« НазадПродовжити »
than in its character of depreciation it tends to raise it; for the former effect depends on the ratio which the new money bears to the money lent, while the latter depends on its ratio to all the money in circulation. An increase, therefore, of currency issued by banks, tends, while the process continues, to bring down or to keep down the rate of interest. A similar effect is produced by the increase of money arising from the gold discoveries; almost the whole of which, as already noticed, is, when brought to Europe, added to the deposits in banks, and consequently to the amount of loans; and when drawn out and invested in securities, liberates an equivalent amount of other loanable capital. The newly-arrived gold can only get itself invested, in any given state of business, by lowering the rate of interest; and as long as the influx coftinues, it cannot fail to keep interest lower than, all other circumstances being supposed the same, would otherwise have been the case. As the introduction of additional gold and silver which goes into the loan market, tends to keep down the rate of interest, so any considerable abstraction of them from the country invariably raises it; even when occurring in the course of trade, as in paying for the extra importations caused by a bad harvest, or for the high-priced cotton which is, just now, imported from so many parts of the world. The money required for these payments is taken in the first instance from the deposits in the hands of bankers, and to that extent starves the fund that o the loan market. he rate of interest, then, depends, essentially and permanently, on the comparative amount of real capital offered and demanded in the way of loan; but is subject to temporary disturbances of various sorts, from increase and diminution of the circulating medium; which derangements are somewhat intricate, and sometimes in direct, opposition to first appearances. All }. distinctions are veiled over and confounded, by the unfortunate misapplication of language
which designates the rate of interest by a phrase (“the value of money") which properly expresses the purchasing power of the circulating medium. The public, even mercantile, habitually fancies that ease in the money market, that is, facility of borrowing at low interest, is proportional to the quantity of money in circulation. Not only, therefore, are bank notes supposed to produce effects as currency, which they only produce as loans, but attention is, habitually diverted from effects similar in kind and much greater in degree, when produced by an action on loans which does not happen to be accompanied by any action on the currency. For example, in considering the effect produced by the proceedings of banks in encouraging the excesses of speculation, an immense effect is usually attributed to their issues of notes, but until of late hardly any attention was paid to the management of their deposits; though nothing is more certain than that their imprudent extensions of credit take place more frequently by means of their deposits than of their issues. “There is no doubt,” says Mr. Tooke,” “that banks, whether private or joint stock, may, if imprudently conducted, minister to an undue extension of credit for the purpose of speculations, whether in commodities, or in over-trading in exports or imports, or in building or mining operations, and that they have so ministered not unfrequently, and in some cases to an extent ruinous to themselves, and without ultimate benefit to the parties to whose views their resources were made subservient.” But, “supposing all the deposits received by a banker to be in coin, is he not, just as much as the issuing banker, exposed to the importunity of customers, whom it may be impolitic to refuse, for loans or discounts, or to be tempted by a high interest? and may he not be induced to encroach so much upon his deposits as to leave him, under not improbable circumstances, unable to meet the demands of his depositors? In what * Inquiry into the Currency Principle, ch. xiv. respect, indeed, would the case of a banker in a perfectly metallic circulation, differ from that of a London banker at the present day ? He is not a creator of money, he cannot avail himself of his privilege as an issuer in aid of his other business, and yet there have been lamentable instances of London bankers issuing money in excess.”
In the discussions, too, which have been for so many years carried on respecting the operations of the Bank of England, and the effects produced by those operations on the state of credit, though for nearly half a century there never has been a commercial crisis which the Bank has not been strenuously accused either of producing or of aggravating, it has been almost universally assumed that the influence of its acts was felt only through the amount of its notes in circulation, and that if it could be prevented from exercising any discretion as to that one feature in its position, it would no longer have any power liable to abuse. This at least is an error which, after the experience of the year 1847, we may hope has been committed for the last time. During that year the hands of the Bank were absolutely tied, in its character of a bank of issue; but through its operations as a bank of deposit it exercised as great an influence, or apparent influence, on the rate of interest and the state of credit, as at any former period; it was exposed to as vehement accusations of abusing that influence; and a crisis occurred, such as few that preceded it had equalled, and none perhaps surpassed, in intensity.
§ 5. Before quitting the general subject of this chapter, I will make the obvious remark, that the rate of interest determines the value and price of all those saleable articles which are desired and bought, not for themselves, but for the income which they are capable of yielding. The public funds, shares in joint-stock companies, and all descriptions of securities, are at a high price in proportion as the rate of interest is low. They are sold at the price which will give the market rate
of interest on the purchase money, with allowance for all differences in the risk incurred, or in any circumstance of convenience. Exchequer bills, for example, usually sell at a higher price than consols, proportionally to the interest, which they yield; because, though the security is the same, yet the former being annually paid off at par unless renewed by the holder, the purchaser (unless obliged to sell in a moment of general emergency), is in no danger of losing anything by the re-sale, except the premium he may have paid.
The price of land, mines, and all other fixed sources of income, depends in like manner on the rate of interest. Land usually sells at a higher price, in proportion to the income afforded by it, than the public funds, not only because it is thought, even in this country, to be somewhat more secure, but because ideas of power and dignity are associated with its possession. But these differences are constant, or nearly so; and in the variations of price, land follows, casteris paribus, the permanent (though of course not the daily) variations of the rate of interest. When interest is low, land will naturally be dear; when interest is high, land will be cheap. The last long war presented a striking exception to this rule, since the price of land as well as the rate of interest was then remarkably high. For this, however, there was a special cause. The continuance of a very high average price of corn for many years, had raised the rent of land even more than in proportion to the rise of interest; and fall of the selling price of fixed incomes. Had it not been for this accident, chiefly dependent on the seasons, land must have sustained as great a depreciation in value as the ublic funds: which it probably would o, were a similar war to break out hereafter; to the signal disappointment of those landlords and farmers who, generalizing from the casual circumstances of a remarkable period, so long persuaded themselves that a state of war was peculiarly advantageous, and a state of peace disadvantageous, to what they chose to call the interests of agriculture.
vo. The REGULATION OF A CONVERTIBLE PAPER CURRENCY,
§ 1. The frequent recurrence during the last half century of the painful series of phenomena called a commercial crisis, has directed much of the attention both of economists and of practical politicians to the contriving of expedients for averting, or at the least, mitigating its evils. And the habit which grew up during the era of the Bank restriction, of ascribing all alternations of high and low prices to the issues of banks, has caused inquirers in general to fix their hopes of success in moderating those vicissitudes, upon schemes for the regulation of bank notes. A scheme of this nature, after having obtained the sanction of high authorities, so far established itself in the public mind, as to be, with general lo converted into a law, at the renewal of the Charter of the Bank of England in 1844; and the regulation is still in force, though with a great abatement of its popularity, and with its prestige impaired by two temporary suspensions, on the responsibility of the executive, the earlier of the two little more than three years after its enactment. It is proper that the merits of this plan for the regulation of a conyertible bank note currency should be here considered. Before touching upon the practical provisions of Sir Robert Peel's Act of 1844, I shall briefly state the nature, and examine the grounds, of the theory on which it is founded.
It is believed by many, that banks of issue universally, or the Bank of England in particular, have a power of throwing their notes into circulation, and thereby raising prices, arbitrarily; that this power is only limited by § degree of moderation with which they think fit to exercise it; that when they increase their issues beyond the usual amount, the rise of prices, thus produced, generates a spirit of speculation in commodities, which carries prices still higher, and ultimately causes a
reaction and recoil, amounting in extreme cases to a commercial crisis; and that every such crisis which has occurred in this country within mercantile memory, has been either originally produced by this cause, or greatly aggravated by it. To this extreme length the currency theory has not been carried by the eminent political economists who have given to a more moderate form of the same theory the sanction of their names. But I have not overstated the extravagance of the popular version; which is a remarkable instance to what lengths a favourite theory will hurry, not the closet students whose competency in such questions is often treated with so much contempt, but men of the world and of business, who pique themselves on the practical knowledge which they have at least had ample opportunities of acquiring. Not only has this fixed idea of the currency as the prime agent in the fluctuations of price, made them shut their eyes to the multitude of circumstances which, }. influencing the expectation of supply, are the true causes of almost all speculations and of almost all fluctuations of price; but in order to bring about the chronological agreement required by their theory, between the variations of bank issues and those of prices, they have played such fantastic tricks with facts and dates as would be thought incredible, if an eminent practical authority had not taken the trouble of meeting them, on the ground of mere history, with an elaborate exposure. I refer, as all conversant with the subject must be aware, to Mr. Tooke's History of Prices. The result of Mr. Tooke's investigations was thus stated by himself, in his examination before the Commons Committee on the Bank Charter question in 1832; and the evidences of it stand recorded in his book: “In point of fact, and histori
cally, as far as my researches have gone, in every signal instance of a rise or fall of prices, the rise, or fall has preceded, and therefore could not be the effect of, an enlargement or contraction of the bank circulation.” The extravagance of the currency theorists, in attributing almost every rise or fall of prices to an enlargement or contraction of the issues of bank notes, has raised up, by reaction, a theory the extreme opposite of the former, of which, in scientific discussion, the most prominent representa. tives are Mr. Tooke and Mr. Fullarton. This counter-theory denies to bank notes, so long as their convertibility is maintained, any power whatever of raising prices, and to banks any power of increasing their circulation, except as a consequence of, and in proportion to, an increase of the business to be done. This last statement is supported by the unanimous assurances of all the oountry bankers who have been examined before successive Parliamentary Committees on the subject. They all bear testimony that (in the words of Mr. Fullarton’s) “the amount of their issues is exclusively regulated by the extent of local dealings and expenditure in their respective districts, fluctuating with the fluctuations of production and price, and that they neither can increase their issues beyond the limits which the range of such dealings and expenditure prescribes, without the certainty of having their notes immediately returned to them, nor dimi. nish them, but at an almost equal certainty of the vacancy being filled up from some other source.” From these premises it is argued by Mr. Tooke and Mr. Fullarton, that bank issues, since they cannot be increased in amount unless there be an increased demand, cannot possibly raise prices; cannot encourage speculation, nor occasion a commercial crisis; and that the attempt to guard against that evil by an artificial management of the issue of notes, is of no effect for the intended purpose, and liable to produce other consequences extremely calamitous. * Regulation of Currencies, p. 85,
§ 2. As much of this doctrine as rests upon testimony, and not upon inference, appears to me incontrovertible. I give complete credence to the assertion of the country bankers, very clearly and correctly condensed into a small compass in the sentence just quoted from Mr. Fullarton. I am convinced that they cannot possibly increase their issue of notes in any other circumstances than those which are there stated. I believe, also, that the theory, grounded by Mr. Fullarton upon this fact, contains a large portion of truth, and is far nearer to being the expression of the whole truth than any form whatever of the currency theory.
There are two states of the markets: one which may be termed the quiescent state, the other the expectant, or speculative state. The first is that in which there is nothing tending to engender in any considerable portion of the mercantile public a desire to extend their operations. The producers produce and the dealers, purchase only their usual stocks, having no expectation of a more than usually rapid vent for them. Each person transacts his ordinary amount of business and no more, or increases it only in correspondence with the increase of his capital or connexion, or with the gradual growth of the demand for his commodity, occasioned by the public prosperity. Not meditating any unusual extension of their own operations, producers and dealers do not need more than the usual accommodation from bankers and other money lenders; and as it is only by extending their loans that bankers increase their issues, none but a momentary augmentation of issues is in these circumstances possible. If at a certain time of the year a portion of the public have larger payments to make than at other times, or if an individual, under some peculiar exigency, requires an extra advance, they may apply for more bank notes, and obtain them; but the notes will no more remain in circulation, than the extra quantity of Bank of England notes which are issued once in every three months in payment of the dividends. The person to whom, after
being borrowed, the notes are paid away, has no extra payments to make, and no peculiar exigency, and he keeps them by him unused, or sends them into deposit, or repays with them a revious advance made to him by some |. in any case he does not buy commodities with them, since by the supposition there is nothing to induce him to lay in a larger stock of commodities than before. Even if we suppose, as we may do, that bankers create an artificial increase of the demand for loans, by offering them below the market rate of interest, the notes they issue will not remain in circulation; for when the borrower, having completed the transaction for which he availed himself of them, has paid them away, the creditor or dealer who receives them, having no demand for the immediate use of an extra quantity of notes, sends them into deposit. In this case, therefore, there can be no addition, at the discretion of bankers, to the general circulating medium: any increase of their issues either comes back to them, or remains idle in the hands of the public, and no rise takes place in prices. But there is another state of the markets, strikingly contrasted with the preceding, and to this state it is not so obvious that the theory of Mr. Tooke and Mr. Fullarton is , applicable; namely, when an impression prevails, whether well founded or groundless, that the supply of one or more great articles of commerce is likely to fall short of the ordinary consumption. In such circumstances all persons connected with those commodities desire to extend their operations. The producers or importers desire to produce or import a larger quantity, speculators desire to lay in a stock in order to profit by the expected rise of price, and holders of the commodity i. additional advances to enable them to continue holding. All these classes are disposed to make a more than ordinary use of their credit, and to this desire it is not denied that bankers very often unduly administer. Effects of the same kind may be produced by anything which, exciting more than
usual hopes of profit, gives increased briskness to business: for example, a sudden foreign demand for commodities on a large scale, or the expectation of it; such as occurred on the opening of Spanish America to English trade, and has occurred on various occasions in the trade with the United States. Such occurrences produce a tendency to a rise of price in exportable articles, and generate speculations, sometimes of a reasonable, and (as long as a large proportion of men in business prefer excitement to safety) frequently of an irrational or immoderate character. In such cases there is a desire in the mercantile classes, or in some portion of them, to employ their credit, in a more than of degree, as a power of purchasing. This is a state of business which, when pushed to an extreme length, brings on the revulsion called a commercial crisis; and it is a known fact that such periods of speculation hardly ever pass off without having been attended, during some part of their progress, by a considerable increase of bank notes. To this, however, it is replied by Mr. Tooke and Mr. Fullarton, that the increase of the circulation always follows, instead of preceding, the rise of prices, and is not its cause, but its effect. That in the first place, the speculative purchases by which prices are raised, are not effected by bank notes but by cheques, or still more commonly on a simple book credit: and secondly, even if they were made with bank notes borrowed for that express F. from bankers, the notes, after eing used for that purpose, would, if not wanted for current transactions, be returned into deposit by the persons receiving them. In this I fully concur, and I regard it as proved, both scientifically and historically, that during the ascending period of speculation, and as long as it is confined to transactions between dealers, the issues of bank notes are seldom materially increased, nor contribute anything to the speculative rise of prices. It seems to me, however, that this can no longer be affirmed when speculation has proceeded so far as to reach the producers.