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out the passage of any money from one country to the other. But if there is a greater sum due from England to France, than is due from France to England, or vice versa, the debts cannot be simply written off against one another. After the one has been applied, as far as it will go, towards covering the other, the balance must be transmitted in the precious metals. In point of fact, the merchant who has the amount to pay, will even then pay for it by a bill. When a person has a remittance to make to a foreign country, he does not himself search for some who has money to receive from that country, and ask him for a bill of exchange. In this as in other branches of business, there is a class of middlernen or brokers, who bring buyers and sellers together, or stand between them, buying bills from those who have money to receive, and selling bills to those who have money
When a customer comes to a broker for a bill on Paris or Amsterdam, the broker sells to him, perhaps the bill he may himself have bought that morning from a merchant, perhaps a bill on his own correspondent in the foreign city : and to enable his correspondent to pay, when due, all the bills he has granted, he remits to him all those which he has bought and has not resold. In this manner these brokers take upon themselves the whole settlement of the pecuniary transactions between distant places, being remunerated by a small commission or percentage on the amount of each bill which they either sell or buy. Now, if the brokers find that they are asked for bills on the one part, to a greater amount than bills are offered to them on the other, they do not on this account refuse to give them; but since, in that case, they have no means of enabling the correspondents on whom their bills are drawn, to pay them when due, except by transmitting part of the amount in gold or silver, they require from those to whom they sell bills an additional price, sufficient to cover the freight and insurance of the gold and silver, with a profit sufficient to compensate them for their trouble and for the temporary occupation of a portion of their capital. This premium (as
it is called) the buyers are willing to pay, because they must otherwise go to the expense of remitting the precious metals themselves, and it is done cheaper by those who make doing it a part of their especial business. But though only some of those who have a debt to pay would have actually to remit money, all will be obliged, by each other's competition, to pay the premium; and the brokers are for the same reason obliged to pay it to those whose bills they buy. The reverse of all this happens, if on the comparison of exports and imports, the country, instead of having a balance to pay, has a balance to receive. The brokers find more bills offered to them, than are sufficient to cover those which they are required to grant. Bills on foreign countries consequently fall to a discount; and the competition among the brokers, which is exceedingly active, prevents them from retaining this discount as a profit for themselves, and obliges them to give the benefit of it to those who buy the bills for purposes of remittance.
Let us suppose that all countries had the same currency, as in the progress of political improvement they one day will have: and, as the most familiar to the reader, though not the best, let us suppose this currency to be the English. When England had the same number of pounds sterling to pay to France, which France had to pay to her, one set of merchants in England would want bills, and another set would have bills to dispose of, for the very same number of pounds sterling; and consequently a bill on France for 1001. would sell for exactly 1001., or, in the phraseology of merchants, the exchange would be at par. As France also, on this supposition, would have an equal number of pounds sterling to pay and to receive, bills on England would be at par in France, whenever bills on France were at par in England.
If, however, England had a larger sum to pay to France than to receive from her, there would be persons requiring bills on France for a greater number of pounds sterling than there were bills drawn by persons to whom money was due. A bill on France for 1001. would then sell for more than 1007.,
and bills would be said to be at a premium. The premium, however, could not exceed the cost and risk of making the remittance in gold, together with a trifling profit; because if it did, the debtor would send the gold itself, in preference to buying the bill.
If, on the contrary, England had more money to receive from France than to pay, there would be bills offered for a greater number of pounds than were wanted for remittance, and the price of bills would fall below par: a bill for 1001. might be bought for somewhat less than 1001., and bills would be said to be at a discount.
When England has more to pay than to receive, France has more to receive than to pay, and vice versâ. When, therefore, in England, bills on France bear a premium, then, in France, bills on England are at a discount: and when bills on France are at a discount in England, bills on England are at a premium in France. If they are at par in either country, they are so, as we have already seen, in both.
Thus do matters stand between countries, or places, which have the same currency. So much of barbarism, however, still remains in the transactions of the most civilized nations, that almost all independent countries choose to assert their nationality by having, to their own inconvenience and that of their neighbours, a peculiar currency of their own. To our present purpose this makes no other difference, than that instead of speaking of equal sums of money, we have to speak of equivalent sums. By equivalent sums, when both currencies are composed of the same metal, are meant sums which contain exactly the same quantity of the metal, in weight and fineness; but when, as in the case of France and England, the metals are different, what is meant is that the quantity of gold in the one sum, and the quantity of silver in the other, are of the same value in the general market of the world: there being no material difference between one place and another in the relative value of these metals. Suppose 25 francs to be (as within a trifling fraction it is)
the equivalent of a pound sterling. The debts and credits of the two countries would be equal, when the one owed as many times 25 francs, as the other owed pounds. When this was the case, a bill on France for 2500 francs would be worth in England 1001., and a bill on England for 1001. would be worth in France 2500 francs. The exchange is then said to be at par: and 25 francs (in reality 25 francs and a trifle more)* is called the par of exchange with France. When England owed to France more than the equivalent of what France owed to her, a bill for 2500 francs would be at a premium, that is would be worth more than 1001. When France owed to England more than the equivalent of what England owed to France, a bill for 2500 francs would be worth less than 1001., or would be at a discount.
When bills on foreign countries are at a premium, it is customary to say that the exchanges are against the country, or unfavourable to it. In order to understand these phrases, we must take notice of what“ the exchange” in the language of merchants, really means. It means the power which the money of the country has of purchasing the money of other countries. Supposing 25 francs to be the exact par of exchange, then when it requires more than 1001. to buy a bill for 2500 francs, 1001. of English money are worth less than their real equivalent of French money: and this is called, an exchange unfavourable to England. The only persons in England, however, to whom it is really unfavourable, are those who have money to pay in France; for they come into the bill market as buyers, and have to pay a premium; but to those who have money to receive in France, the same state of things is favourable; for they come as sellers and receive the premium. The premium, however, indicates that a balance is due by England, which must be
* Written before the change in the relative value of the two metals produced by the gold discoveries. The par of exchange between gold and silver currencies is now variable, and no one can foresee at what point it will ultimately rest.
eventually liquidated in the precious metals: and since, according to the old theory, the benetit of a trade consisted in bringing money into the country, this prejudice introduced the practice of calling the exchange favourable when it indicated a balance to receive, and unfavourable when it indicated one to pay: and the phrases in turn tended to maintain the prejudice.
§ 3. It might be supposed at first sight that when the exchange is unfavourable, or in other words, when bills are at a premium, the premium must always amount to a full equivalent for the cost of transmitting money: since, as there is really a balance to pay, and as the full cost must therefore be incurred by some of those who have remittances to make, their competition will compel all to submit to an equivalent sacrifice. And such would certainly be the case, if it were always necessary that whatever is destined to be paid should be paid immediately. The expectation of great and immediate foreign payments sometimes produces a most startling effect on the exchanges.* But a small excess of imports above exports, or any other small amount of debt to be paid to foreign countries, does not usually affect the exchanges to the full extent of the cost and risk of transporting bullion. The length of credit allowed, generally permits, on the part of some of the debtors, a postponement of payment, and in the mean time the balance may turn the other way, and re
* On the news of Bonaparte's landing from Elba, the price of bills advanced in one day as much as ten per cent. Of course this premium was not equivalent for cost of carriage, since the freight of such an article as gold, even with the addition of war insurance, could never have amounted to so much. This great price was an equivalent not for the difficulty of sending gold, but for the anticipated difficulty of procuring it to send ; the expectation being that there would be such immense remittances to the Continent in subsidies and for the support of armies, as would press hard on the stock of bullion in the country (which was then entirely denuded of specie), and this, too, in a shorter time than would allow of its being replenished. Accordingly the price of bullion rose likewise, with the same suddenness. It is hardly necessary to say that this took place during the Bank restriction. In a convertible state of the currency, no such thing could have occurred until the Bank stopped payment.