Discourses Upon Trade: Principally Directed to the Cases of the Interest, Coynage, Clipping, Increase of Money
||* A DISCOURSE Concerning the Abatement of INTEREST.
Arguments for Abatement of Interest are many, viz.
1. When Interest is less, Trade is incourag'd, and the Merchant can be a Gainer; whereas, when it is great, the Usurer, or Money-owner takes all.
With divers others, whereof the Facts may be true, but proceed from another Cause, and conduce nothing to the purpose for which they are alledg'd.
I shall not formally apply myself to answer all the Arguments and Discourses, that commonly are found in Pamphlets, and Conversation upon this Subject; as if I were to Advocate the Cause of Interest: But give my thoughts impartially in the whole matter, with regard to the Profit of the whole Nation, and to no particular Persons project: Wherein I hope to propose, that which |2| may resolve any doubt that can be raised, and leave every one to apply it, as they think fit.
The Question to be considered is, Whether the Government have reason by a Law, to prohibit the taking more than 4 l. per Cent. Interest for Money lent, or to leave the Borrower and Lender to make their own Bargains.
In the Disquisition of this, many things are to be considered, and particularly such as relate to Trade, of which a true Notion will set right a World of Mistakes, wherefore that now shall be chiefly treated of.
Trade is nothing else but a Commutation of Superfluities; for instance: I give of mine, what I can spare, for somewhat of yours, which I want, and you can spare.
Thus Trade, whilst it is restrained within the limits of a Town, Country, or Nation, signifieth only the Peoples supplying each other with Conveniences, out of what that Town, Country, or Nation affords.
And in this, he who is most diligent, and raiseth most Fruits, or maketh most of Manufactory, will abound most in what others make, or raise; and consequently be free from Want, and enjoy most Conveniences, which is truly to be Rich, altho' there were no such thing as Gold, Silver, or the like amongst them.
Mettals are very necessary for many Uses, and are to be reckon'd among the Fruits and Manufactories of the World. And of these, Gold and Silver being by nature very fine, and more scarce than others, are higher prized; and a little of them is very reasonably esteem'd equal in value with a great quantity of other Mettals, &c. For which reason, and moreover that they are imperishable, as well as convenient for easie stowage and removal, and not from any Laws, they are made |3| a Standard, or common Measure to deal with; and all Mankind concur in it, as every one knows, therefore I need not inlarge further in this matter.
Now it is to be consider'd, that Mankind being fallen into a way of commuting in this manner, to serve their occasions, some are more provident, others more profuse; some by their Industry and Judgment raise more Fruits from the Earth, than they consume in supplying their own occasions; and then the surplus remains with them, and is Property or Riches.
And Wealth thus contracted, is either commuted for other Mens Land (supposing all Men to have had some) or massed up in heaps of Goods; be the same of Mettals, or anything valuable. And those are the Rich, who transmit what they have to their Posterity; whereby particular Families become rich; and of such are compounded Cities, Countries, Nations, &c.
And it will be found, that as some particular Men in a Town grow richer, and thrive better than others; so also do Nations, who by Trade serving the occasions of their Neighbours, supply themselves with what they have occasion for from abroad; which done, the rest is laid up, and is Silver, Gold, &c. for as I said, these being commutable for everything, and of small bulk, are still preferr'd to be laid up, till occasion shall call them out to supply other Necessaries wanted.
Now Industry and Ingenuity having thus distinguisht Men into Rich and Poor; What is the consequence? One rich Man hath Lands, not only more than he can manage, but so much, that letting them out to others, he is supplied with a large over-plus, so needs no farther care.
Another rich Man hath Goods; that is, Mettals, Manufactures, &c. in great quantity, with these he serves |4| his own occasions, and then commutes the rest in Trade; that is, supplies others with what they want, and takes in exchange what they had of, beyond their own occasions, whereby managing cunningly, he must always advance.
Now as there are more Men to Till the Ground than have Land to Till, so also there will be many who want Stock to manage; and also (when a Nation is grown rich) there will be Stock for Trade in many hands, who either have not the skill, or care not for the trouble of managing it in Trade.
But as the Landed Man letts his Land, so these still lett their Stock; this latter is call'd Interest, but is only Rent for Stock, as the other is for Land. And in several Languages, hiring of Money, and Lands, are Terms of common use; and it is so also in some Countries in England.
Thus to be a Landlord, or a Stock-lord is the same thing; the Landlord hath the advantage only in this: That his Tenant cannot carry away the Land, as the Tenant of the other may the Stock; and therefore Land ought to yield less profit than Stock, which is let out at the greater hazard.
These things consider'd, it will be found, that as plenty makes cheapness in other things, as Corn, Wool, &c. when they come to Market in greater Quantities than there are Buyers to deal for, the Price will fall; so if there be more Lenders than Borrowers, Interest will also fall; wherefore it is not low Interest makes Trade, but Trade increasing, the Stock of the Nation makes Interest low.
It is said, that in Holland Interest is lower than in England. I answer, It is; because their Stock is greater than ours. I cannot hear that they ever made a Law |5| to restrain Interest, but am certainly informed, that at this day, the Currant Interest between Merchant and Merchant, when they disburse Money for each others Account, is 6 per Cent. and the Law justifies it.
I allow Money is many times lent at 3, and 4 per Cent. but it is upon Mortgages, out of which the State hath a Duty, and by the course of Titles there, such dealing is perfectly safe; and this is still by private consent and agreement, and not by co-ersion and order of Law. The like often happens here, when poor Widows and Orphans purchase the Security of their Livelihoods, and punctual Payment, by lending at small Interest, to such as need not the Money.
It might not be amiss in this place, to say somewhat of the Publick Banks that are in Forreign Parts, as Amsterdam, Venice, &c. but that is a Subject I have not time to dilate upon: I shall only say, that it is a cunning way of supplying the Government once with a great Sum; and as long as the Government stands, it is no loss to them that have the Credit, nor no great Inconveniency; for all Bills of Exchange are made by Law payable in Bank, and not otherwise; for Dealers in Exchanges it is best that way, and such as want their Money, find no difficulty in selling their Credits, the price of which riseth and falleth according to Demanders, as of other things.
I do not understand that true, two*14 Banks pay any Interest; it is true there are several Funds, viz. The Mint in Venice, and the Chamber in Amsterdam, with several others in those and other Cities, where Money is put out at Interest for Lives, and several other ways, and at different Rates, more or less, according to the Credit these Funds have, which are the Security; and these may, by mistake, be called the Banks, which they are not, being only such as the Chamber of London, East-India-House, &c. were. |6|
I do not believe, but the Usurer, according to the saying, will take half a Loaf, rather than no bread: But I averr, that high Interest will bring Money out from Hoards, Plate, &c. into Trade, when low Interest will keep it back.
Many Men of great Estates, keep by them for State and Honour, great Quantities of Plate, Jewels, &c. which certainly they will be more inclin'd to do, when Interest is very low, than when it is high.
Such as have nothing to subsist by, but the Interest of Money, must either let it out, or Trade with it themselves, and be contented with what they can get; but that hinders not, but very many other Men, who are rich, and not so prest, may, if Interest be very low, choose to make use of their Stocks in Jewels, Plate, &c. rather than run the hazards, and be at the trouble of dealing with necessitous and knavish Men, such as many Borrowers are, for inconsiderable gains.
So that it cannot be denied, but the lowering of Interest may, and probably will keep some Money from coming abroad into Trade; whereas on the contrary, high Interest certainly brings it out.
Next is to be considered, that Dealings between Borrowers and Lenders are of two kinds: 1. Upon Mortgage, or Pawn. 2. Upon Personal Security, and that either by single Bond, or with Sureties; all which, as they differ in goodness, so ought in reason to bear different Prizes. Shall any Man be bound to lend a single Person, upon the same Terms, as others lend upon Mortgages, or Joynt Obligations?
Then again it is to be considered, that the Moneys imployed at Interest in this Nation, are not near the Tenth part, disposed to Trading People, wherewith to manage their Trades; but are for the most part lent |7| for the supplying of Luxury, and to support the Expence of Persons, who though great Owners of Lands, yet spend faster than their Lands bring in; and being loath to sell, choose rather to mortgage their Estates.
So that in truth an Ease to Interest, will rather be a Support to Luxury, than to Trade; the poor Trading Man, who hath but a narrow Stock, or none at all, supplies himself by buying Goods of rich Men at time, and thereby pays Interest, not at the rate of 5, 6, or 8, but 10, 12, and more per Cent. And this is not in the Power of any Legislature to prevent, or remedy.
It may be said, let him take Money at Interest, and not buy at Time. But then Men must be found, that will lend; the Legislative must provide a Fund to borrow upon.
The Trade of setting out Ships, runs very much upon this course, wherein it is usual to Bum'em (as they call it) at 36 per Cent. And this cannot be remedied; and if it were, it would be a stop, as well to the Building, as the setting out of many Ships; whereby, after all, not only the publick, but the private Persons concern'd are Gainers for the most part.
Thus when all things are considered, it will be found best for the Nation to leave the Borrowers and the Lender to make their own Bargains, according to the Circumstances they lie under; and in so doing you will follow the course of the wise Hollanders, so often quoted on this account: and the consequences will be, that when the Nation thrives, and grows rich, Money will be to be had upon good terms, but the clean contrary will fall out, when the Nation grows poorer and poorer.
Let any one Answer me, why do not the Legislators in those poor Countries, where Interest is at 10, & 12 per Cent, make such Laws to restrain Interest, and reduce |8| it for the good of the People? If they should attempt it, it wou'd soon appear, that such Laws would not be effectual to do it. For when there are more Borrowers than Lenders, as in poor Countries, where if a rich Man hath 100 l. to dispose, and there are four, five or more Men striving for it; the Law would be evaded by underhand Bargains, making Loans in Goods, drawing Bills, and a thousand Ways beside; which cannot be prevented.
It is probable that when Laws restrain Interest of Money, below the Price, which the Reason of Trade settles, and Traders cannot (as we will suppose) evade the Law, or not without great difficulty, or hazard, and have not Credit to borrow at Legal Interest, to make, or increase their Stock; so much of Trade is lopt off; and there cannot be well a greater obstruction to diminish Trade then that would be. The consideration of all these Matters, makes out an universal Maxime, That as more Buyers than Sellers raiseth the price of a Commodity, so more Borrowers than Lenders, will raise Interest.
And the State may with as much Justice make a Law that Lands which heretofore have been Lett for 10 s. per Acre, shall not now be Lett for above 8 s. per Acre, as that Money, or Stock, from 5 per Cent, shall be Lett for 4 per Cent, the Property being as good, and as much the Substance of the Kingdom in the one, as in the other.
I will not say any thing to the Theological Arguments against Interest of Moneys; by those 3 per Cent is no more lawful, than 4, or 12. But this I shall maintain Politically, that if you take away Interest, you take away Borrowing and Lending. And in consequence the Gentry, who are behind hand, be it for what cause soever, must sell, and cannot Mortgage; which will bring down the Price of Land. And the Trader whatever his |9| skill is, if he hath no Stock, must either sit still, or buy at Time, which is Interest under another Name. And they who are poor, will always be so, and we should soon relapse into the state of One Thousand Years ago.
And whereas the Stock of the Nation is now reckon'd great, let it be fairly valued, and it will be found much less than it seems to be; for all the Monies that are owing upon Land Securities, must be struck off, and not estimated; or else you will have a wrong Account; for if a Gentleman of 500 l. per Annum, owes 8000 l. and you value his Land, and the Lender's Stock both, you make an account of the same thing twice.
And whereas we make great Accounts of Money'd Men in the Nation, in truth there are but few; for suppose all that have lent upon Mortgage, had Land for their Moneys, as indeed in strictness of Law they have, there wou'd be but few Money'd Men in the Nation left. The borrowing of Money of one, to pay another, call'd, Robbing of Peter to pay Paul, so much practis'd now-a-days, makes us think the Nation far richer than it is.
Notes for this chapter
Double vertical bars, ||, denote page breaks in the original 1691 North text, with page numbers when available (e.g., |2|). The bars and numbers were inserted by Hollander and are preserved in this Econlib edition.—Econlib Ed.
End of Notes
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