money and beauty

'The Calumny' by Sandro Botticelli

Don’t want to dwell on this, because hypocrisy can be such a tired topic. Nevertheless, it’s a very succinct description of how a letter of exchange wasn’t officially seen as usury. Here, give it a gander:

‘The Church’s ban on usury and the images of usurers burning in hell troubled lenders and borrowers alike. But people needed loans and there was no point in lending without a return. It was important to find a solution that wasn’t just “a way around” the ban, but that really did not seem to be usury at all. The letter of exchange was a “most delicate invention” and “a most subtle activity,” wrote Benedetto Cotrugli in 1458 and what’s more “impossible for a theologian to understand.”

For more than two hundred years, it allowed bankers to make a profit on loans without feeling they were usurers. Foreign currencies weren’t usually held in quantity in any one town, so if someone wanted to change florins into, say, English pounds, the florins were handed over in Florence and the pounds picked up in London. Officially, travel to London took ninety days, so someone kept the florins a while before repaying since the exchange rate was always more favourable for the local currency. In London, a similar exchange deal could be made to turn the pounds back into florins, so that after ninety days in Florence again, there might be a profit of 10 to 20%.’

(source: Money and Beauty exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence)

Did you catch all of that? Today, most of the non-Muslim world doesn’t give the subject of usury a second thought, but we certainly have plenty more examples of this sort of double standard in our societies.

I doubt I’ve fully explored all the things I thought about during my short stay in Florence. Might write about other things and then come back to Money and Beauty. Who knows where this lahikmajoe blog is going anyway.

Am I the only one enjoying it so far?