- The Idea of a Moral Economy: Gerard of Siena on Usury, Restitution, and Prescription by Lawrin Armstrong
This is a valuable transcription of the scarce manuscripts of Gerard of Siena's contributions to theological and legal debate about usury with a very acceptable straightforward, if not always totally precise, and intelligible translation of the original Latin. The structure of the volume makes the medieval approach to argument and its basic, unchallenged theories of natural law, positive law, canon and civil law clear. Given the massive historiography on medieval ideas about what we call (but they did not) the economy, original material added must be judged on the extent to which it adds to our understanding of both the medieval approach and its underlying beliefs. This work does both.
Produced in the period of economic instability after the 2008 collapse it is also unexpectedly part of a current academic discussion on the problems of material inequality in which medieval ideas on the priority of the common good rather than private profit have developed an immediate relevance.
Its brief introduction, which sets the context in which Gerard wrote and the works of those with whom he debated and who later maintained his argument, would serve as an excellent start for undergraduates confronting the issues and the period for the first time. The author establishes the confrontation of the ideas of the period and their opposition to modern theories, pointing out where the medieval imperative for social and political rights and their view of debt and the fictitious nature of 'money exchange' differ from current economic assumptions.
Armstrong suggests that a reassessment of some of the arguments may provide a new perspective on present entrenched neoliberal orthodoxy about markets. To bring together in this way intellectual history and economic history is an admirable proposal and this translation a good point to start. [End Page 271]