viernes, 13 de mayo de 2011

¿Qué diferencia al prestamista del usurero? Una lección de Derecho Civil con El mercader de Venecia

Una de las mejores razones (Masciandaro) para calificar un préstamo como usurario: cuando el prestamista no pretende recuperar lo prestado sino quedarse con la garantía
In The Merchant of Venice we have an economic agent, Antonio, who to help his close friend Bassanio decides for the first time to contract a debt of three thousand ducats, for three months, sure to have future income, the proceeds of his commerce by sea, absolutely sufficient. The expected income for coverage can reach a maximum value of eighty-one thousand ducats.18 But the expected income is by definition uncertain, since the ships of Antonio are on a voyage,19 and they could be shipwrecked. In the most pessimistic assumption of collective shipwreck, we would have zero income. For simplicity’s sake, let us consider only these two events.
Based on the theory of optimal loan contracts, a 3% probability of the favorable event are sufficient to make the financing project worthy. By the same token, Antonio is extremely tranquil, since he has diversified the risk. The indebt himself, Antonio then applies to the hated, ever mistreated Shylock, Jew of Venice. What is Shylock’s profession? He lends money, seeking to have it back plus interest; therefore we usually think he acts like a banker. …  If Shylock considered Antonio a normal customer, he would calculate the probability of the occurrence of various events that would conditions Antonio’s ability to meet his commitment.
We must therefore determine the objective probability—i.e. agreed by both Antonio and Shylock—that the ships return. We can imagine, apart from the subjective hopes in one direction or the other, that the probability of this event is, for example, 80%. Then, still applying the theory of optimal contracts, Shylock would demand the repayment of 3,750 ducats, which corresponds to an interest rate of 25%. But Shylock has no intention of acting like a banker with Antonio. The hate he harbors for him drives him to seek to gain possession of the collateral that interests him most: the life of the merchant of Venice. So Shylock’s proposal to Antonio is the following:
Go with me to a notary, seal me there your single bond; and, in a merry sport, if you repay me not on such a day, in such a place, such sum or sums as are express’d in the condition (editor’s note: the 3000 ducati), let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me.”23
Shylock is transformed from a banker into a usurer: he offers a contract in which the desire to gain possession of the collateral is reflected in highly favorable monetary conditions: the interest rate, in fact, is zero! That particular good as collateral, which under normal circumstances would likely have no value for a banker, assumes that illegal or iniquitous surplus value for Shylock with Antonio that represents the peculiarity of conduct of a usurer with respect to that of a banker. Shylock is therefore both, according to the contract he offers. And note that extinguishing the life of Antonio has a value for Shylock that is not only emotional but also rational: in fact, he would be eliminating a party who always lends at zero interest. It might be interesting to compute what monetary value Shylock implicitly assigns to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Applying the usual formula of contracts, we discover that Shylock implicitly assigns a value of 3,000 ducats to one pound of Antonio’s flesh. But there is more: whatever the probability assigned to the favorable event, the value of the collateral does not change, nor does the value of the repayment change.
This would not occur if Shylock acted like a banker: any variation in the uncertainty would vary the interest rate, and with it the value of the repayment, because that is the objective of a banker. But Shylock is not seeking repayment but the collateral, and this is the only contract his is interested in. So he is still offering the most advantageous conditions possible: interest rate zero.
Note, in fact, that Antonio accepts Shylock’s proposal with enthusiasm, judging it extremely generous. A zero interest rate implies zero risk; i.e. the certainty for Antonio—and this is at the limit of verisimilitude—but also for Shylock that the shipwill return, and that the debt will therefore be repaid. A debt repaid is the objective of a banker; but Shylock in this contract is a usurer, and his objective is that the debt not be repaid so that he can take possession of the collateral.
That seizing the collateral is Shylock’s sole purpose is further demonstrated by:
• the joy with which he greets the news of the loss of Antonio’s ships;
• his obstinate refusal of much greater sums for repayment in exchange for cancellation of the collateral clause. Not only did Shylock first not accept 6,000 ducats (which would have represented an interest rate of 100%), then 9,000, but he also stated that he was prepared to refuse 36,000 ducats.
Y el final de la historia es todavía mejor: contratos contrarios a la moral. Antonio gana el pleito porque Shylock solo puede ejecutar su garantía (una libra de carne de Antonio) en sus propios términos, de modo que si derrama una gota de sangre de Antonio – lo que es inevitable si ha de arrancarle el corazón – le condenarían por asesinato. Hoy diríamos, lógicamente, que la garantía es nula por contraria a la moral. Pero en el siglo XVI…

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