Richard Westra argues that changes across the capitalist world at the turn of the 21st century put into play a global financial system which operates as a reincarnation of ancient usury. The book reexamines the historical record to show how activities of antediluvian money lending brought Western civilization to the brink of collapse. Usury corrupted princes and kings by indulging their conspicuous consumption. It forced them to bleed their populations to fuel their possessive lust. And it fomented vicious cycles of indebtedness in the wars it compelled.
Money lending to merchants spread the commercial economy that intervened between producers and consumers driving populations into debt and dispossessing them of their land. What saved Western civilization was the rise of capitalism. Capitalism tamed the activities of money lending, and endowed them with socially redeeming value. The cost of borrowing was rationally set in money markets. Bank credit was offered in anticipation of incomes generated by its determinate use. All in all, capitalism tethered finance to expanding production of material goods and increased social wealth.
But, as the 20th century drew to a close, with capital no longer scarce as exemplified by the aimless bloating of varying categories of funds, finance again turned to its dark side. With the disarticulating of production through globalization, there existed no possibility for bloating funds to ever be converted into real capital with determinate, socially redeeming use.
Instead, systemic rule changes empowered big banks, big investment firms and finance wings of giant corporations to unleash vast oceans of funds in a global orgy of money games. However, the global financial system of casino play can only operate akin to ancient usury. Wealth for the few is expanded by expropriation and Himalayan levels of debt befalling the many!
Like usurers of old the new Merchants of Venice are indifferent to how lent funds are used. And loan repayment is set arbitrarily, often exacting such a high cost that the borrower is ruined or forced to strive for the ruin of others. Big government becomes the handmaiden sweeping as much debt under the public rug as it can.
Yet there is only so much in pounds of flesh left on the bones of humanity. Greece is really just the hors d’oeuvre.
PATRICK BOND, Professor of Political Economy, University of the Witwatersrand –
“With his classical-Marxist scalpel, Westra brilliantly dissects the West-East sweep of over accumulated capital, allowing him to put financialization in proper perspective and more explicitly make the case for socialism. If you tire of circling around worsening inequality, imperialism and other ‘idle-money’ symptoms of economic crisis, and instead you want to drill down to find root causes within capitalism’s putrefying remnants, as Westra puts it, this is a superb guidebook.”
PATRICK BOND, Professor of Political Economy, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
ROBERT ALBRITTON, Professor Emeritus, York University –
“Unleashing Usury is a must read for those concerned about the increasing financialization of the global economy. ‘Usury’ got its deeply negative connotations in the Middle Ages, when Christianity viewed it as out and out evil. Westra argues that this was not simply some kind of naive bias on the part of Christianity, since the dog-eat-dog trends of usury did play a role in undermining medieval civilization. In this book he presents forceful arguments backed by strong historical evidence to demonstrate that the capitalist financialization we are now experiencing is far worse than the medieval breed of usury. This is because of the extent to which the unleashing of usury has penetrated global life with deep wounds, wounds that because of their depth and breadth will be difficult to heal. A start at healing will require an understanding of the nature of the wounds, and this is precisely where Westra’s book is particularly strong. He makes it very clear that a patch work of surface cures will not get us far when it is deep wounds that we need to cure. It is my hope that this book will be widely read by scholars, politicians, and all those who are troubled by our global economy’s current directions.”
ROBERT ALBRITTON, Professor Emeritus, York University
SCOTTISH LEFT REVIEW –
“Westra presents a bold and challenging Marxian analysis of the world economy that concludes capitalism no longer exists and moreover cannot be recreated in another form. In this post-capitalist world, the remaining capitalist states and their productive capacity are being consumed and their ability to sustain their populations destroyed by the unproductive monster produced by unused money: creditism, casino capitalism or as Westra prefers usury.”
SCOTTISH LEFT REVIEW more p. 28-29
REVIEW OF RADICAL POLITICAL ECONOMICS –
Richard Westra has developed a theory of financialization and globalization as the disintegration of the pure logic of capital informed by analysis of idle money funds unravelling any possibility of resuscitating a mode of accumulation as a value-augmenting process. This happens when self-commodified money capital in the money and capital markets disintermediates itself from production and in effect forces industrial capital to become “not-at-all-manufacturing” rentier vehicles. His contributions add great novelty to the Uno-Sekine approach, and his analysis is fundamentally distinctive from the post-Keynesian notion of finance-led growth regime or the classical Marxist notion of the dominance of finance capital.
REVIEW OF RADICAL POLITICAL ECONOMICS. more