Knut Wicksell: Selected Essays in Economics - Vol. 2

By Knut Wicksell; Bo Sandelin | Go to book overview

14

ON USURY FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ECONOMIC THEORY

As is well known, in the present year’s session the Riksdag has passed a government bill for a new law against usury’, which has subsequently been published and the first paragraph of which contains the statement that ‘any person who, in advancing money or allowing the payment of a debt to be deferred, exploits any other person’s straitened circumstances, imprudence or recklessness so as to obtain or to stipulate for him or herself or another person pecuniary advantages clearly in excess of what might be regarded as constituting a reasonable rate of interest in the circumstances, shall be… liable to a fine…of up to one thousand crowns or imprisonment for a maximum of one year, where no penalty is fixed for the offence in the general Criminal Code’.

The auspices under which this law came into being were not particularly favourable. What prompted the government bill, in the first instance, was a Riksdag paper dating from 1898; but this paper was hardly the result of any generally perceived need for legislation on the subject, it was due rather to the passing sensation caused by a few startling cases of usury which had occurred in the capital in the previous year, especially the well-known Thavenius case. The bill was drafted by the legal department, leaning heavily on the German usury law from 1880, but the division of the Supreme Court that was charged with subjecting it to a preliminary review, in accordance with the Constitution, recommended unanimously that it be rejected, chiefly on the grounds that the provisions of the law were considered to be too unclear and vague to be successfully applied by the courts. Nevertheless, the original bill was presented by the government to the Riksdag, with a single small, though not unimportant, amendment. The majority in the Standing Committee on Civil Law Legislation recommended the rejection of the government bill for about the same reasons as the Supreme Court; in the First Chamber, one of our foremost legal authorities, Supreme Court Justice Afzelius, who had not taken part in the review of the bill by the Supreme Court, spoke out against the bill in detail and in very severe terms; the

Originally published as ‘Om ocker ur nationalekonomisk synpunkt’, Ekonomisk Tidskrift, 1901.

-3-

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