Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Intellectual property can go away, if the intellectual body won't get enough food. Even information on PC hard disks, books or even stone won't necessarily last forever.

Michael Hudson wrote or talked interestingly on the history of debt. He kind of agrees with Soddy that compound interest is an evil; it was probably an important factor in destabilizing civilizations since long.

But the analogy with thermodynamics does not look very instructive to me. We have merely a miss-match between exponential math and the physical world.

Generally, to have interesting developments, you need cyclic chains of events, or possibility to return to previous states. Classical thermodynamics kind of forbids cycles in equilibrium regimes; to have dynamics back to higher entropy states you need energy input. Once cycles of events are possible, they may organize and evolve themselves in some vaguely Darwinian fashion.

It is probably more instructive to look at the modern economy not from the bottom thermodynamics, but from a deep Darwinian point of view. Surely, Darwinian methaphors are prevalent enough in economic and social settings. Once you start talking about Darwinism, a whole train of images and recognizable comprehension kicks in - most of it rather irrelevant to a particular discussion.

What I mean by deep Darwinism here is manners in which repetitive events can organize themselves. It is an alternative to stochastic and deterministic chaos understanding of complex phenomena. Instead of wondering at fractals and "butterfly effects", the logic of self-enforcement and impulsive reaction should be appreciated. The physical models (be it stochastic or deterministic) are fine, and they do provide basic cause-effect pieces. But when it comes to pondering about unstable sensitivity to initial state parameters, or stochastic thresholds, limitations of those models should be recognized. That unstable sensitivity can actually be resolved by something outside the limited model! Particular events or causal effects can appear more numerously not by physical inevitabilities but by pieces of the natural selection logic: some events allow themselves to repeat successively, some events are 'suicidal'. Could repates - "repetitive event patterns" be considered as a new kind of replicators, along with genes and memes? (Cybernetic models are quite appropriate to this understanding. )

In the modern economics, the are surely pressures and forcings from macro-economic parameters of inflation and other various growths. But no less important are how macro-economic relations developed historically, and surely, how people and institutions adapt to the 'inevitable' pressures. Events repeat themselves because predominantly only historical pulls and pushes are tried (even if dressed in new ideology clothes), and then institutions and people compete and cooperate in whatever ways... A macroeconomic pressure is not just a given condition; it can become a tool (overt or concealed) of rather intelligent, confident, though not necessarily very bright, agents here and there.

by das monde on Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 09:37:36 PM EST
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where I was able to find this: The Lost Tradition of Biblical Debt Cancellations. In my humble opinion, this document has the potential to undo centuries of damage done to Christianity and Judaism by oligarchs and usurers. Especially in the context of economic and financial developments the past year, this is really powerful material:
THE once-glowing core body of law within the Judeo-Christian Bible has become all but ignored - indeed, rejected - by the colder temper of our times. This core provided for periodic restoration of economic order by rituals of social renewal based on freedom from debt-servitude and from the loss of one's access to self-support on the land. So central to Israelite moral values was this tradition that it framed the composition of both the Old and New Testaments.

Radical as the idea of cancelling debts and restoring the population's means of subsistence seems to modern eyes, it had been a conservative tradition in Bronze Age Mesopotamia for some two millennia. What was conserved was self-sufficiency for the rural family-heads who made up the infantry as well as the productive base of Near Eastern economies. Conversely, what was radically disturbing in archaic times was the idea of unrestrained wealth-seeking. It took thousands of years for the idea of progress to become inverted, to connote freedom for the wealthy to deprive the peasantry of their lands and personal liberty.

So far has the modern idea of market efficiency and progress gone that today, although the Bible remains our civilization's defining book, it is perceived largely as a composite of stories, myth and wisdom literature best epitomized perhaps in spirituals and hymns, not economic laws. The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule have become so dissociated from the economic legislation of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy that whoever takes these laws in earnest is considered utopian and anachronistic if looking backward nostalgically, or radical if adopting there as a guide for current activism. Yet these laws formed the take-off point for Christ upon his return to Nazareth's synagogue, and for his denunciation of the money-changers who had taken over Jerusalem's temple. As late as medieval Spain the tradition of the Jubilee Year was kept alive by Maimonides and Ibn Adret. To dismiss these laws is thus to remove much of the Bible from the context of its times, above all from its Bronze Age Near Eastern matrix.


Bronze Age rulers had pledged themselves to serve their local sun-gods by overseeing the rhythms of nature and society, periodically "proclaiming economic order and equity." But most such rulers were unseated by classical aristocracies which used religion and its priesthoods for increasingly narrow ends. To defend popular welfare against the incursions of these aristocracies, the authors of Judaism formulated the idea of a national covenant, placing moral order in the hands of their congregations at large. This populism was the counterpart to the civil law of Athenian democracy.

Jewish populism inverted the classical hierarchies of worldly power. Although the aristocratic Pharisee element within the temples asserted its own interests throughout the Hellenistic and Roman eras, Christ sought to restore the archaic ethic by overturning the banking tables in Jerusalem's temple and preaching anew the promise of Jeremiah to proclaim equity and liberty (deror) throughout the land. Indeed, it was specifically on this principle of restoring freedom to debt-slaves and unburdening the land that Christianity elaborated its ideas of redemption. In addition to redeeming souls, early Christians redeemed their co-religionists from worldly bondage. When Handel staged the first performance of his Messiah in Dublin in 1742, it was by no coincidence that the proceeds were used to free debtors from prison. For thousands of years, redeeming men and land from debt was the primary and most concrete form of redemption.

How the Axial Age took the Bronze Age proclamations of order out of the hands of kings
As creditor claims and private property spread outside of the public temples and palaces, the policy of regularly restoring economic freedom gave way to private accumulation of wealth at odds with overall social balance. Rather than being welcomed as ushering in an epoch of economic freedom, his privatization of hitherto communal land and public industry meant a loss of freedom for much of the population.


. . . The first five books of the Old Testament were given their final form late in the fifth century, contemporary with the high tide of Greek democracy in Athens. In 444 BC, Nehemiah, a Jewish official at Persian-dominated Babylon who had risen to the position of cupbearer under Artaxerxes, was allowed to go to Jerusalem to rebuild it. He won popular support by cancelling the debts and redistributing the lands that had been forfeited to local creditors. Making a second visit to Jerusalem, he solidified the groundwork for Ezra the scribe and his associated compilers, who reworked the Holiness Code of Leviticus into the idea of nothing less than a covenant with the Lord to promote economic justice in the land.

These Biblical redactors collated the stories of Moses recoiling against Egyptian inequity and leading the Exodus, of the conquest of Canaan behind Joshua, of the transition from judges to kings, and of the latters' backslidings which led the Lord finally to throw up his hands and let Israel and Judah be conquered by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. The story of Israel's divine punishment served as a parable of how it would be rewarded for following a regime of economic justice but punished for permitting the wealthy to oppress the poor. The land was to be held in trust for the common weal, not relinquished to let the economically aggressive use it as a lever to achieve patronage over domestic clients and hence secular lordship over their countrymen (as occurred most notoriously in Rome). Unlike the case with the Bronze Age rulers who would be punished by their sun-gods for failing to promote social equity, the entire Israelite nation would suffer. Only in the modern era have these stories been decoupled from the laws concerning debt, land tenure and freedom from debt bondage that they originally were designed to wrap, and their social kernel thrown away.


Christ's title of the Redeemer reflects the idea of saving debtors from debt-bondage. If it was their souls that he ultimately was redeeming from worldly shackles, financial power over debtors presented the ultimate test of a creditor's moral goodness. The moral is that charity toward debtors and other poor calls for forgiving their debts. Lending is put forth as the characteristic test for admission to heaven, for it is the most prevalent mode of exerting either coercive power or generosity with regard to one's fellow beings. Luke 6:35 cites Jesus' admonition to "lend, without expecting to be repaid." Centuries of commentary on this passage by medieval Churchmen elaborated how this exhortation meant that a creditor should not demand to be repaid if the debtor cannot do so without injuring himself.

Jesus drove home the conflict he felt to exist between Jewish religious values and the selfish worldliness of creditors in his famous act of overturning the banking tables in Jerusalem's temple. The story is told in all four gospels (Luke 19, Matthew 21, Mark 11 and John 2). Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus went directly to its temple, where he overturned the benches of the moneychangers and emptied out their moneybags on the floor. He also overturned the tables of merchants selling animals, and made a scourge of cords and "drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen" (John 2:15). Echoing the words of Jeremiah (7:11) some four centuries earlier, he announced that "My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it `a den of thieves."' This is the only report in the Scriptures of his using violence, and it inspired the city's leaders to plot his death.

Jesus' citation of Jeremiah was deliberately significant, for in this passage the prophet describes the Lord as threatening the Israelites not to make their land and its temples a den of thieves by oppressing aliens, orphans and widows, that is, the most seriously afflicted debtors. To prey on the weak, to monopolize the land and wealth is to seize what belongs to the Lord and his community. The relevant commandment accordingly is the Eighth: Thou shalt not steal. The great absentee landlords were stealing the land and freedom of the Israelites, and thus their destiny. Should the people fail to recall the Lord's spirit and rectify matters, they would suffer national perdition.

The Eighth Commandment in Canon Law, Lutheranism and Calvinism
Neither Hebrew, Greek nor Latin had separate words to disinguish between "interest" and "usury. " The distinction is a product o Canon Law seeking to carve out a form of financial gain (interesse that could be taken by Christians legitimately in the face of the Biblical strictures against neshek (Hebrew), tokos (Greek) and Faenus (Latin).  

by NBBooks on Wed Mar 12th, 2008 at 08:56:09 PM EST
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