Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. III. The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole
By Karl Marx
One of Econlib’s aims is to put online the most significant works in the history of economic thought, and there can be no doubting the significance of Marx’s influence on both economic theory in the late 19th century and on the creation of Marxist states in the 20th century. From the time of the emergence of modern socialism in the 1840s (especially in France and Germany), free market economists have criticised socialist theory and it is thus useful to place that criticism in its intellectual context, namely beside the main work of one of its leading theorists,
Karl Marx.In 1848, when Europe was wracked by a series of revolutions in which both liberals and socialists participated and which both lost out to the forces of conservative monarchism or Bonapartism,
John Stuart Mill published his
Principles of Political Economy. The chapter on Property shows how important Mill thought it was to confront the socialist challenge to classical liberal economic theory. In hindsight it might appear that Mill was too accommodating to socialist criticism, but I would argue that in fact he offered a reasonable framework for comparing the two systems of thought, which the events of the late 20th century have finally brought to a conclusion which was not possible in his lifetime. Mill states in
Book II Chapter I “Of Property” that a fair comparison of the free market and socialism would compare both the ideal of liberalism with that of socialism, as well as the practice of liberalism versus the practice of socialism. In 1848 the ideals of both were becoming better known (and there were some aspects of the ideal of socialism which Mill found intriguing) but the practice of each was still not conclusive. Mill correctly observed that in 1848 no European society had yet created a society fully based upon private property and free exchange and any future socialist experiment on a state-wide basis was many decades in the future. After the experiments in Marxist central planning with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Chinese Communists in 1949, and numerous other Marxist states in the post-1945 period, there can be no doubt that the reservations Mill had about the practicality of fully-functioning socialism were completely borne out by historical events. What Mill could never have imagined, the slaughter of tens of millions of people in an effort to make socialism work, has ended for good any argument concerning the Marxist form of socialism.Econlib now offers online two important defences of the socialist ideal, Karl Marx’s three volume work on
Capital and the
collection of essays on Fabian socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw. These can be read in the light of the criticism they provoked among defenders of individual liberty and the free market: Eugen Richter’s anti-Marxist
Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Thomas Mackay’s
2 volume collection of essays rebutting Fabian socialism,
Ludwig von Mises post-1917 critique of
Socialism. One should not forget that
Frederic Bastiat was active during the rise of socialism in France during the 1840s and that many of his essays are aimed at rebutting the socialists of his day. The same is true for Gustave de Molinari and the other authors of the
Dictionnaire d’economie politique (1852). Several key articles on communism and socialism from the
Dictionnaire are translated and reprinted in Lalor’s
Cyclopedia.For further reading on Marx’s
Capital see David L. Prychitko’s essay
“The Nature and Significance of Marx’s
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy“.For further readings on socialism see the following entries in the
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834,
edited by Nassau W. Senior, et al.
March 1, 2004
Frederick Engels, ed. Ernest Untermann, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
First published in German. Das Kapital, based on the 1st edition.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Marx courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Preface, by Frederick Engels
- Part I, Chapter 1
- Part I, Chapter 2
- Part I, Chapter 3
- Part I, Chapter 4
- Part I, Chapter 5
- Part I, Chapter 6
- Part I, Chapter 7
- Part II, Chapter 8
- Part II, Chapter 9
- Part II, Chapter 10
- Part II, Chapter 11
- Part II, Chapter 12
- Part III, Chapter 13
- Part III, Chapter 14
- Part III, Chapter 15
- Part IV, Chapter 16
- Part IV, Chapter 17
- Part IV, Chapter 18
- Part IV, Chapter 19
- Part IV, Chapter 20
- Part V, Chapter 21
- Part V, Chapter 22
- Part V, Chapter 23
- Part V, Chapter 24
- Part V, Chapter 25
- Part V, Chapter 26
- Part V, Chapter 27
- Part V, Chapter 28
- Part V, Chapter 29
- Part V, Chapter 30
- Part V, Chapter 31
- Part V, Chapter 32
- Part V, Chapter 33
- Part V, Chapter 34
- Part V, Chapter 35
- Part V, Chapter 36
- Part VI, Chapter 37
- Part VI, Chapter 38
- Part VI, Chapter 39
- Part VI, Chapter 40
- Part VI, Chapter 41
- Part VI, Chapter 42
- Part VI, Chapter 43
- Part VI, Chapter 44
- Part VI, Chapter 45
- Part VI, Chapter 46
- Part VI, Chapter 47
- Part VII, Chapter 48
- Part VII, Chapter 49
- Part VII, Chapter 50
- Part VII, Chapter 51
- Part VII, Chapter 52
AN exhaustive analysis of the credit system and of the instruments created by it for its own use (credit money, etc.) is beyond the scope of our plan. We merely wish to dwell here upon a few particular points, which are necessary for a characterisation of the capitalist mode of production in general. To this end we shall deal only with commercial and bank credit. The connection between the development of this form of credit and that of public credit is not considered here.
I have shown previously (in volume I, chapter III, 3 b.), in what manner the function of money as a medium of payment, and consequently a relation of creditors and debtors, is formed among the producers of commodities and the traders, as the outcome of the simple circulation of commodities. With the development of commerce and of the capitalist mode of production, which has an eye only to the circulation, this natural basis of the credit system is extended, generalised, elaborated. Money serves here on the whole merely as a means of payment, that is to say, commodities are not sold for money, but for a written promise to pay for them at a certain date. We may comprise all these promises to pay for brevity’s sake under the general category of bills of exchange. Such bills of exchange in their turn circulate as means of payment until the day on which they fall due; and they form commercial money in the strict meaning of the term. To the extent that they ultimately balance one another by the compensation of credits and debts, they serve absolutely
as money, since no transformation into actual money takes place. Just as these mutual advances of the producers and merchants to one another form the real foundation of credit, so their instrument of circulation, the bill of exchange, forms the basis of credit money proper, of bank notes, etc. These do not rest upon the circulation of money, whether it be metallic money or government paper money, but upon the circulation of bills of exchange.
W. Leatham, a banker of Yorkshire, writes in his
“Letters on the Currency,” 2nd edition, London, 1840: “I find, that the total amount in bills of exchange for the entire year 1839 was 528,493,842 pounds sterling” (he assumed that the foreign bills of exchange composed about one-fifth of the whole) “and the amount of bills of exchange simultaneously current in the same year to 132,123,460 pounds sterling” (p. 56). “The bills of exchange make up a greater part of the amount in circulation than all the rest together” (p. 3). “This enormous superstructure of bills of exchange rests (!) upon a basis formed by the amount of bank notes and gold; and if in the course of events this basis is too much contracted, its solidity, and even its existence, become endangered” (p. 8). “Estimating the entire circulation” (he means of the bank notes) “and the amount of the obligations of all banks for which immediate payment may be demanded, I find a sum of 153 millions, whose conversion into gold might be demanded according to law, and to offset it only 14 millions in gold to satisfy this demand” (p. 11). The bills of exchange cannot be placed under control, unless the superfluity of money and the low rate of interest, or discount, can be prevented, which create a part of them and encourage this dangerous expansion. It is impossible to decide, how much of them is due to actual business, for instance, to real purchases and sales, and what part of them is fictitious and consists only of prolonged bills, that is, when a bill of exchange is drawn for the purpose of taking up a current one before it becomes due, and thus of creating fictitious capital by the manufacture of mere means of circulation. In times of superfluous and cheap money I know this is done to an enormous
degree” (p. 43, 44). J. W. Bosanquet,
Metallic, Paper, and Credit Currency, London, 1842: The average amount of the payments settled on every business day in the Clearing House (where the London bankers mutually exchange the due bills and filed checks) exceeds 3 millions of pounds sterling, and the daily supply of money required for this purpose is little more than 200,000 pounds sterling (p. 86). [In the year 1889, the total turn-over of the Clearing House amounted to 7,618 and ¾ millions of pounds sterling, which, in 300 business days, averages 25 and ½ millions of pounds sterling daily.—F. E.] “Bills of exchange are undoubtedly currency, independent of money, inasmuch as they transfer property from hand to hand by endorsement” (p. 92). “On an average it may be assumed that every circulating bill of exchange bears two endorsements, and that on an average every bill thus performs two payments, before it becomes due. Accordingly it seems that alone by endorsement the bills of exchange promoted a transfer of property to the amount of twice 528 millions, or 1,056 millions of pounds sterling, more than 3 millions daily, in the course of the year 1839. It is, therefore, certain the bills of exchange and deposits together, by transferring property from hand to hand and without the assistance of money, perform the functions of money to a daily amount of at least 18 millions of pounds sterling” (p. 93).
Tooke says the following about credit in general: “Credit, in its simplest expression, is the well or ill-founded confidence, which induces one man to entrust to another a certain amount of capital, in money or in commodities estimated at a certain value, which amount is always payable after the lapse of a definite time. Where the capital is loaned in money, that is, in bank notes, or in a cash credit, or in a check upon some correspondent, an addition of so and so many per cent. upon the returnable amount is made for the use of the capital. With commodities, whose money value has been agreed upon by the parties concerned, and whose transfer constitutes a sale, the stipulated sum, which is to be paid, includes a compensation for the use of the capital
and for the risk assumed until the time of payment. Written agreements to pay on definite days are generally given for such credits. And these transferable obligations, or promises, form the means by which the lenders, when they find an opportunity to use their capital, either in the shape of money or commodities, are generally enabled to borrow or buy more cheaply, their own credit being strengthened by that of the second name upon the bill of exchange.”
Inquiry into the Currency Principle, (p. 87.)
Du Crédit et des Banques dans l’ Industrie. Revue des deux Mondes, 1842, tome 31: “In every country the majority of the credit transactions takes place in the circle of the industrial relations themselves…the producer of the raw material advances it to the capitalist, who works it up, and receives from him a promise to pay on a certain day. The manufacturer, having completed his share of the work, in his turn advances his product on similar conditions to another manufacturer, who has to manipulate it farther, and in this way credit extends more and more, from one to the other, down to the consumer. The wholesale dealer gives to the retail dealer commodities on credit, while he receives himself credit from a manufacturer or commission agent. All borrow with one hand and lend with the other, sometimes money, but more frequently products. In this manner an incessant exchange of credits, combining and crossing in all directions, takes place in the industrial relations. The development of credit consists precisely in the multiplication and growth of these mutual credits, and here is the real seat of its power.”
The other side of the credit system is connected with the development of the money trade, which, of course, keeps step under capitalist production with the development of the trade in commodities. We have seen in the preceding part (chapter XIX), how the care of reserve funds of business men, the technical operations of receiving and issuing money, of international payments, and thus of the bullion trade, are concentrated in the hands of the money traders. Borrowing and lending money becomes their particular business.
They step as middlemen between the actual lender and the borrower of capital. Generally speaking, the banking business on this side consists of concentrating the loanable money-capital in the banker’s hands in large masses, so that in place of the individual money lender the bankers face the industrial capitalists and commercial capitalists in the capacity of representatives of all money lenders. They become the general managers of the money-capital. On the other hand, they concentrate the borrowers against all lenders, and borrow for the entire world of commerce. A bank represents on one hand the centralisation of money-capital, of the lenders, and on the other the centralisation of the borrowers. Its profit is generally made by borrowing at a lower rate of interest than it loans.
The loanable capital, of which the banks dispose, flows to them in various ways. In the first place, since they are the cashiers of the industrial capitalists, there is concentrated into their hands the money-capital, which every producer and merchant must have as a reserve fund, or which he receives in payment. These funds are thus converted into loanable capital. In this way the reserve fund of the commercial world, being concentrated into a common treasury, is reduced to its necessary minimum, and a portion of the money-capital, which would otherwise slumber as a reserve fund, is loaned and serves as interest-bearing capital. In the second place, the loanable capital of the banks is formed by the deposits of the money-capitalists, who entrust them with the business of loaning it. Furthermore, with the development of the bank system, and particularly as soon as they pay interest on deposits, the money savings and the temporarily unemployed money of all classes are deposited with them. Small amounts, each by itself incapable of acting in the capacity of money-capital, are combined into large masses and thus form a money power. This aggregation of small amounts must be distinguished as a specific effect of the bank system from its intermediate position between the money-capitalists proper and the borrowers. Finally, the revenues, which are but gradually consumed, are also deposited with the banks.
The loan is made (we refer here only to the commercial credit in the strict meaning of the term) by discounting bills of exchange, that is, by converting them into money before they come due, and by advances in various forms: direct advances on personal credit, Lombard loans on interest-bearing papers, government papers, stocks of all kinds, furthermore advances on bills of lading, dock warrants, and other certified titles of ownership in commodities, and by overdrawing on their deposits, etc.
The credit given by a banker may assume various forms, for instance, that of exchanges on other banks, checks on them, opening of credit in the same way, finally, in the case of banks entitled to issue notes, the bank notes of the bank itself. A bank note is nothing but a draft upon the banker, payable at any time to the bearer, and substituted by the banker for private drafts. This last form of credit appears particularly important and striking to the layman, first, because this form of credit money steps from the mere commercial circulation into the general circulation and serves as money there, and in the second place, because in most countries the principal banks issuing notes represent a queer mixture of national and private banks and thus have actually the national credit to back them up and give to their notes the character of a more or less legal tender, for in this case it is apparent, that the thing which the banker handles is credit itself, since a bank note stands only for a circulating token of credit. But the banker also deals in all other forms of credit, even when he advances cash money deposited with him. In fact, a bank note simply represents the coin of wholesale trade, and it is always the deposit, which carries the most weight with banks. The best proof of this is furnished by the Scotch banks.
The special credit institutions, and the particular forms of banks, do not require any further consideration for our purposes.
The banks have a twofold business…. 1) To collect capital from those, who have no immediate use for it, and
to distribute it and transfer it to others, who can use it. 2) To receive deposits from the incomes of their customers and to pay them whatever amount they may require of this deposit for the expenses of consumption. The former is circulation of
capital, the latter circulation of
currency.—The one is a concentration of capital on one side, and its distribution on the other; the other is a management of the circulation for the local needs of the vicinity.—Tooke,
Inquiry into the Currency Principle, p. 36, 37.—We shall revert to this passage later, in chapter XXVIII.
Reports of Committees. Vol. VIII.,
Commercial Distress. Vol. II., Part I., 1847-48,
Minutes of Evidence. (Subsequently quoted as
Commercial Distress, 1847-48.) In the forties, when discounting bills of exchange in London, bills of exchange of one bank were often drawn on another instead of bank notes. (Testimony of J. Pease, provincial banker, No. 4636 and 4656.) According to the same report, the bankers were in the habit of giving such bills of exchange in payment to their customers, as soon as money grew tight. If the party receiving them demanded bank notes, he had to discount this bill of exchange once more. This amounted to a privilege of making money for the banks. Messieurs Jones, Lloyd and Co., made payments in this way “since time immemorial,” as soon as money was scarce and the rate of interest above 5%. The customer was glad to get such banker’s bills, because bills of Jones, Lloyd and Co. could be easier discounted than his own; these bills often passed through twenty to thirty hands. (
Ibidem, No. 901 to 904, 905.)
All these forms serve to make a claim to payments transferable.—There is scarcely one form, which credit may assume, in which it has not at times performed the functions of money; whether this form is that of a bank note, or of a bill, or of a check, the process is essentially the same and the result is essentially the same. Fullarton,
On the Regulation of Currencies, 2d edition, London, 1845, p. 38.—Bank notes are the small currency of credit. p. 51.—
The following is from J. W. Gilbart
The History and Principles of Banking, London, 1834: The capital of a bank consists of two parts, the invested capital and the banking capital, which is borrowed (p. 11 et seq.). The banking capital, or borrowed capital, is maintained in three ways: 1)
through the acceptance of deposits; 2) through the issuing of the bank’s own notes; 3) through the drawing of bills. If some one is willing to loan me 100 p.st. for nothing, and I loan these 100 p.st. to some one else at 4%, I shall make 4 p.st. by this transaction in the course of one year. Likewise if some one is willing to accept my promise to pay and to return it to me at the end of the year and to pay me 4% for it, just as though I had given him 100 p.st. by this transaction, I make 4 p.st. by it; and again, if a man in a country town brings me 100 p.st. on the condition that I shall pay this amount to some third person in London after the lapse of 21 days, all the interest I may draw in the meantime on this money will be my profit. This is an objective summary of the operations of a bank and of the way in which a banking capital is created by deposits, bank notes and bills of exchange (p. 117). The profits of a banker are generally proportionate to the amount of his borrowed or banking capital. In order to determine the actual profit of a bank, the interest on the first investment of capital must be deducted from the gross profits. The remainder is the banking profit (p. 118).
The advances of a banker to his customers are made with the money of other people (p. 146). Precisely those bankers, who do not issue any bank notes, create a banking capital by discounting bills of exchange. They increase their deposits by their discounting operations. The London banks discount only for those firms, that keep a deposit in account with them (p. 119). A firm discounting bills of exchange in its bank and having paid interest upon the whole amount of these bills must leave at least a portion of this amount in the hands of the bank without receiving any interest on it. In this way the banker receives a higher rate of interest than the current one on the advanced money and creates for himself a banking capital by means of the surplus remaining in his hands. (p. 120.)—Economising of reserve funds, deposits, checks: The deposit banks economise by a transfer of credit accounts the use of the circulating medium and transact business of a large volume with a small amount of actual money. The money thus released is employed by the banker in making advances to his customers by means of discounts, etc. Hence the transfer of credit enhances the effectiveness of the deposit system (p. 123). It is immaterial, whether the two customers, that
deal with one another, keep their accounts with the same or with different bankers. For the bankers exchange their checks among themselves in the Clearing House. By means of transfers the deposit system might be extended to such a degree that it would do away entirely with the use of metal money. If every one were to keep a deposit account in the bank and to make payments by means of checks then such checks would be the only circulating medium. In this case the assumption would have to be that the bankers hold the money in their hands, otherwise the checks would have no value (p. 124). The centralisation of the local transactions in the hands of the banks is promoted, 1) by branch banks. The provincial banks have branch establishments in the smaller towns of their district the London banks in the different quarters of the city. 2) By agencies. Every provincial bank has its agent in London, in order to pay its notes or bills there and to receive money, which is paid down by inhabitants of London for the account of people living in the provinces. (p. 127.) Every banker gathers in the notes of the others and holds them. In every large city they meet once or twice a week and exchange their notes. The balance is paid by a check on London. (p. 134.) The purpose of banks is to facilitate business. Whatever facilitates business, facilitates also speculation. Business and speculation are so closely linked in some cases, that it is difficult to tell where business stops and speculation begins. Wherever there are banks, capital can be obtained more easily and cheaply. The cheapness of capital promotes speculation, just as the cheapness of beer and meat promotes gluttony and drunkenness (p. 137, 138). Since the banks issuing their own notes always pay in these notes, it may seem as though their discount business were transacted exclusively with the capital made in this way, but this is not so. A banker may very well pay all the bills discounted by him with his own notes, and yet nine-tenths of the bills in his possession may represent actual capital. For while he may have given only his own paper money for these bills, it need not stay in the circulation until these bills become due. The bills may be running for three months, while the notes may return in three days. (p. 172.) The overdrawing of accounts by customers is a regular business practice. This is indeed the purpose, for which cash credit is granted. Cash credits are
not granted on personal security, but on deposit of collateral papers (p. 174, 175). A capital advanced on bonded wares has the same effect as though it had been advanced in discounting bills. If a man borrows 100 p.st on his goods as a security, it is the same as though he had sold them for a bill of exchange of 100 p.st. and discounted this bill with his banker. But this advance enables him to hold his goods over for a better condition of the market and to avoid sacrifices, which he would have had to make, in order to obtain money for urgent purposes (p. 180, 181).
Currency Question Reviewed, etc., p. 62, 63: It is here indisputably true that the 1,000 p.st. which I deposit to-day with A are issued to-morrow and deposited with B. The day after to-morrow it may be issued once more by B and form a deposit with C, and so forth infinitely. The same 1,000 p.st. of money may, therefore, multiply themselves into an absolutely indeterminable sum of deposits by a series of transfers.
Hence it is possible that nine-tenths of all deposits in England may have no other existence but that in the entries of the banker’s books, of whom every one stands good for his part of them. In Scotland, for instance, the money in circulation (and mostly paper money at that) never exceeds 3 million p.st., while the deposits amount to 27 millions. So long as no general and sudden demand is made for the return of the deposits (a run on the bank), the same 1,000 p.st., traveling backward, may balance an equally indeterminable sum with the same facility. Since the same 1,000 p.st., with which I balance to-day my debt with some business man, may balance to-morrow his debt with some other business man, and the day after to-morrow balance this man’s account, and so forth infinitely, it follows that the same 1,000 p.st. may pass from hand to hand and from bank to bank and balance any imaginable sum of deposits.
[We have seen, that Gilbart knew even in 1834 that “whatever facilitates business facilitates speculation, both being so intimately linked in many cases, that it is difficult to tell, where business stops and speculation begins.” If the securing of advances on unsold commodities is facilitated more and more, then more and more of such advances are taken, and
in the same proportion increases the temptation to manufacture commodities, or throw already manufactured ones upon distant markets, for no other immediate purpose than that of obtaining advances of money on them. To what extent the entire business world of a country may be seized by such a swindle, and what it finally comes to, may be studied in the history of English business during the years 1845 to 1847, which furnishes a flagrant example. There we can see what credit can accomplish. Before we mention some of the most conspicuous cases, we must make a few preliminary remarks.
About the close of 1842 the pressure, which had crushed English industry almost without interruption since 1837, began to weaken. During the following two years the demand of the foreign countries for products of English industry increased still more. The year 1845 to 1846 marked the period of greatest prosperity. In 1843 the opium war had opened the doors of China to English commerce. The new market offered a convenient excuse for the further expansion of already extended industries, particularly of the cotton industry. “How can we ever produce too much? We have to clothe 300 millions of people.” Thus spoke a Manchester manufacturer to the writer in those days. But all the newly erected factory buildings, steam engines, spinning and weaving machines did not suffice to absorb the surplus-value, which poured into them from Lancashire. With the same passion, which was exhibited in the expansion of production, the building of railroads was undertaken. Here the longing of manufacturers and merchants for speculation found its first satisfaction, as early as the summer of 1844. Stock was underwritten to the full extent possible, that is, so far as the money went to cover the first payments. The idea was that a way would be found in due time to get the missing amount. But when further payments were due (Question 1059, C. D. 1848-57, indicates that the capital invested in railroads in 1846-47 amounted to 75 million p.st.), it was necessary to resort to credit, and as a rule the actual business of the firm itself had to add its drop of blood.
In most cases the actual business was already overburdened.
The enticing and high prices had misled people into far greater operations than the available cash justified. It was so easy, and cheap besides, to get credit. The bank discount was low. In 1844 it was 1¾ to 2¾%, in 1845 until October it was less than 3%, then it rose for a little while to 5% (until February 1846), then it fell once more to 3¼% in December 1846. The bank had in its cellars a supply of gold of unusual dimensions. All inland quotations stood higher than ever before. Why should a man let this fine opportunity pass by? Why shouldn’t he go in for all he was worth? Why not send to the foreign markets, that longed for English goods, all the commodities that could be manufactured? And why should not the manufacturer himself pocket the double gain arising from the sale of yarn and fabrics to the Far East, and from the sale, in England, of the back freight received in their stead?
Thus arose the system of mass consignments, by virtue of advances, to India and China, and this soon developed into a system of consignments purely for the sake of getting advances, as described more at length in the following notes. This had to lead inevitably to an overcrowding of the markets and to a crash.
This crash came as the aftermath of a crop failure in 1846. England, and still more, Ireland, required enormous imports of means of subsistence, particularly of corn and potatoes. But the countries that supplied these things could be paid only to a very small degree in products of English industry. They had to be paid in precious metals. This took at least nine millions of gold to foreign countries. Of this amount of gold fully seven and a half millions came out of the cash treasury of the Bank of England, whose freedom of action on the money market was seriously impaired thereby. The other banks, whose reserves are deposited with the Bank of England, which reserves are practically identical with those of the Bank of England, were thus compelled to cut down their own money accommodations. The rapidly and easily flowing stream of payments became clogged, first here and there, then universally. The banking discount, which had
still been 3 to 3½% in January of 1847, rose to 7% in April, when the first panic broke out. Then a temporary lull came in summer, lowering this discount to 6½ and 6 %. But when the new crop failed likewise, the panic broke out afresh and more violently. The official minimum discount of the Bank rose in October to 7%, in November to 10%, in other words, the overwhelming mass of checks could be discounted only at outrageous rates of interest, or not at all. The general stopping of payments brought about the bankruptcy of several of the first firms and of very many medium-sized and small firms. The Bank itself was in danger of ruin from the shrewd Bank Acts imposing the limitations of 1844. In this emergency the government yielded to the universal demand and suspended these Bank Acts on October 25, thereby taking off the absurd legal fetters thrown around the Bank. Now the Bank was enabled to throw its supply of bank notes into circulation without any interference. The credit of these bank notes being practically guaranteed by the credit of the nation, and thus unimpaired, the shortness of money was immediately relieved in the most effective manner. Of course, quite a number of hopelessly caught large and small firms failed nevertheless even then, but the climax of the crisis had passed, the banking discount fell once more to 5% in September, and in the course of 1848 that renewed business activity was resumed, which took the edge off the revolutionary movements on the continent in 1849, and which inaugurated in the fifties a formerly unknown industrial prosperity and ended—in the crash of 1857.—F. E.]
I. A document issued by the House of Lords in 1848 gives information concerning the depreciation of government papers and bonds during the crisis of 1847. According to it the depreciation of October 23, 1847, compared to the stand of values in February of the same year, amounted to 93,824,217 pounds sterling in English government bonds, 1,358,288 pounds sterling in dock and canal stock, and to 19,579,820 pounds sterling in railroad stocks, a total of 114,762,325 pounds sterling.
II. With reference to the swindle in East Indian business,
in which it was no longer a question of making drafts, because commodities had been bought, but rather of buying commodities in order to be able to make out discountable drafts which should be convertible into money, the
“Manchester Guardian” of November 24, 1848, remarks that Mr. A in London instructs a Mr. B to buy from the manufacturer C in Manchester commodities for shipment to a Mr. D. in East India. B pays C in six-months-drafts to be made by C on B. B secures himself by six-months-drafts on A. As soon as the goods are shipped, and the bill of lading mailed, A makes out six-months-drafts on D. The buyer and shipper thus get possession of funds many months before the goods are actually paid for. And it was a common custom to renew the drafts when due under the pretense of allowing time for turn-over in such a protracted business. Unfortunately the losses in this business did not lead to its restriction, but to its extension. In proportion as the interested parties grew poor their need of making purchases increased, in order to find in new advances a compensation for capital lost in previous speculations. Purchases were then no longer regulated by supply and demand, but became the most important feature in the financial operations of a shaky firm. But this is only one side of the picture. What happened in the export of manufacturing goods here, occurred in the purchase and shipment of goods on the other side. Firms in India, which had credit enough to get their checks discounted, bought sugar, indigo, silk or cotton, not because the purchase prices as compared with the latest London quotations promised a profit, but because previous drafts on a London firm would soon be due and would have to be covered. What was simpler than to buy a cargo of sugar, to pay for it in ten-months-drafts on the London firm, and to send the bills of lading by overland mail to London? Less than two months later the bills of lading of these barely shipped goods, and thus the goods themselves, were pawned in Lombard Street, and the London house came into the possession of money eight months before the bills of exchange made out for these goods were due. And all this passed off smoothly, without interruption or difficulties, so long as the discounting firms found enough money to advance on bills of lading and dock warrants, and to discount the drafts of Indian firms on select firms of Mincing Lane to unlimited amounts.
[This fraudulent procedure remained in vogue so long as the goods from and to India had to sail around the Cape. But since they pass through the Suez Canal this method of creating fictitious capital has lost its foundation, thanks to steam navigation and the shortening of the trip. And when the telegraph reported the stand of the Indian market to the English and that of the English market to the Indian business man on the same day, this method was completely killed. F. E.]
III. The following is from the previously quoted report on Commercial Distress, 1847-48: In the last week of April, 1847, the Bank of England informed the Royal Bank of Liverpool, that it would henceforth reduce its discount business with the latter bank by one-half. This communication had a very disastrous effect, because the payments in Liverpool had lately been made far more in bills of exchange than in cash, and because the merchants, who ordinarily carried much cash money to the bank for the purpose of squaring their notes, had been able to bring only checks of late, which they had received themselves for their cotton and other products. This had assumed large proportions and caused the business difficulty. The endorsed checks, which the bank had to turn into cash for the merchants, had mostly been made out by outsiders, and had so far been balanced generally by the payments received for the products. The checks which the merchants now brought in place of the former cash were bills of exchange for different lengths of time and of different kinds, a considerable number being bank checks for three months from date, the majority being checks for cotton. These bills of exchange, when bank checks, had been endorsed by London bankers, the others were endorsed by merchants in Brasilian, American, Canadian, West Indian, etc., business… The merchants did not draw on one another, but the customers in the home country, who had bought products in Liverpool, covered them by drafts on London banks, or drafts on other firms in London, or on drafts of some one else. The communication of the Bank of England caused a shortening of the running time of checks drawn against sales of foreign products, which used to run frequently longer than three months. (p. 26, 27.)
The period of prosperity in England, from 1844 to 1847 was, as described above, connected with the first great railroad
swindle. The above-named report makes the following statements concerning the influence of this swindle on business in general: In April, 1847, nearly all commercial firms had begun to starve their business more or less, by investing a part of their commercial capital in railroads (p. 41.)—Loans were also made by private parties, bankers and insurance companies at a high rate of interest, for instance, at 8% (p. 66). These large advances of these business firms to railroads caused them to take up in their turn too much capital from banks on discount checks, by which to carry on their own business (p. 67.—(Question): Would you say that the payments on railroad stocks contributed much to the pressure which burdened the money market in April and October 1847? (Answer): I believe that they hardly contributed anything to the pressure in April. In my opinion they had rather strengthened than weakened the bankers going on into April, and perhaps even into the summer. For the actual employment of the money followed by no means as rapidly as the deposits; as a result most of the banks had a rather large amount of railroad stocks in their hands in the beginning of the year. [This is corroborated by numerous statements of bankers in C. D. 1848-57.] This gradually melted away in summer and was considerably smaller on December 31. One cause of the pressure in October was the gradual decrease of the railroad funds in the hands of bankers; between April 22, and December 31, the balances of railroads in our hands were reduced by one-third. This effect was produced by railroad deposits in all of Great Britain; they have gradually stripped the banks of deposits (p. 43, 44).—Samuel Gurney (Chief of the ill-famed firm of Overend Gurney & Co.) says likewise: In 1846 there was a much greater demand for capital for railways, but it did not raise the rate of interest. There was a condensation of small sums into larger masses, and these larger masses were consumed in our market; so that on the whole the effect was to throw more money on the money market of the city, not so much to take it out.
A. Hodgson, Director of the Liverpool Joint Stock Bank, shows to what extent bills of exchange may form a reserve for bankers: It was our custom to hold at least nine-tenths of all our deposits, and all money received from our customers, in our bill books in the shape of bills of exchange,
which fell due from day to day…so much so, that the amount of bills due daily during the time of the crisis almost equaled the amount of demands for payment made on us every day (p. 53).
Speculative Bills.—No. 5092. “By whom were the bills of exchange (against sold cotton) mainly endorsed?”—(R. Gardner, the cotton manufacturer mentioned several times in this work): “By produce jobbers; one trader buys cotton, transfers it to some jobber, draws checks on this jobber, and gets these bills discounted.”—No. 5094. “And these bills of exchange go to the Liverpool banks and are discounted by them?”—”Yes, and also by others….Had not this accommodation existed, which was mainly allowed by the Liverpool banks, cotton would have been, in my opinion, from 1½ d to 2 d per pound cheaper last year.”—No. 600. “You said that an enormous number of bills of exchange was in circulation, drawn by speculators upon cotton jobbers in Liverpool; does the same apply to your advances on bills of exchange for other colonial products than cotton?”—(A. Hodgson, banker in Liverpool): “It refers to all kinds of colonial products, but most particularly to cotton.”—No. 601. “Do you, as a banker, try to keep away from bills of exchange of this sort?”—”Not at all; we regard them as legitimate bills when kept within moderate bounds….This sort of bills is often prolongued.”
Swindle in the East Indian and Chinese Market, 1847.—Charles Turner (Chief of one of the first East Indian firms in Liverpool): “We all know the occurrences, which have taken place in the matter of business to Mauritius and similar businesses. The jobbers were accustomed to make advances on goods, not only after their arrival, for the covering of the bills of exchange drawn for these goods, which is quite in order, and advances on bills of lading…they have also made advances on the product before it had been shipped, and in some cases before it had been manufactured. For instance, I had, in one case in Calcutta, bought bills of exchange amounting to 6-7,000 pounds sterling; the proceeds of these goods went to Mauritius in order to assist in planting sugar there; the bills came to England, and more than half of them were protested; then, when the shipments of sugar finally arrived, by which these bills were to have been paid,
it was found that this sugar had already been pawned to third parties, before it had been shipped, or even before it had been boiled (p. 78). Now the goods for the East Indian market must be paid to the manufacturer in cash; but this does not mean much, for if the buyer has some credit in London, he draws on London and discounts the drafts in London, where the discount is now low; he pays the manufacturer with the money so obtained…it takes at least twelve months before a shipper of goods to India receives his return shipment…a man with ten or fifteen thousand pounds sterling going into Indian business would secure credit from some London house to a considerable amount; he would give to this house 1% and draw on it with the understanding, that the proceeds of the goods sent to India are to be sent to this London house; but the tacit understanding on both sides is that the London house shall not have to make any advances of cash; in other words, the drafts are prolongued until the return shipments arrive. The bills of exchange are discounted in Liverpool, Manchester, London, some of them are held by Scotch banks” (p. 79).—No. 730. “There is a firm, which recently failed in London; the examination of its books revealed the following condition of affairs: Here is one firm in Manchester, and another in Calcutta; they opened a credit with the London firm for 200,000 pounds sterling; that is, the business friends of this Manchester firm, who sent consignments of goods from Glasgow and Manchester to the firm in Calcutta, drew on the London house up to the sum of 200,000 pounds sterling; at the same time the understanding was, that the Calcutta firm would also draw on the London firm up to the sum of 200,000 pounds sterling; these bills of exchange were sold in Calcutta, other bills of exchange were bought with the proceeds, and these were sent to London in order to enable the firm there to pay the first drafts made by the Glasgow or Manchester firm. In this way this firm sent bills of exchange amounting to 600,000 pounds sterling into the world.”—No. 971. “At present, when a firm in Calcutta buys a ship’s cargo (for England) and pays for it with its own drafts on its London correspondent, and when the bills of lading are sent here, these bills of lading are used immediately for the purpose of securing advances in Lombard Street; hence they have eight months time in which
to make use of the money before their correspondents have to pay the drafts.”—
IV. In the year 1848 a secret committee of the Upper House was in session on an investigation of the causes of the crisis of 1847. The testimony of the witnesses before this committee was not published, however, until 1857 (Minutes of Evidence, taken before the Secret Committee of the H. of L. appointed to inquire into the Causes of Distress, etc., 1857; quoted as C. D. 1848-57). Here Mr. Lister, the Director of the Union Bank of Liverpool, testified among other things to the following: 2444. “There was, in the spring of 1847, an unwarranted extension of credit…because business men transferred their capital from their business to railroads and nevertheless wanted to continue their business on the old scale. Every one thought probably at first that he could sell the railroad stocks at a profit and thus replace the money in the business. He found, perhaps, that this was impossible, and then secured credit in his business where he paid cash formerly. This gave rise to an extension of credit.”
2500. “These bills of exchange, on which the banks that had accepted them incurred losses, were they bills mainly for corn or for cotton?…They were bills for products of all kinds, corn, cotton and sugar, and products of all sorts. There was at that time nothing, with the exception of oil, perhaps, that did not fall in price.”—2506. “A jobber, who accepts a bill of exchange, does not do so without being sufficiently secured, also against a fall in the price of the commodity which serves as a security.”
2512. “Two kinds of bills of exchange are drawn for products. To the first kind belongs the original draft, which is made out on the other side on the importer….The drafts which are made out in this way for products are frequently due before the goods arrive. For this reason the merchant who has not enough money when the products arrive, must pawn them to some broker until he can sell them. Then a draft of the other kind is immediately drawn on the broker by the Liverpool merchant, on the strength of those products…it then becomes the business of the banker to ascertain, whether he has those goods and to what extent he has made advances on them. He must convince himself,
that the broker has security, in order to make good eventual losses.”
2516. “We receive also bills of exchange from foreign countries….Some one buys on the other side a bill of exchange on England, and sends it to some firm in England; we cannot tell by looking at this bill, whether it has been drawn reasonably or unreasonably, whether it represents products or wind.”
2533. “You said that foreign products of nearly all kinds are sold at a heavy loss. Do you believe, that this was due to unwarranted speculations in these products?”—”It arose from a very large import, while no adequate consumption existed to take care of it. From all indications the consumption fell off considerably.”—2537. “In October…products were almost unsaleable.”
How it is that a general scramble for safety is made at the critical stage of a crisis is explained in the same report by an expert of the first order, the worthy and crafty Quaker, Samuel Gurney of Overend Gurney & Co.: 1262. “When a panic reigns, a business man does not ask himself, how profitably he can invest his bank notes, or whether he will lose 1 or 2% in the sale of his treasury notes or 3% bonds. Once that he is under the suggestions of fright, he cares nothing about gain or loss; he gets himself into a safe place, the rest of the world may do what it pleases.”
V. Concerning the mutual unmasking of two markets Mr. Alexander, a merchant in the East Indian trade, testifies before the Committee of the Lower House on the Bank Acts of 1857 (quoted as B. C. 1857): 4330. “At present, if I invest 6 shillings in Manchester, I get 5 shillings back in India; if I invest 6 shillings in India, I get 5 shillings back in London.” In this way the Indian market is exposed by England, and the English by India. And this took place in the summer of 1857, barely ten years after the bitter experience of 1847!