Thursday, April 14, 2016

"There cannot be greater folly": Postbellum Wisdom on Usury Laws

J. B. C. Murray, The History of Usury from the Earliest Period to the Present Time … And an Examination into the Policy of Laws on Usury and Their Effect Upon Commerce (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1866), 124.

"There are grave objections to the policy of usury laws making it punishable to ask and receive a higher rate of interest than the one established by law, even where the parties make their mutual contract with their eyes wide open, and with a full knowledge of their own reasons and motives. Why would it not be just as reasonable for the legislature* to make it punishable for a man to take less than the rate named, as to forbid his taking more.  Men of adult age and common sense, surely know their own interest better than any legislature* can tell them. ... the law prevents him from borrowing on what it deems disadvantageous terms, though it cannot prevent his selling his goods at ruinous sacrifice. The consequence is, that in order to save his credit or supply an urgent necessity, he may be compelled to raise money by a forced sale, and sustain thereby much greater loss than had he borrowed at an increased rate of interest. ... Where a man's moveables are taken in execution, they may be considered pretty well sold if they produce one-third of what it would cost to replace them. In this way the loving-kindness of the law costs him sixty-six per cent., whereas, had he been allowed to offer even as high as twenty per cent. per annum, it would be upwards of three years before he paid what the law charged him at once; and thus the Legislature* may ruin a man. There may be worse cruelty, but there cannot be greater folly."

*Or a majority of voters.

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