Contrary to the assumption that the primary function of debt was to ensure that the lender grew richer from the interest, it seems that that key issue was labour. In a situation with plenty of land and scarce labour, all sorts of means were used to secure labour. One was debt. Why else would a wealthy person lend money to an impoverished peasant? Would it not be more profitable to lend to another wealthy person? It seems not. Since it was routinely impossible for the debtor to pay off even even the interest, he would need to work the land of the lender until the ‘debt’ was paid off. The lender was in no hurry to see the debt repaid. As Steinkeller observes:

Assuming that most loans were made with other objectives than the interest-generated profit in mind, it follows that, in such circumstances at least, interest was a tool and not an economic end in itself, being therefore devoid of real economic value. Its rate was largely irrelevant vis-à-vis the amount of the loan, except that it had to be sufficiently high to make it impossible for the borrower to repay the capital (‘The Money-Lending Practices in Ur III’, 2002, p. 113).

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