Read Chapter XXV - Usury oppresses the poor of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

Moses, Solomon and the prophets connect usury with the oppression of the poor. For this reason many have thought the divine prohibition of usury applied only to loans to the poor. By careful attention we will find that its evils are not confined to the immediate participants in the transaction. In the natural operation of economic laws the ultimate burden rests upon the poor. It is clear that when each member of a community contributes his portion to the common welfare the burdens are equally distributed. When any one fails to contribute his proportion the burdens are made heavier for the other members, and the burdens increase as the number increases of those who for any cause fail to contribute their part.

This is true in the family home life. When every member of the household is able, and with cheerful willingness does his full part for the family support and comfort, the burden is equally distributed. Let one member of the family be in any way disabled and his duties must be performed by others. If several are disabled the burdens upon the others may be greatly increased. If any are indolent the burdens are made heavy upon those who are industrious.

The same is true in the larger family, the community and the state, for political economy is but enlarged home economy. The burdens are lightest when every one contributes his full share to the general welfare. When any are idle the duties become heavier upon those who are faithful.

Usury makes it possible for many to live upon incomes from their property. They are not classed, nor do they class themselves, among those who are personally productive. This makes it necessary for the poor, those who have no property, to produce more in order to house and clothe and feed the community.

But those non-productive persons are consumers and are the most active consumers. They make heavy drafts upon the energies of others. They become extravagant in their habits and the spendthrifts of the world; while in proportion to their extravagant habits there must be severity and simplicity in the habits of the industrious and productive, on whom the support of the community rests.

The world does not grow richer nor are the conditions of life for one class eased by the extravagance of another class.

It is sometimes said that the idleness and the wasteful habits of some are for the benefit of others because they make a demand for more work. It would give the lumberman and nail-cutter and carpenter and glazier and plasterer and painter more work to call back the fire department and let the house burn, but that is not the way to house the houseless. Extravagance is wasteful destruction of property.

“It is insisted upon both moral and economic grounds that no public benefit of any kind arises from the existence of a rich idle class. Their incomes must be paid, though inconsistent with the public good. To illustrate, the London and Southwestern railroad contemplated a reduction of fares in cars of the third-class. It was defeated because it might reduce the dividends. The poor could not be relieved lest it should reduce the incomes of the idle.” Ruskin.

That family is happy and prosperous in which every member contributes personally his portion to its support and comfort. That condition affords the highest measure of relief for all. It is unfortunate if there should be an idler in the home who, as a parasite, feeds on the industry of the others; it is a double misfortune if that idler proves a spendthrift to waste the thrifty gatherings of the diligent. The same economic principles make it necessary for the highest good of every individual in the community that each shall contribute his personal part. “If any will not work neither shall he eat.” If any insist upon eating and yet will not work, it imposes an oppressive burden on others to compel them to supply his table.

Again: The limiting of production is a hardness to the poor. Their welfare requires the largest possible product along every line of human needs. Over-production is a term of the trade and means only that the supply has become so great that it cannot be sold at prices satisfactory to the trade. But as the prices fall the market broadens. Consumption increases with the increasing abundance, and that which it was not possible for certain classes to enjoy now comes within their reach and may become possible to even the poorest. There never can be an over-supply of fruits and vegetables and grains and meats and shoes and clothes and salt and oil and fuel and houses until the wants of the poorest are supplied. Their welfare requires that there shall be no restraining of the supply until they come out of their huts into houses; until they can shed their rags and dress in clothes both comfortable and attractive; until their tables are supplied with nutritious food; until they have the means of discovering and cultivating their aesthetic nature by shaking off the repellant conditions in which they are mostly compelled to live.

The practice of usury restrains the supply by freeing so large a part of the people from the necessity of active productive effort by the incomes from their properties. Many born to wealth have never felt the necessity, and have never made an effort nor turned a thought along productive lines. The world has lost all that they might have added to the world’s supply for human needs. Many, who have been successful in accumulation early in life, retire from active work while yet in full vigor, because they are relieved of the necessity by the income of usury or increase, and the most valuable portion of their lives is lost to the world.

Production is further limited by the demand that it shall yield an increase on the property employed. The shop is shut down when the goods cannot be sold at such a price as to pay a satisfactory profit on the investment. The shop stands idle until the stock is depleted and the demand raises the price of the goods and then the shop is again opened. The workmen could go on with their work, supplying the world with their goods, bringing the price down until within the reach of the poorest, but it is the owner of the shop that holds the key and demands that the supply shall be so far restrained that the price shall yield a satisfactory increase on the property.

Inventions and improved tools are a blessing to the poor when they make labor so productive that they can enjoy results of labor that could not be enjoyed by them before. They are not a blessing when used to gain an increase on wealth by employing less labor. Their proper use is to make labor more productive; their perverted use is to make property more profitable.

There is a natural restraint by the law of supply and demand when all needs are so supplied that there is no longer a sufficient compensation to the producer; but it is a perverted and unrighteous restraint to place property between productive labor and human needs and demand a reward for it before these human needs shall be satisfied. There is an utter want of pity for the poor in permitting them to go unhoused, unfed and unclothed, unless there shall be a profit by increase in supplying their wants. True benevolence requires that labor shall be made so effective as to fill every human need, but pure selfishness uses property to supply the need for a gain. This restraint for an increase on property is oppression of the poor for a price.