The art of creating, managing, loaning, and investing money has always been fraught with moral hazards. Unfortunately, the widespread habit of viewing banking in a less-than-positive light has contributed to the misunderstanding of a human activity that not only contributes to human prosperity, but also creates a sphere of endeaver in which people can genuinely pursue virtue.
In popular fiction and the mass media, banking is commonly portrayed as dominated by selfish individuals with no interest in others beyond how they can be exploited. Undoubtedly, some people working in banking do behave in such a manner. The business of banking would, however, surely grind to a halt if this were normal practice.
Banking, like any other lawful commercial activity, involves people forming relationships. These relationships are normally with different objectives in mind, but nonetheless they are the fruit of lasting associations formed between one or more individuals. Most of the relationships formed through banking are concerned with people making decisions about the use of their own or others’ property. While the term property normally refers to a part of the material world that someone occupies or uses, property should be understood here as referring not only to land, what is permanently attached to it, and other goods, but also to money and whatever it can buy, including claims to services, entities such as insurance policies, and certificates for stock. These principles and ideas, explored by Samuel Gregg, lay a groundwork for understanding the practices of the banking world from a socio-theological Christian perspective.
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Samuel Gregg is director of research at the Acton Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. He has an MA in political philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and a PhD in moral philosophy and political economy from the University of Oxford, where he worked under the supervision of professor John Finnis.