.

A false impression prevails, that the lender in some way gives the loan to the borrower; that the borrower becomes somewhat the owner of the property. The borrower is encouraged in this illusion and it becomes a plausible basis for the claim upon his services.

When a loan is made to a bank it is called a “deposit” and rightly, for it is only placed in the banker’s hands and does not in any part become his. This is true of any amount, great or small, whether the deposit draws interest or not. The lender never loses his sense of ownership of the whole amount, nor does the banker encourage the fiction that he has become part owner.

Every loan is but a “deposit.” The ownership of no part passes to the borrower. It is seldom that the loan or “deposit” is not safer in the keeping of the borrower than in the hands of the owner himself, when secured by mortgages or personal sureties. The usurer gains the earnings of the borrower but parts with no property. He receives the service but gives nothing.

Two usurers, A and B, are neighbors. A has a garden he wishes dug. He has an ax but no hoe. B has wood that he wishes cut. He has a hoe but no ax. The laborer appears and wishes to do their work. Usurer A agrees to lend him his ax to cut B’s wood on the condition that he shall return it unimpaired and work his garden for its use.

He cuts the wood, but has no hoe to dig A’s garden for the use of the ax. Usurer B now lends the laborer his hoe to dig the garden, but takes the cutting of the wood for the use of the hoe. The confused borrower knows he is defrauded of his work, though each seems to have a plausible claim upon him.

A does not give the hoe to the laborer. He retains the full ownership but deposits it in the workman’s hands to be returned unimpaired. B does not give away his ax, he only places it in the laborer’s hands also to be returned unimpaired. The full hoe and full ax is returned and they have taken the services without compensation.

The result is just the same as if A and B had traded tools and A had given the laborer a hoe to dig the garden, “the tool and the material with which to work,” and B had given him an ax to cut his wood, “the tool and the material with which to work,” without a pretence of a payment for his labor.

Taking only a part of the borrower’s or laborer’s services does not relieve it of injustice. The nature of the oppression is the same, only less heinous and flagrant. He who took a penny belonging to another is a thief as truly as the man who took a pound. Petit larceny and grand larceny differ only in the amount stolen. The man who takes three per cent. of the labor of another wrongfully defrauds as the man who takes fifty per cent. The nature of the wrong is the same; they only differ in degree.

It is a well known fact, however, often repeated, that ninety-five out of every hundred who go into business with borrowed capital, that is, who pay interest on “their material and tools,” do give the vigor of their lives to the service of usurers and at the end have nothing.

The element of time is only a figment that clouds the question of right and deceives the borrower. In order that the labor of another may be appropriated it is necessary to give him time to work. The laborer may dig in A’s garden a day or all summer and he may chop wood for B a day or all winter. The result is the same. It is necessary that the borrower be given time to earn something before it is or can be appropriated. The question is, how rapidly can he earn, and how soon can his earnings be collected? Long time loans with the frequent payments of the earnings of the victim are the ideal conditions of the usurer.