The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • Henry W. Spiegel
Reference work entry


Usury, in the scholastic economic thought of the Middle Ages, referred to a lender’s intention to obtain more in return than the principal amount of the loan. As a general rule this meant that any interest-taking was usurious and forbidden, whereas in modern parlance only exorbitant interest is considered usurious. Usury was outlawed by lay and clerical authorities, who addressed the prohibition at first only to the clergy but expanded it later to lay persons as well and repeated it frequently and in strong terms.

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  1. Baldwin, J.W. 1970. Masters, princes and merchants, vol. 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Part IV.Google Scholar
  2. Consult Spiegel (1983, pp. 63–9, 696–70, with ample bibliography); Noonan (1957), the work of a legal historian; Nelson (1969), a sociological study inspired by the ideas of Max Weber; Baldwin (1970, Part IV), an historical study of the views of 12th-century churchmen, and the other works cited below. Langholm (1984) offers a new interpretation of the scholastic theory of usury on the basis of recently discovered medieval treatises.Google Scholar
  3. Langholm, O. 1984. The Aristotelian analysis of usury. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget; distributed in the USA by Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Nelson, B.N. 1969. The idea of usury. 2nd edn, enlarged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
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  7. Spiegel, H.W. 1983. The Growth of Economic Thought. Revised and expanded edn, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Viner, J. 1978. Four articles on religious thought and economic society. History of political economy 10(1), Spring, 9–45; 46–113; 114–50; 151–89. Also available as Religious thought and economic society: Four chapters of an unfinished work by Jacob Viner, ed. J. Melitz and D. Winch, Durham: Duke University Press, 1978.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry W. Spiegel
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