Part V, Chapter XXXIII
THE CURRENCY UNDER THE CREDIT SYSTEM.
"THE great regulator of the velocity of circulation is credit. This explains, why a sharp stringency in the money-market generally coincides with a full circulation." (The Currency Question Reviewed, p. 65.) This is to be taken in a double sense. On one hand all methods, which save currency, are based upon credit. On the other hand, take, for instance, a 500 pound note. A gives it today to B in payment for a bill of exchange; B deposits it on the same day in his bank; his banker discounts with it on the same day a bill of exchange for C; C pays it to his bank, the bank gives it to the bill broker as a loan, etc. The velocity with which this note circulates here in purchases and sales is promoted by the velocity with which it always returns to some one in the form of a deposit and passes over to some one else in the form of a loan. The mere economising of the currency appears most highly developed in the Clearing House, the mere exchange of due bills of exchange, and the function of money preferentially as a means of payment for balancing mere remainders. But the existence of these bills rests itself upon credit, which the industrials and merchants mutually give to each other: If this credit declines, so does the number of bills, particularly of long time ones, and consequently also the effectiveness of this method of balancing accounts. And this economy, which consists in the elimination of money from the transactions, and which rests entirely upon the function of money as a means of payment, which in its turn rests again upon credit, can be only of two kinds (aside from the more or less developed technique in the concentration of these payments): Mutual claims of indebtedness, represented by bills of exchange or checks, are balanced either by the same banker, who merely transcribes the claim from the account of one to that of another, or by different bankers squaring accounts against each other.
The concentration of 8 to 10 million bills of exchange in the hands of one bill broker, such as the firm of Overend, Gurney & Co., was one of the principal means of expanding the scale of these balances locally. By this economy the effectiveness of the currency is increased, so far as a smaller quantity of it is required for the mere balancing of accounts. On the other hand the velocity of the money circulating as currency (by which it is likewise economised) depends entirely upon the flow of purchases and sales, or also on the concatenation of payments, so far as they are made successively in money. But credit promotes and increases the velocity of currency. A single piece of money, for instance, may perform only five rotations, and remains for a certain time in each hand, as a mere medium of circulation, without the intervention of credit, when A, its original owner, buys from B, then B from C, then C from D, then D from E, then E from F, that is, when its transition from one hand to another is due only to actual sales and purchases. But when B deposits the money received from A in his bank and his banker issues it in the discounting of bills to C, and he buys from D, and D deposits it in his bank, and his banker lends it to E, who buys from F, then even its velocity as a mere medium of circulation (means of purchase) is promoted by several credit operations: the depositing of this money by B in his bank, the discounting of his banker for C, the depositing of D in his bank, and the discounting of this banker for E; four credit operations. Without these credit operations the same piece of money would not have performed five purchases successively in a given time. The fact that it changed hands without the promotion of actual sales and purchases, by deposits and discounts, has here accelerated its change of hands in the series of actual transactions.
We have seen previously, that one and the same bank note may be a deposit in different banks. It may also form different deposits in the same bank. The banker discounts with the note, which A has deposited, the bill of B, and B pays it over to C, who deposits the same note in the same bank that issued it.
We have already demonstrated in the discussion of the simple circulation of commodities (Volume I, Chapter III, 2), that the mass of the actually circulating money, assuming the velocity of currency and the economy of payments to be given, is determined by the prices of commodities and the mass of transactions. The same law rules the circulation of notes.
In the following table, the annual averages of the notes of the Bank of England are set down, so far as they were in the hands of the public, namely the amounts of 5 and 10 pound notes, those of 20 to 100 pound notes, and those of the larger notes between 200 and 1000 pounds sterling; together with the percentages of the total circulation supplied by each one of these classes. The amounts stand for thousands, the last three figures being left out.
(B. A. 1858, p. I, II.) The total mass of circulating bank notes has, therefore, positively decreased from 1844 to 1857, although the commercial business had more than doubled, as indicated by exports and imports. The smaller bank notes of 5 and 10 pounds sterling increased, as the table shows, from 9,263,000 in 1844 to 10,659,000 pounds sterling in 1857. And this took place simultaneously with the very heavy increase in the gold circulation of that time. On the other hand, there was a decrease of the notes of higher denominations (200 to 1000 pounds sterling) from 5,856,000 in 1852 to 3,241,000 pounds sterling in 1857, a decrease of more than 2½ millions. This is explained as follows: "On June 8, 1854, the private bankers of London permitted the stock banks to take part in the erection of the Clearing House, and soon after that the final clearing was established in the Bank of England. The daily balances were settled by transcribing them on the accounts, which the different banks keep in the Bank of England. By the introduction of this system the notes of high denomination, which the banks formerly used for balancing their mutual accounts, have become superfluous." (B. A. 1858, p. V.)
To what a small minimum the use of money in wholesale trade has been reduced, may be seen in the table published in Volume I, Chapter III, page 157, footnote 1, which was furnished to the Committee on Bank Acts by Morrison Dillon & Co., one of the largest of those London firms, from whom a small dealer can buy his entire stock of commodities of all kinds.
According to the testimony of W. Newmarch before the B. A. 1857, No. 1741, still other circumstances contributed to the economy in currency: The penny postage, the railroads, the telegraphs, in short, the improved means of communication; so that England can now carry on a five to six times larger business with about the same circulation of bank notes. It is also declared to be due to a marked degree to the withdrawal of the notes of a higher denomination than 10 pounds sterling from the circulation. This appears to him as a natural explanation for the fact that in Scotland and Ireland, where also one pound notes circulate, the circulation of notes has risen by about 31% (1747). The total circulation of bank notes in the United Kingdom, including the one pound notes, is said to be 39 millions (1749). The gold circulation 70 millions (1750). In Scotland the circulation of notes was 3,120,000 pounds sterling in 1834; 3,020,000 pounds sterling in 1844; and 4,050,000 pounds sterling in 1854 (1752).
From these facts alone it is evident, that it lies by no means with the banks issuing notes to increase the number of circulating notes, so long as these notes are at all times exchangeable for money. [Inconvertible bank notes are not taken into consideration at all here; inconvertible bank notes can become universal means of circulation only under conditions, in which they are actually backed up by national credit, as is the case of Russia at present. In that case they fall under the laws of the inconvertible national paper money, which have been developed already in Volume I, Chapter III, 2, c, Coin and Symbols of Value.—F. E.]
The quantity of circulating notes is regulated by the requirements of commerce, and every superfluous note wanders back immediately to the issuing party. Since in England only the notes of the Bank of England circulate universally as the legal means of payment, we may neglect at this point the slight and merely local circulation of the provincial banks.
In B. A. 1858 Mr. Neave, Governor of the Bank of England testifies: No. 947. Question: "Whatever measures you may take, the amount of notes, you say, remains the same, that is, about 20 million pounds sterling?"—Answer: "In ordinary times the wants of the public seem to require about 20 million pounds sterling."—At certain periodically recurring times each year this is increased by one or one and half millions. If the public needs more, they can always, as I said, get them from the Bank of England."—948. "You said that during the panic the public did not want to allow you to reduce the amount of the notes; will you state your reasons?"—"In times of panic the public, it seems to me, has full power to secure notes; and of course, so long as the Bank has any obligation, the public can take notes from the Bank on this obligation."—949. "It seems, then, that at all times about 20 million notes of the Bank of England are required?"—"20 million notes in the hands of the public; it changes. It is 18½, 19, 20 millions, etc.; but on an average you may say 19-20 millions."
Testimony of Thomas Tooke before the Committee of Lords on Commercial Distress (C. D. 1848-57) No. 3094: "The Bank has no power to expand the amount of its notes in the hands of the public at its own arbitrary will; it has the power to reduce the amount of notes in the hands of the public, but only by means of a very forcible operation."
J. C. Wright, for 30 years a banker in Nottingham, having explained at length the impossibility, that a provincial bank should be able to set more notes into circulation than the public needs, says of the notes of the Bank of England: (C. D. 1848-57) No. 2844: "I know of no limit" (for the issue of notes) "for the Bank of England, but every surplus of the circulation will pass over into the deposits and thus assume another form."
The same holds good for Scotland, where almost nothing but paper circulates, because there as well as in Ireland one pound notes are also in vogue and "the Scotch hate gold." Kennedy, Director of a Scotch bank, declares that banks cannot even contract their circulation of notes, and is "of opinion that, so long as inland transactions require notes or gold in order to be carried on, the bankers must furnish as much currency as these transactions need—either on demand of their depositors or otherwise....The Scotch banks can contract their business, but they cannot exert any control over their issue of notes." (Ibidem, No. 3446-48.) In like manner Anderson, Director of the Union Bank of Scotland, answers question No. 3678, asked ibidem: "Does the system of mutually exchanging notes" [among the Scotch banks] "prevent an overissue of notes on the part of the individual bank?"—"Yes; but we have a more effective means than the exchange of notes" [which has really nothing to do with this, but does indeed guarantee the ability of the notes of each bank to circulate throughout all of Scotland], "and that is the general custom in Scotland of keeping a bank account; every one who has any money at all has also an account in some bank and turns in daily all the money which he does not need immediately for himself, so that at the end of every business day all the money is in the banks, except what each carries in his pockets."
The same applies to Ireland, as shown by the testimony of the Governor of the Bank of Ireland, MacDonnell, and the Director of the Provincial Bank of England, Murray, before the same Committee.
The circulation of notes is just as independent of the state of the gold reserve in the cellars of the bank, which guarantees the convertibility of these notes, as it is of the will of the Bank of England. "On September 18, 1846, the circulation of the notes of the Bank of England was 20,900,000 pounds sterling and its metal reserve was 16,273,000 pounds sterling; on April 5, 1847, the circulation was 20,815,000 pounds sterling and the metal reserve was 10,246,000 pounds sterling. Hence no contraction of the currency took place in spite of the export of 6 million pounds sterling of precious metal." (J. G. Kinnear, The Crisis and the Currency, London, 1847, p. 5.) Of course, this applies only to the conditions which prevail in England at present, and even there only so far as legislation does not decide differently concerning the relation between the issue of notes and the metal reserve.
Hence only the requirements of business itself exert an influence on the quantity of circulating money—notes and gold. In the first instance the periodical fluctuations, which repeat themselves every year, should be noted here, regardless of the general condition of business, so that for 20 years "in a certain month the circulation is high, in another low, and in a third definite month a middle point occurs." (Newmarch, B. A. 1857, No. 1650.)
For instance, in August of every year a few millions, generally in gold, pass from the Bank of England into inland circulation, in order to pay the expenses of the harvest; since the principal payments to be made here are wages, bank notes are less serviceable in England for this purpose. By the close of the year this money has returned to the Bank. In Scotland there are almost nothing but one pound notes instead of Sovereigns; in this case, then, it is the circulation of notes which is expanded during the aforesaid term, and at another, that is, twice a year, in May and November, by about 3 or 4 millions; within fourteen days the reflux begins, and it is almost completed in one month. (Anderson, l. c., No., 3595-3600.)
The circulation of the notes of the Bank of England also experiences every quarter a momentary fluctuation on account of the quarterly payment of the "dividends," that is, the interest on the national debt by which bank notes are first withdrawn from circulation and then once more distributed between the public. But they return very soon. Weguelin (B. A. 1857, No. 38) states that this fluctuation of the circulation of notes amounts to two and half millions. Mr. Chapman of the notorious firm of Overend, Gurney & Co., however, calculates the disturbance created by this fluctuation in the money market at a far higher figure. "If you take 6 or 7 millions for taxes out of the circulation, for the purpose of paying dividends with them, there must be somebody, who places this amount within reach in the meantime." (B. A. 1857, No. 5196.)
Far more considerable and lasting are the fluctuations in the amount of the currency corresponding to the various phases of the industrial cycle. Let us listen to another member of that firm, the worthy Quaker Samuel Gurney (C. D. 1848-57, No. 2645): "At the end of October (1847) there were 20,800,000 pounds sterling in notes in the hands of the public. At that time a great difficulty prevailed in the matter of securing bank notes in the money market. This arose from the general apprehension that it would not be possible to secure them on account of the limitation of the Bank Acts of 1844. At present [March, 1848] the amount of bank notes in the hands of the public is...17,700,000 pounds sterling, but as there is no commercial alarm now, this is much more than is needed. There is no banker or no money dealer in London, who has not more bank notes than he can use."—2650. "The amount of bank notes...out side of the keeping of the Bank of England forms a totally inadequate exponent of the actual state of the circulation, unless one considers at the same time...the condition of the commercial world and of credit."—2651. "The feeling that we have a surplus at the present amount of currency in the hands of the public arises to a large degree from our present condition of great stagnation. With high prices and a brisk business 17,700,000 pounds sterling would give us a feeling of shortness."
[So long as the condition of business is such, that the returns on the loans given come in regularly and credit remains unshaken, the expansion and contraction of the currency depends simply upon the requirements of the industrials and merchants. Since gold does not enter into consideration in the wholesale trade, at least in England, and the circulation of gold aside from the fluctuations with the seasons, may be regarded as a rather constant magnitude for a long time, the circulation of the notes of the Bank of England forms a sufficiently accurate measure of these changes. In a dull period after a crisis the circulation is smallest, with the reanimation of the demand comes also a greater demand for currency, which increases with the rising prosperity; the quantity of currency reaches its culminating point in the period of overtension and overspeculation—suddenly the crisis breaks out and over night the bank notes, yesterday still so plentiful, have disappeared from the market and with them the discounters of bills, the lenders of money on securities, the buyers of commodities. The Bank of England is called on for help—but even its powers are soon exhausted, the Bank Act of 1844 compels it to contract its circulation of notes at the very moment when all the world cries out for notes, when the owners of commodities cannot sell and yet are supposed to pay and are ready to make any sacrifice, if they can only secure bank notes. "During the alarm," says the abovementioned banker Wright, l. c. No. 2930, "the country needs twice as much currency as in ordinary times, because the medium of circulation is stored up by bankers and others."
As soon as the crisis breaks out, it is henceforth only a question of means of payment. But since every one is dependent upon the other for the coming in of these means of payment, and no one knows whether the other will be able to meet his payments when due, a stampede takes place for the means of payment available on the market, that is, the bank notes. Every one accumulates as many of them as he can secure, and thus the notes disappear from the circulation on the very day when they are needed most. Samuel Gurney (C. D. 1848-57, No. 1116) states that the amount of bank notes brought under lock and key in a moment of such terror in October 1847 to have been 4 to 5 million pounds sterling.—F. E.]
In this connection, a special interest attaches to the cross-examination of the associate of Gurney, the aforementioned Chapman, before the B. A. of 1857. I reproduce its principal contents summarily, although it touches also upon certain other points, which we shall have to analyse later.
Mr. Chapman has the following to say:
4963. "I do not hesitate to say, that I do not consider it right, that the money market should be in the power of any one individual capitalist (such as exist in London), who can create an enormous scarcity of money and a stringency, when the circulation just happens to be low....That is possible...there is more than one capitalist, who can take notes to the amount of one or two million pounds sterling out of the currency, when it suits his purpose."—4995. A great speculator can sell one or two million pounds worth of consols and thus take the money out of the market. Something similar to this has happened quite recently, "it creates a very violent crisis."—
4967. The notes are then indeed unproductive. "But that is nothing, when it serves a great purpose; its great purpose is to throw down the prices of funds, to create a money stringency, and to do that is quite within his power."—An illustration: One morning there was a great demand for money in the Money Exchange; nobody knew its cause; somebody asked Chapman to lend him 50,000 pounds sterling at 7%. Chapman was astonished, his rate of interest was much lower; he accepted. Soon after that the man returned, took up another 50,000 pounds sterling at 7½%, then, 100,000 at 8%, and wanted still more at 8½%. Then even Chapman became frightened. Later it was found out that suddenly a considerable sum of money had been withdrawn from the market. But, says Chapman, "nevertheless I had loaned out a considerable amount of money at 8%; I was afraid to go farther; I did not know what was coming."
It must not be forgotten, that, although 19 to 20 millions in notes are continually supposed to be in the hands of the public, nevertheless that portion of notes, which actually circulates, and on the other hand that portion, which is held unemployed by the banks as a reserve, continually differ considerably from one another. If this reserve is large, and therefore the actual circulation small, it means from the point of view of the money-market, that the circulation is full, money is plentiful; if the reserve is small, and the actual circulation full, then the language of the money-market says that the circulation is low, money is scarce, that is to say, the portion representing unemployed loan capital is small. A real expansion or contraction of the circulation in such a way, that it remains independent of the phases of the industrial cycle and leaves unchanged the amount needed by the public, occurs only for technical reasons, for instance, on the dates when taxes are due or the interest on a national debt. When taxes are paid, notes and gold beyond the ordinary amount flow into the Bank of England and practically contract the circulation without regard to its needs. The reverse takes place when the interest on the national debt is paid. In the first case, loans are demanded from the bank in order to secure currency. In the last case, the rate of interest falls in the private banks on account of the momentary growth of their reserves. This has nothing to do with the absolute mass of currency, but only with the banking firm that sets this currency into circulation, and for whom this process represents itself as a loaning of loan capital, the profit of which it pockets.
In the one case there is a temporary displacement of the circulating medium, which the Bank of England balances by short loans at low interest shortly before the quarterly taxes or the quarterly dividends on the nationel debt become due; The issue of these supernumerary notes first fills up the gap caused by the payment of the taxes, while their return to the bank soon after brings back the excess of notes thrown into circulation by the payment of dividends to the public.
In the other case a low or full circulation means simply a different distribution of the same mass of currency into active circulation and deposits, which serve as an instrument of loans.
On the other hand, if the number of notes is increased by a flow of gold into the Bank of England, then these notes assist in the discounting of bills outside of the bank and return to it by the payment of loans, so that the absolute mass of the circulating notes is but momentarily increased.
If the circulation is full on account of the expansion of business (which may take place even though prices be relatively low), then the rate of interest may be relatively high on account of the demand for loan capital in consequence of rising profits and increased new investments. If it is low, on account of the contraction of business, or, perhaps, on account of a great fluidity of credit, then the rate of interest may be low even though prices be high. (See Hubbard.)
The absolute quantity of the circulation has a determining influence on the rate of interest only in times of stringency. The demand for a full circulation may either express merely a demand for means of hoarding (aside from the reduced velocity of the circulation of money and that of the conversion of the same identical pieces of money into loan capital) owing to lack of credit, as was the case in 1847, when the suspension of the Bank Acts did not cause any expansion of the circulation, but sufficed to draw forth the hoarded notes and to throw them into circulation. Or it may be that more means of circulation are actually required under prevailing circumstances, as was the case in 1857, when the circulation actually expanded for some time after the suspension of the Bank Acts.
Otherwise the absolute mass of the circulation has no influence upon the rate of interest, since the circulation, assuming the economy and velocity of the currency to be constant, is determined in the first place by the prices of commodities and the mass of the transactions (one of these elements generally paralysing the action of the other), and in the second place by the state of credit, whereas it does not by any means exert any reverse influence on the state of credit; and, finally, since the prices of commodities and interest have not necessarily any connection with each other.
During the Bank Restriction Act (1797-1820) there was a superfluity of currency, the rate of interest was always much higher than it became since cash payments were resumed. Later it fell rapidly with the restriction of the issue of notes and rising quotations of bills. In 1822, 1823, and 1832 the general circulation was low, and so was the rate of interest. In 1824, 1825, and 1836 the circulation was full and the rate of interest rose. In the summer of 1830 the circulation was full, the rate of interest low. Since the discoveries of gold the gold circulation of all Europe has expanded, the rate of interest risen. The rate of interest, then, does not depend upon the quantity of the circulating money.
The difference between the issue of currency and loans of capital is best shown in the real process of reproduction. We have seen, there (Volume II, Part III), in what manner the different component parts of the production are exchanged for one another. For instance, the variable capital consists substantially of the means of subsistence of the laborers, a portion of their own product. But this is paid over to them piecemeal in money. The capitalist has to advance this, and it depends very much on the organization of the credit system, whether he can pay out the new variable capital next week with the old money, which he paid out last week. The same holds good with regard to the acts of exchange between the different component parts of the total social capital, for instance, between the articles of consumption and the means of production of articles of consumption. The money for their circulation must, as we have seen, be advanced by one or both of the exchanging parties. It remains thereupon in the circulation, but returns after the consummation of the exchange always to him who advanced it, since it had been advanced by him in excess of his actually employed industrial capital (Volume II, Chapter XX.). Under a developed credit system, when the money is concentrated in the hands of the banks, it is they, at least nominally, who advance it. This advance refers only to the money existing in circulation. It is an advance of currency, not of the capitals, which the credit system circulates.
Chapman 5062. "There may be times, when the bank notes in the hands of the public constitute a very large amount, and yet none may be had." Money exists also during a panic. But every one takes good care not to convert it into loanable capital; every one holds on to it for the purpose of meeting real payments.
5099. "The banks in the rural districts send their unemployed surplus to you and other London firms?"—"Yes."—5100. "On the other hand, the factory districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire have bills of exchange discounted by you for business purposes?"—"Yes."—5101. "So that in this way the superfluous money of a certain district is utilised for the requirements of another district?"—"Quite right."
Chapman says that the custom of the banks to invest their surplus money-capital for a short time in consols and treasury notes has decreased considerably of late, since the custom has been introduced to loan this money at call, reclaimable from day to day. For his own person he considers the purchase of such papers as very impracticable for his business. He prefers to invest his surplus money-capital in good bills of exchange, a part of which becomes due every day, so that he can always be sure of knowing how much ready money he can count on from day to day. [5001 to 5005.]
Even the growth of exports assumes more and more for every country, but particularly for the country granting the credit, the aspect of an increasing demand on the inland money-market, which is not felt, however, until the time of stringency. In times of increasing exports the manufacturers usually draw bills of exchange of long duration on the export merchant who receives consignments of British goods. (5126.)—5127. "It is not frequently the case, that an agreement exists, to renew these bills from time to time?"—[Chapman:] "This is a matter which they keep secret; we should not admit any such bills....It may surely take place, but I cannot say anything about this." [The innocent Chapman.] 5123. "When a great increase takes place in the exports, such as that of last year which alone amounted to 20 million pounds sterling, does not that in itself lead to a large demand for capital in order to discount bills representing these exports?"—"Undoubtedly."—5130. "Since England as a rule gives credit to foreign countries for all its exports, would not that imply the absorption of a corresponding additional capital for the time it lasts?"—"England gives an enormous credit; but in return it takes credit for its raw materials. Drafts as are made out against us by America always for sixty days, and by other countries for ninety days. On the other hand we give credit; when sending goods to Germany, we give two or three months."
Wilson asks Chapman (5131), whether bills on England are not drawn simultaneously with the loading of these raw materials and colonial goods destined for importation, and whether these bills do not arrive together with the bills of lading. Chapman thinks so, but does not know anything about these "commercial" transactions, and suggests that more expert men be asked.—In the export to America, says Chapman, the "commodities are symbolised in transit"; this gibberish signifies that the English export merchant draws against his goods on one of the great American banking firms in London by means of a bill of exchange running for four months, and this firm receives collateral from America.
5136. "Are not negotiations with far distant countries carried on by the merchant, who waits for his capital until the goods are sold?"—"There may be some firms of great private wealth, who are able to invest their own capital without taking advances on goods; but these goods are mainly transformed into advances by the endorsement of well known firms.—5137. "These firms are established in...London, Liverpool, and elsewhere."—5138. "It makes no difference, then, whether the manufacturer has to give up his own money, or whether he gets some merchant in London or Liverpool to advance it; it always remains an advance made in England?"—"Quite right. The manufacturer has to do with this only in a few cases" [but in 1847 in almost every case]. "For instance, a dealer in manufactured goods, in Manchester, buys commodities and ships them through a responsible firm in London; as soon as the London firm has convinced itself, that everything has been packed as per agreement, he draws a bill running for six months on this London firm against these commodities bound for India, China, or some other country; then the banking world comes in and discounts this bill for him; so that about the time, when he has to pay for these commodities...."—5139. "But even if this dealer now has the money, the banker had to advance it to him first?"—"The banker has the bill of exchange; the banker has bought the bill; he utilises his banking capital in this form, that is in the discounting of commercial bills." [Hence even Chapman does not regard the discounting of bills as an advance of money, but as a purchase of commodities.—F. E.]—5140. "But still this constitutes always a part of the demands on the money-market in London?"—"Undoubtedly; this is the essential occupation of the money-market and of the Bank of England. The Bank of England is just as glad to get these bills as we, it knows that they are a good investment."—5141. "In this way, in proportion as the export business grows, the demand in the money-market grows likewise?"—"In proportion as the prosperity of the country grows, we" [the Chapmans] "partake in it."—5142. "If, then, the various fields of investment of capital expand suddenly, the natural consequence is a rise of the rate of interest?"—"There is no doubt of it."
In 5143 Chapman cannot "quite understand, that with our large exports we had so much use for gold."
In 5144 the venerable Wilson asks: "Cannot it be that we are giving more credit on our exports than we are taking on our imports?"—"For myself, I should doubt this point. If any one gets accepts on his Manchester goods shipped to India, you cannot accept for less than ten months. We had, and this is quite certain, to pay America for its cotton some time before India paid us; but what effect this has, to analyse that is a very fine point."—5145. "When we, as we did last year, had an increase in the exports of manufactured goods to the amount of 20 million pounds sterling, we must have had before that a very considerable increase in the imports of raw materials" [and even in this way overexports are identical with overimports, and overproduction with over-commerce] "in order to produce this increased quantity of goods?"—"Undoubtedly; we must have had a very considerable balance to pay; that is, the balance must have been against us at the time, but in the long run the quotations of bills of exchange with America are in our favor, and we have received for some time large shipments of precious metals from America."
5148. Wilson asks the arch usurer Chapman, whether he does not regard his high interest as a sign of great prosperity and a high rate of profit. Chapman, evidently surprised at the naïveté of this sycophant, assents to this, of course, but is sincere enough to add the following clause: "There are some, who cannot help themselves in any other way; they have obligations to fulfill, and they must fulfill them, whether it be profitable or not; but if it lasts" [the high rate of interest] "it would indicate prosperity."—Both of them forget that a high rate of interest may also indicate that, as it did in 1857, the roving knights of credit are infesting the country, and that these gentlemen can afford to pay a high interest, because they pay it out of other people's pockets (whereby they take part in the fixing of the rate of interest for all others) and meanwhile live in grand style on anticipated profits. At the same time this may indeed result in a very profitable business for manufacturers and others. The returns become wholly deceptive by the loan system. This explains also the following statements, which require no explanation so far as the Bank of England is concerned, because it discounts at a lower rate than others when the rate of interest is high.
5156. "I may well say," says Chapman, "that the amounts of our discounts are at their maximum at the present, when we had a high rate of interest for such a long time." [Chapman said this on July 21, 1857, a few months before the crash.]—5157. "In 1852" [when the rate of interest was low] "they were not so high by far." For the business was indeed a great deal sounder then.
5159. "If the market were overflowing with money...and the banking discount low, we should have a decrease of bills of exchange....In 1852 we were in an entirely different phase. The exports and imports of the country were then nothing as compared to the present."—5161. "Under this high rate of discount our discounting business is as high as in 1854." [When the rate of interest was from 5 to 5½%.]
Very amusing is that part of the testimony of Chapman, in which he shows that his class regard the money of the public indeed as their property and pretend to have a right to having the bills discounted by them always converted. The ingenuousness of the questions and answers is great. It becomes the duty of legislation to make the bills accepted by large firms always convertible; to take pains that the Bank of England should under all circumstances continue to give discount to the bill brokers. And yet three of these bill brokers failed in 1857 for about 8 millions, while their own capital was infinitesimal compared to their debts.—5177. "Do you mean to say by this that in your opinion they" [that is bills accepted by the Barings or Loyds] "should be convertible by compulsion, in the way that a note of the Bank of England is now convertible into gold by compulsion?"—"I am of the opinion, that it would be a very lamentable thing, if it were not discountable; a very extraordinary situation, that a man would have to suspend payment, because he holds accepts by Smith, Payne & Co., to Jones, Loyd & Co., and cannot discount them."—5178. "Is not an accept of the Barings an obligation, to pay a certain amount of money when the bill becomes due?"—"That is quite right; but Messrs. Baring, if they undertake such an obligation, like every merchant who accepts such an obligation, do not dream in the least that they shall have to pay in Sovereigns; they figure on paying in the Clearing House."—5180. "Do you mean, then, that a sort of machinery should be thought out, by means of which the public would be empowered to receive money before the bill becomes due, by having somebody else discount it?"—"No, not by the accepting party; but if you mean to say that we shall not have the possibility to have commercial bills discounted, then we must change the whole constitution of things."—5182. "You believe, then, that it" [a commercial bill] "should be convertible into money, exactly like a note of the Bank of England must be convertible into gold?"—"Very decidedly, under certain circumstances."—5184. "You believe, then, that the institutions of currency should be arranged in such a way that a commercial bill of undoubted solidity should at all times be convertible in money like a bank note?"—"That I believe."—5185. "You do not go so far as to say either the Bank of England or anybody else should be compelled by law to convert it?"—"I go indeed so far as to say that if we make a law for the regulation of the currency, we should take steps to prevent the possibility of inland commercial bills becoming inconvertible, to the extent that such bills are undoubtedly solid and legitimate."—This is the convertibility of the commercial bill against the convertibility of bank notes.
5189. "The money dealers of the country represent in fact only the public."—So did Mr. Chapman later before the jury in the Davison case. See the Great City Frauds.
5196. "During the quarterly terms" [when the dividends are paid] "it is...absolutely necessary, that we should turn to the Bank of England. If you take 6 or 7 millions out of the revenue of the state in anticipation of the dividends, somebody must be there, who will in the meantime advance this amount."—[In this case it is a question of a supply of money, not of capital or loan capital.]
5169. "Every one familiar with our commercial world must know that if we are in such circumstances that treasury notes become unsalable, that obligations of the East Indian Company are completely useless, that the best commercial bills cannot be discounted, a great apprehension must reign among those whose business places them in a position where they must make payment immediately on simple demand in customary currency, and this is the case with all bankers. The effect of this is then that everybody doubles his reserves. Now just look what the effect of this is in the whole country, when every country banker, of whom there are about 500, has to instruct his London correspondent to remit to him 5,000 pounds sterling in bank notes. Even if we take such a small amount as this for an average, which is quite absurd, we arrive at 2½ million pounds sterling, which are withdrawn from circulation. How are they to be replaced?"
On the other hand the private capitalists, etc., who have money do not care to let go of it at any interest, for they say, according to Chapman, 5194: "We prefer to have no interest at all rather than to be in doubt, whether we can get the money when we need it."
5173. "Our system is this: We have 300 million pounds sterling worth of obligations, the payment of which in coin of the realm may be demanded at any moment; and this coin of the realm, if we use all of it for this purpose, amounts to 23 million pounds sterling, or thereabout; is not that a condition, which may throw us into convulsions at any moment?" Hence we have in times of crisis the sudden change of the credit system into a monetary system.
Aside from the panic in the home market during crises, there can be any mention of the quantity of money only in so far as it concerns metal, which is the world money. And this is precisely what Chapman excludes; he speaks only of 23 millions in bank notes.
The same Chapman, 5218. "The original cause of the disturbance of the money-market" [in April and later in October] "was undoubtedly in the quantity of money required for the regulation of the quotations of bills of exchange, in consequence of the extraordinary imports of the year."
In the first place, this reserve of world market money had then been reduced to its minimum. In the second place it served at the same time as a security for the convertibility of the credit money, the bank notes. It combined in this way two quite different functions, which, however, proceed both of them from the nature of money, since real money is always world money, and the credit money always rests upon the world money.
In 1847, without the suspension of the Bank Acts of 1844, "the Clearing Houses could not have carried on their business." (5221.)
That Chapman nevertheless had a suspicion of the coming crisis, is shown by the following statement: 5236. "There are certain conditions of the money-market (and the present one is not far removed from that), in which money is very difficult, and one has to have recourse to a bank."
5239. "As for the amounts taken by us out of the bank on Friday, Saturday and Monday, October 19, 1847, we should have been only too grateful on the following Wednesday, if we could have gotten back the bills of exchange; the money returned to us immediately after the panic was over."—On Tuesday, October 23, the Bank Acts were suspended, and this broke the crisis.
Chapman believes (5274) that the bills running simultaneously on London amounted to 100 or 120 million pounds sterling. This did not include the local bills on provincial places.
5287. "While in October, 1856, the amount of the notes in the hands of the public rose to 21,155,000 pounds sterling, there was nevertheless a very extraordinary difficulty in raising money; although the public had so much in its hands, we could not get our fingers on it."—This was due to the fear, caused by the panic, in which the Eastern Bank found itself for a time (March 1856).
5190-92. As soon as the panic is over, "all bankers who make their profits out of interest begin at once to employ their money."
5302. Chapman does not explain the unrest going with the decrease of the bank reserve out of the apprehension concerning the deposits, but attributes it to the fact that all those, who suddenly may be compelled to pay large sums of money, know very well that they may be driven to seek their last refuge in the bank, when a panic seizes the money-market; and "when the bank has a very small reserve, it is not glad to receive us; on the contrary."
By the way it is nice to observe the way in which the reserve dwindles away as a really existing magnitude. The bankers keep a minimum for their current business either in their own hands or with the Bank of England. The bill brokers hold the "loose bank money of the country" without any reserve. And the Bank of England has nothing to offset its debt for deposits but the reserves of bankers and others, together with some public deposits, etc., which it permits to be drained to its very lowest level, for instance to 2 millions. Aside from these 2 millions of paper, then, this whole swindle has no other reserve but the metal reserve in times of crisis (and this reduces the reserve, because the notes, which come in to replace outgoing metal, must be annulled), and thus every reduction of this reserve by the expenditure of gold increases the crisis.
5306. "If no money were available to settle the balances in the Clearing House, I do not see that we could do anything else but to come together and make our payments in first drafts, checks on the Treasury Department, Smith, Payne & Co., etc."—5307. "That is to say, if the government should fail to supply you with means of circulation, you would create one for yourself?"—"What are we going to do? The public comes in and takes the circulating medium out of our hands; it does not exist."—5308. "Then you would simply do in London what is done in Manchester every day?"—"Yes."
Particularly good is the reply of Chapman to a question asked by Cayley, a Birmingham man of the Attwood school, with regard to Overstone's conception of capital. 5315. "It has been stated before this Committee, that it is not money, but capital, which is demanded in a panic like that of 1847; what is your opinion on this?"—"I do not understand you; we deal only in money; I don't understand what you mean."—5316. "If you mean thereby" [namely by commercial capital] "the mass of money belonging to himself, which a man has in his business, if you call that capital, it forms generally a very small part of the money, with which he operates in his transactions by means of the credit given to him by the public"—that is, by the intervention of the Chapmans.
5339. "Is it from lack of wealth that we suspend our cash payments?—By no means....We have no lack of wealth, but we move under a most artificial system, and when we have an immense superincumbent demand for our medium of circulation, it may lead to conditions, which prevent us from securing this medium of circulation. Should the entire commercial industry of the country be laid lame on this account? Should we close all avenues of employment?—5338. "Should the question be asked, what we want to maintain, whether the cash payments or the industry of the country, I know which of the two I should drop."
Concerning the hoarding of bank notes "with the intention of intensifying the panic, or drawing advantages from its results"  he says that this may be done easily. Three large banks would be sufficient. 5383. "Should it not be known to you, a man familiar with the great firms of our metropolis, that capitalists utilise these crises to make enormous profits out of the ruin of those, who fall victims?"—"There can be no doubt of it."—And we may well believe Mr. Chapman on this score, although he finally broke his own neck in the attempt of making "enormous profits out of the ruin of his victims." For while his associate Gurney says "Every change in business is advantageous for him who is posted," Chapman says: "The one portion of society knows nothing about the other; there is, for instance, the manufacturer, who exports to the continent, or who imports his raw material, he knows nothing of the other, who deals in gold bullion." (5046.)—And thus it happened, that one fine day Gurney and Chapman themselves "were not posted" and went into an ill-famed bankruptcy.
We have seen previously, that the issuing of notes does not signify an advance of capital in all cases. The following testimony of Tooke before the C. D. Committee of Lords, 1848, proves merely that an advance of capital, even if accomplished by the bank by an issue of new notes, does not signify straightway an increase in the number of circulating notes.
3099. "Do you believe, that the Bank of England could extend its loans considerably, without bringing about an increased issue of notes?"—"There are abundant facts at hand to prove this. One of the most striking examples was in 1835, when the Bank made use of the West Indian deposits and of the loan from the East Indian Company to increase its loans to the public; at the same time the amount of notes in the hands of the public actually decreased somewhat....Something similar to this is noticeable in 1847 at the time of the paying of the railroad deposits in the Bank; the securities [in discount and deposits] rose to about 30 millions, while no appreciable effect took place on the amount of notes in the hands of the public."
Aside from the bank notes the wholesale trade has another medium of circulation, which is far more valuable to it, namely the bills of exchange. Mr. Chapman showed us, how essential it is for a regular flow of business that good bills of exchange should be taken in payment everywhere and under all conditions. If bills of exchange are no longer good, what in the world is to be done? How do these two media of circulation stand towards one another?
Gilbart says on this score: "The restriction of the amount of the circulation of notes increases regularly the amount of the circulation of bills of exchange. The bills are of two kinds—commercial bills and banker's bills—if money becomes scarce, then the money lenders say: "You draw on us and we will endorse," and when a provincial banker discounts a bill for some customer, he does not give him cash money, but his own draft for 21 days on his London agent. These bills serve as a medium of circulation." (G. W. Gilbart, An Inquiry into the Causes of the Pressure, etc., p. 31.)
This is corroborated in a somewhat modified form by Newmarch, B. A. 1857, No. 1426: "There is no connection between the fluctuations in the amount of the circulating bills and those of the circulating bank notes...the only rather uniform result is...that as soon as a stringency in the money-market occurs, such as is indicated by a raising of the rate of discount, the volume of the circulation of bills is considerably increased and vice versa."
However, the bills of exchange written in such times are by no means only the short bank bills mentioned by Gilbart. On the contrary, they are largely bills of accommodation, which represent no real business at all, or at least only transactions made for the purpose of drawing bills of exchange on them; we have given sufficient illustrations of both. Hence the "Economist" (Wilson) says in comparing the security of such bills with that of bank notes: "Bank notes payable on presentation can never stay out in excess, because the excess would always return to the bank for exchange, while two-months drafts may be issued in great superabundance, as there is no means of controlling their issue until they become due, when they may have been replaced by others. That a nation should admit the security of the circulation of bills payable at some future date, but raise doubts against a circulation of paper money payable on presentation, is completely unintelligible to us." (Economist, 1847, p. 572.)
The quantity of the circulating bills is, therefore, like that of the bank notes, merely determined by the requirements of commerce; in ordinary times the circulation of bills running in the fifties together with about 39 millions in bank notes amounted to about 300 millions, and from 100 to 120 millions of this were made out on London alone.
The volume of the circulation of bills has no influence on the circulation of notes, and is influenced by the latter only in times of stringency of money, when the quantity of bills increases and their quality deteriorates. Finally, at the time of a crisis, the circulation of bills fails completely; no man can make use of a promise to pay, since every one wants to accept only cash payment; only the bank note retains, at least so far in England, its ability to circulate, because the nation with its total wealth backs up the Bank of England.
We have seen that even Mr. Chapman, though himself a magnate of the money-market in 1847, complained bitterly, that there were a few large money-capitalists in London strong enough to carry disorder into the whole money-market at any given moment and thereby to bleed the smaller money dealers. There were several large sharks of this kind, he said, who could considerably intensify a stringency, by selling one or two millions worth of consols and thereby taking an equal amount of bank notes (and at the same time of available loan capital) out of the market. To transform a stringency into a panic by the same maneuver, the joint action of three large firms would be sufficient.
The greatest capital power in London is, of course, the Bank of England, which, however, is prevented by its position as a semi-government institution from making too brutal a use of its power. Nevertheless it also knows enough about ways and means of making money, particularly since the Bank Acts of 1844.
The Bank of England has a capital of 14,553,000 pounds sterling, and commands besides about 3 million pounds sterling of a "Remainder," that is, undistributed profits, and furthermore all moneys collected by the government for taxes, etc., which must be deposited there until they are needed. Add to this the amount of other deposits, about 30 million pounds sterling in ordinary times, and the bank notes issued without a reserve, and we shall find that Newmarch made a rather conservative estimate, when he said (B. A. 1857, No. 1889): "I have convinced myself, that the total amount of the funds employed continually in the [London] money-market may be estimated at about 120 million pounds sterling; and of these 120 millions the Bank of England commands a very considerable portion, about 15 to 20%."
So far as the Bank issues notes, which are not covered by the metal reserve in its vaults, it creates symbols of value, that form not only currency, but also additional, even if fictitious, capital for it to the nominal amount of these unprotected notes. And this additional capital yields an additional profit for it.—In B. A. 1857, Wilson asks Newmarch, No. 1563: "The circulation of a bank's own notes, that is, on an average the amount remaining in the hands of the public, forms an addition to the effective capital of that bank, does it not?"—"Assuredly."—1564. "All profits, then, which the bank derives from this circulation, is a profit arising from credit, not from a capital actually owned by it?"—"Assuredly."
The same is true, of course, of the private banks issuing notes. In his answers Nos. 1866 to 1868 Newmarch considers two-thirds of all bank notes issued by them (the last third has to be covered by a metal reserve in these banks) as "a creation of so much capital," because hard cash is saved to this amount. The profit of the banker may not be larger than that of other capitalists, notwithstanding all this. The fact remains, however, that he draws the profit out of this national saving of hard cash. The fact that a national saving becomes a private profit does not shock the bourgeois economist in the least, since profit is under all circumstances the appropriation of national labor. Is there anything more insane than, for instance, the Bank of England in 1797 to 1817, whose notes have credit only by the backing of the state, taking payment from the state, and from the public, in the form of interest on government loans for the power, granted to it by the state, to transform these same notes from paper into money and then to loan them to the state?
The banks have still other means of creating capital. According to the same Newmarch the provincial banks, as mentioned above, have the habit of sending their superfluous funds (that is, notes of the Bank of England) to London bill brokers, who send them discounted bills of exchange in return. With these bills the bank serves its customers, since it follows the rule not to issue the bills of exchange received from its local customers any more, in order that the business transactions of these customers may not become known in their own neighborhood. These bills received from London do not only serve for the purpose of being issued to customers, who have to make payments direct to London, unless these customers should prefer to get the bank's own draft on London; they serve also for the settlement of payments in the province, for the endorsement of the bankers secures local credit for them. In Lancashire, for instance, all the local banks' own notes and a large portion of the notes of the Bank of England, have been crowded out of the circulation by such bills. (Ibidem, 1568 to 1574.)
We see here, then, how the banks create credit and capital, 1) by the issue of their own notes, 2) by writing out drafts on London running as long as 21 days but paid to them in cash immediately on being written, and 3) by paying out discounted bills of exchange, which are endowed with credit primarily and essentially by endorsement through the bank, at least for the local district.
The power of the Bank of England is shown in its regulation of the market rate of interest. In times of normal business it may happen, that the Bank cannot prevent a moderate drain of gold from its metal reserve by raising the rate of discount, because the demand for means of payment is satisfied by the private banks, stock banks and bill brokers, who have gained considerably in capital power during the last thirty years. In that case the Bank of England must use other means. But for critical moments, the statement made by Banker Glyn (of Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co.) before the C. D. 1848-57 still holds good:—1709. "In times of great stringency in the country the Bank of England commands the rate of interest."—"In times of extraordinary stringency...when the discounts of the private bankers or brokers are relatively restricted, they fall to the Bank of England, and then it has the power to fix the market rate of interest."
It is true, that the Bank of England, being a public institution under government protection, cannot exploit its power ruthlessly, in the same way that private institutes may. For this reason Hubbard says before the Banking Committee B. A. 1857, No. 2844: "Is it not true, that when the rate of discount is highest, the Bank of England gives the cheapest service, and when lowest, then the brokers are the cheapest?"—"That will always be the case, for the Bank of England never comes down as low as its competitors, and when the rate is highest, it never goes quite so high."
But nevertheless it is a serious event in business life, when the Bank of England draws the screw tighter in times of crisis, as the saying is, that is, when it raises the rate of interest, which is already above the average, still higher. "As soon as the Bank of England tightens the screw, all purchases for export into foreign countries cease...the exporters wait, till the depression of prices has reached its lowest point, and only then and not before do they buy. But when this point is reached, the quotations have once more become settled—gold ceases to be exported, before this lowest point of the depression is reached. Purchases of commodities for export may possibly bring back a part of the money sent abroad, but they come too late to prevent the drain." (G. W. Gilbart, An Inquiry into the Causes of the Pressure on the Money Market, London, 1840, p. 37.)—"Another effect of the regulation of the currency by means of foreign quotations on bills of exchange is that it brings about an enormous rate of interest in times of crisis." (L. c., p. 40.)—"The costs arising out of the restoration of the quotations on bills of exchange fall upon the productive industry of the country, whereas in the course of this process the profit of the Bank of England is positively increased by the fact that it continues its business with a smaller amount of precious metal." (L. c., p. 52.)
But, says friend Samuel Gurney, "These great fluctuations of the rate of interest are advantageous for the bankers and money dealers—all fluctuations in business are advantageous for him who is posted." And even though the Gurneys skim the cream off the ruthless exploitation of the precarious condition of business, whereas the Bank of England cannot do this with the same liberty, nevertheless it also makes quite nice profits—not to mention the private profits, which of their own account fall into the lap of the directors, who have an exceptional opportunity to understand the general condition of business. According to a statement made before the Lord's Committee of 1817 on the matter of the resumption of specie payments these profits of the Bank of England for the entire period from 1797 to 1817 stood as follows:
|Bonuses and increased dividends...
|New stock divided among proprietors...
|Increased value of capital...
on a capital of 11,642,100 pounds sterling in 19 years. (D. Hardcastle, Banks and Bankers, 2nd edition, London, 1843, p. 120.) If we estimate the total profits of the Bank of Ireland, which also suspended specie payments in 1797, by the same principle, we obtain the following result:
|Dividends as by returns due 1821...
|Increased value of capital...
on a capital of 3 million pounds sterling. (Ibidem, p. 163.)
Talk about centralisation! The credit system, which has its center in the so-called national banks and the great money lenders and usurers about them, is an enormous centralisation, and gives to this class of parasites a fabulous power, not only to despoil periodically the industrial capitalists, but also to interfere into actual production in a most dangerous manner—and this gang knows nothing about production and has nothing to do with it. The Acts of 1844 and 1845 are proofs of the growing power of these bandits, who are joined by the financiers and stock jobbers.
Should any one still dream that these honorable bandits exploit national and international production only in the interest of production and of the exploited themselves, he will surely be taught better by the following homily on the high moral dignity of the bankers: "The bank establishments are religious and moral institutions. How often has not the fear of being seen by the vigilant and disapproving eye of his banker deterred the young business man from seeking the society of noisy and extravagant friends? How anxious he is to stand well in the estimation of the banker, to appear always respectable! The knit brow of the banker has more influence over him than the moral preaching of his friends; does he not tremble to be suspected of being guilty of fraud or of the least false statement, for fear of causing suspicion, in consequence of which his banking accommodation might be restricted or cancelled? The advice of the banker is more important to him than that of the clergyman." (G. M. Bell, a Scotch bank director, in The Philosophy of Joint Stock Banking, London, 1840, pp. 46 and 47.)