It is often said, “Don’t kill the messenger,” but that is precisely what everyone seems to want to do in my case. I’m not sure why because the news I bring is neither good nor bad. It is simply the truth; and it is a very sad day when telling the truth can foster such ill will. There are some who go so far as to declare my very existence wicked simply for providing information people use to engage in a specific type of voluntary exchange that, although of immense benefit to society, has somehow acquired an unsavory reputation.
As you may have surmised, I am the rate of interest, the price difference between present goods and future goods. Now, many economists mistakenly identify me merely as the price of borrowing money over time, but that is only one of the many messages I carry. I also represent the price spread in the various stages of production, where capitalists purchase present goods in the form of factors of production in the hopes of selling what is produced by those factors for a higher price than what they spent. I am also this difference in price.
Nobody but me can gather the information I gather, for my message is determined by billions of individual transactions occurring simultaneously all over the economy. I consider the individual supply and demand schedules of hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of individual consumers and producers, along with the uncertainty involved in every time transaction, to determine the current price levels for transactions that involve time at any given moment.
In the case of individual borrowers, the uncertainty I mentioned includes that borrower’s previous behavior, which is generally called a “credit rating.”
The Usury Slander
While it is only one of the many prices I make available to the market, an inordinate amount of attention is paid to the price of borrowing money. That is likely for two reasons. One, as I said, is that most people erroneously believe it is the only information I impart. Two, people seem to be borrowing a lot more than they did previously in history for reasons I will explain shortly. As a result, it is regarding the price of borrowing money where I am most slandered and abused.
Because this price of borrowing is above zero, there are some who consider my existence alone as evil. They say I’m a party to a crime they call “usury,” which is a very strange concept. When everyone is acting honestly, money is a scarce commodity, so any loan by Person A to Person B requires a sacrifice on the part of A. Person A must forego consumption in the present in order to lend to B.
It is no different than if A were saving for a new car or some other expensive item for himself. He must forego eating out as much, or buying new clothes, or going on vacation this year in order to put aside money to buy the expensive item next year.
By loaning money to B, A is allowing B to skip this sacrifice and purchase the expensive item now. It seems a very peculiar notion that A should forego spending his own money on himself only to let B use it for free when needed. How did this obligation to serve B free of charge come about? Aren’t all men created equal?
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.