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Popes and Bankers: A Cultural History of Credit and Debt, from Aristotle to AIG Paperback – March 15, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
In this particular book he takes the time period from Aristotle to present day and successfully strings together the intriguing stories into a narrative that was a joy to read.
What I found particularly interesting were the historical developments related to anti-Semitism; beginning with the role of philosophers, theologians, and institutions trying to grapple with the issue of profit making from loans(rather than from producing goods) and their pronouncements regarding the morality of this activity, contrasted with those such as Marx who would find useful the negative associations related to the the success of Jews in European finance "huckstering" to support their agendas.
The book does a very good job of explaining the development of credit dependency and the complex financial products brought into being without making your eyes glaze over. In fact, it's quite fascinating.
It is not at all a dark view of history, but a web of human action covering a range of motivations from the desire to create a just and moral society to the expansion of wealth for all to the exploitation for personal gain or ideological purpose. And the effect is kind of heart wrenching. There are wonderful surprises throughout which bring a smile to your face, such as Institutes having been written by John Calvin at age 26.
Not to be missed.
The first thing that puzzled me, however, is that this book is published by Thomas Nelson, mainly known as a Bible publisher based in Nashville. Huh, that's odd. And then the book begins with an anecdote about a woman who defaults on her over-priced mortgage, the punch line of which is that her problem is that she is a prodigal.
The history of debt and credit then is undertaken, and the point is that both Judaism and Catholicism, as well as much of secular ancient thought, considered money-lending to be a serious sin. The sin of usury was roundly condemned, and it meant not the charging of excessive interest, but the charging of interest at all. In its place, the rich were recommended to give generously to the poor, not to entrap them in pay day loans.
While this point comes across loud and clear throughout the historical section of the book (and while virtually no mention is made of any ancient moral precepts condemning the poor for trying to scrape by through borrowing money), the author strains to make the point that it is the fault of greedy borrowers, rather than greedy lenders, that is really the problem that tanked the economy.
His history of the US economy may be considered somewhat less than objective, since Murray Rothbard is his primary source.Read more ›
The book was a good read and I couldn't put it down. It's certainly motivated me to do some of my own historical research into past methods of banking and lending and given me an interesting view and starting point.
If you are looking for an in-depth look into financial histories, this is not it. It is merely highlights of economics as they were formed and affected the western world.
I was particulary amused by the history of the Rothschilds and their double dealing in the funding of wars. It must rate a the lowest practice of greed by humankind. Yuk!
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