Back when I was in university, I did my philosophy ethics thesis on "Usury". Most haven't heard of this word. It's a term from a forgotten age-- the good old medival days when lending money at a rate of interest was considered a sin.
Yes. Interest was a sin. And 'Usury' was it's name. And not just a little sin! Dante put the usurers on a level all their on in his Inferno. They had a special place of suffering in Hell all their own for their particular monetary deeds. Indeed, usury also was one of the Seven Deadly sins. Muslims concur by the way, and have banks and financial systems now that work without charging interest.
In university the concept was academic. Living here in Sagada, I now experientially understand.
You see, there's no bank machines here that work with my card. In order to live here, I've had to rely on Western Union to receive my money that comes in from international art donations and sales.
As you may know Philipinos go to work all around the world, then send money home to family-- to places like Sagada. It is one of the biggest sectors in their economy. And they too must use Western Union. In this way, I have suddenly become a financial Filipino! This is how Filipinos must send their money. And Africans, and Latin Americans and so many other workers from developing countries that go to developed countries to work.
I've almost fainted each time I've had someone send me a national Western Union transfer. I've almost passed out when I've done international transfers. The fees are insane. Local transfers are from 10% to 20%. International fees go up to 30%. Thats my hard earned money and kind donations vanishing into corporate coffers. It's fucking crazy.
But when your financial options are limited by location, country, status, education and Internet access, there just aren't any other options! The financial instruments available to first worlders-- credit cards, wire transfers, paypal, and even just a bank account just arenet available.
And so Western Union usurously exploits.
Of course Western Union doesn't charge by percent. They call it a"fee". Which is bullshit. Dante would see right through that. The quotes above are the percentage value of the "fee" to the amount sent.
And that's mighty reminiscent of Usury-- charging a percentage for access to money. Usury was a sin in the medival days because folks saw clearly how it enslaved the borrower to the lender. Poor borrowers became incapable of capital repayment because they could only just barely pay the interest. Rich lenders would in fact make the most from the poorest borrowers. Its not a matter of personal weakness but of social power balance. We see it today clearly with credit card debt, and of course poor countries and their debt enslavement to the IMF and first world countries.
Western Union is essentially no different. Except it doesn't just enslave people, or even countries. It basically is ripping wider the gap between the planetwide classes of rich and poor. Western Union's client base is folks in disadvantaged countries all over the world. Folks with no access to the Internet, to banking, to financial instruments. Families in Filipino villages like mine, or Africa or Nicaragua, or somewhere else where there are no other financial options.
I've just discovered that alot more people think the same. Check this Avaaz petition out: