by Naresh Jotwani for the Saker blog
The Saker recently posted an article (here) on the important subject of the quality of leadership in the US. In a comment to that article, I asked him the following question:
From what you have accurately pointed out, is it possible also to draw the following inescapable conclusions?
1. Money which was poured into the think-tanks came not from the Neocon minions themselves but their paymasters, who are presumably very wealthy people.
2. Therefore “big money” of some variety wanted and presumably still want to “take over” US foreign policy. The money paid in is an investment seeking return.
3. Greed and arrogance drive big money.
So we are forced to conclude:
4. Unbridled greed and arrogance of certain people are creating difficulties for billions of people around the world.
Your opinion will be greatly appreciated!
Promptly, the Saker replied as follows:
4) and yes again
I agree with every point you make.
Actually, the root of most evil on our planet is usury and its “byproducts”. I recommend Michael Hudson as THE authority on this topic :-)
We see that the two words ‘greed’ and ‘usury’ are central to the two excerpts cited. We can hope therefore that an understanding of the meaning and background of these two words will add much to the background and significance and of Saker’s article.
Greed is a character trait, like a dark and bottomless hole, deep in the emotional make-up of a person. It distorts the affected person’s all-round outlook, and affects the entirety of his or her life and relationships. By its very definition, greed is insatiable. A need may one day be satisfied, but never greed. Unlike a need, greed has no connection with the essential material necessities of rational human life. It can therefore be dubbed an irrational trait, a character flaw. Since a greedy person is never contented, contentment as a goal of life is denied to him or her.
Does nature or nurture play the bigger role in the growth this trait in an individual?
While nature – genetics? – may indeed play a role, a far bigger role is probably that of nurture, as reflected in the person’s upbringing, education, social environment … et cetera. For example, severe deprivation may accentuate the expression of greed in an individual.
Usury is defined as ‘the lending or practice of lending money at an exorbitant interest’. ‘Exorbitant’ here implies that the rate of interest is designed with the specific aim of cruelly exploiting, impoverishing or even ruining the borrower.
The ideal of a healthy free-market economy is premised on both parties to a transaction benefitting from the transaction. Usury goes against that spirit in the sense that the borrower – the weaker party – is forced into a transaction which is not in his or her long term interest. A short term critical need knowingly or unknowingly pushes a person into a ‘debt trap’.
Usury is an expression of greed – but not the only possible expression of greed. Greed manifested in a schoolyard brawl, a family dispute or in bureaucratic corruption does not involve usury. Of course we must assume that usury does always involve greed as its core drive, since it is difficult to imagine an usurious practice not driven by greed.
Institutionalization of usury
While greed is a personal trait, the practice of usury can and very often is institutionalized. The institutionalization of usury requires immense cunning and cleverness. The stated mission of any such institution cannot say out loud the part about exploitation or impoverishment. If that part became known, the truth would chase away most borrowers; truth is bad for the business of usury. Therefore the underlying usurious nature of such institutions must be disguised by words such ‘helping the needy’, ‘free market’, ‘financial services, ‘modern lifestyle’ et cetera. Institutionalized usury can only prosper with the help of lies.
The stereotype of the usurious moneylender in an Indian village is based on the harsh reality of a not-too-distant past. An individual village moneylender may not formally ‘institutionalize’ the business, but a ‘caste network’ of such moneylenders across a few dozen villages behaves pretty much as an informal institutionalized structure.
In that sense, a moneylender family and caste – or, equivalently, tribe – must be understood as the earliest forms of institutionalized usury. In a traditional moneylender family, we assume that a child would learn about usury at the grandfather’s knee.
Far more imposing institutions of usury come with ‘progress’ and ‘development’ – institutions such as banks, regulators, central banks, innumerable laws, finance schools, hedge funds, law firms, lobbying firms … and so on. People soon learn that, since there is much easy money to be made through such rackets, there is no longer a need to bother with hard work.
Institutions provide nurture and selection
Once institutions of usury come into being – families, castes, tribes, banks, finance schools et cetera – nature is hugely supplemented by conscious nurture in enlarging and empowering the usurious class. The interplay of nature and nurture then becomes deep and thorough-going. Political power, which is usually spineless, yields readily to financial power, and the healthy economy of a society comes under the iron-grip of the non-productive usurious class.
Historically, between usury and greed, the latter certainly has to be older. Greed can exist even in the absence of money as medium of exchange and store of value; but usury depends explicitly on the use of money. Money in the form of clay tablets – or whatever – was invented about five thousand years ago, and therefore usury would have followed soon. Quite plausibly, greed might well have spurred the initial development of instruments of usury. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
Institutionalized usury is a powerful vehicle giving traction to unrestrained play of greed in society. This is because the disguising verbiage which serves as cover for usury displaces any other truly human values which the society might earlier have cherished. Older values and traditions are derided as not being ‘the best business practices’. In the absence of truly binding values – family, community, citizens’ duties to one another – the society crumbles.
In such a society, the most ruthless ‘players in the game of usury’ are shaped, toughened and honed by years of nature, nurture and relentless competition. Suborning the pliable political class from behind the curtains is second nature to them. While such ‘players’ may be admired or venerated by many, they shun any commitment or responsibility for the public good.
A ‘caste’ or ‘tribe’ – or even ‘nation’, in the original sense of that word – is like a very large extended family, bringing people together who are of similar background and traditions. In a heterogeneous world, such groups provide secure identity for family and community life. As people migrate from place to place, and interact with alien groups, staying together in the form of a cohesive group becomes a central and essential mechanism of survival.
Inevitably however, that survival mechanism engenders a strong feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘the others’ or ‘the other groups’. The inevitable result of that strong feeling is the attitude that (a) helping one of your own is a virtue, (b) hurting one of your own is a vice, and (c) virtue and vice simply exchange places if an alien individual or group is involved. Thus one wins group acclaim – and brides? – by robbing others to the benefit of one’s own group.
Group acclaim plays a big role in nurturing and reinforcing characteristic trends within a tribe. If a tribal hero who robbed a neighbouring tribe of ten pieces of gold wins laurels – and brides? – then some young boys will surely dream of out-shining their hero by robbing twenty pieces of gold. Vice practiced against another tribe is seen as virtue. In this sense, around the world, tribal values often fall far short of any notion of universality.
Therefore if we think about greed in a tribal context, then we must admit that its aggressive expression towards ‘others’ is not only permitted but often held up as virtue or exemplar, whereas its intra-tribe expression is moderated by intra-tribe relationships.
Oh, the irony of it all … !
Bright, western-educated children of Indian village money lenders are today making their careers in western financial businesses. One can imagine such a bright young ‘finance expert’ visiting his ancestral village and donating some money to the local school. For his generosity, the villagers would fall over one another to garland, fete and all-but-worship the ‘village boy done good’. The proud father would puff at his beedi and look on. But the simple-minded villagers would not be at all aware that, back in the shining capital city, the very same village boy lobbies aggressively for laws which facilitate the financial exploitation of communities such as theirs. Insufficiently aggressive lobbying will cost the bright boy his lucrative job.
Present status and geo-economics
Today institutionalized usury operates relentlessly, at peak efficiency – aided by powerful technology and by thousands of years of practice and refinement of art. Its unforgiving iron clutches extend all around the world. The current conflict in Ukraine is the latest and the most prominent symptom of the tectonic geo-economic stresses it generates.
Behind geo-politics lies geo-economics, and unfortunately greed plays a huge part in today’s global economic systems. To be fair, greed has probably always played a huge part in global economic systems – but it is only the current system which we witness first hand.
To an outsider, geo-economic issues seem to be THE central issues in the conflict. Nobody fights a war for democracy, or liberalism, or a third person’s well-being. Wars are always about riches, about ‘us versus them’. All other verbiage is at attempt to throw dust in other people’s eyes.
A major conflict on core issues has to be existential for both sides. Therefore talk of ‘the end of our civilization’ by a prominent financier does not come as a surprise. The civilization based on usury and fraud should feel threatened by the ongoing conflict. But then history has shown us again and again that – while civilisations come and go – life goes on.
Misfits of two types
Imagine that an individual who is not really greedy at heart finds himself or herself working with overtly greedy colleagues in a brazenly usurious institution. Clearly such an individual will be a misfit there. Over time, the individual must make a difficult choice: either become like everybody else around, or change jobs.
Conversely, an overly greedy individual may find himself or herself working with a group of contented and honest colleagues. This individual will also be a misfit. One imagines that such an individual will find it impossible to become contented and honest. Therefore the choices open to him or her are: try to corrupt everybody else around, or change jobs.
Other manifestations of greed
Like usury, price-gouging is also a form of economic violence. Like usury, price-gouging is also driven by greed, and often becomes institutionalized. The recent shameless hawking of certain types of vaccines is an example of price-gouging.
Different types of fraud – usury, price-gouging, corruption et cetera – are combined by clever people to multiply hugely their returns on investment. An example: Lend money at an exorbitant rates to country X so that she can ‘develop her economy ’; in simple language, force the country to mine A, B or C mineral and sell it to the lender at rock bottom prices. That would be usury, price-gouging, corruption and slave labour combined in highly synergistic manner, as taught by the best ‘business schools’ around the world.
But obviously price-gouging, usury, financial fraud, bonded labour et cetera are all siblings, all born out of limitless greed and sociopathic behaviour. While the present article discusses specifically only usury, clearly many of the observations made herein apply to all types of exploitation of the economically weak by the economically strong.