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England is liable to be suddenly called upon for large foreign payments, sometimes in loans, or other investments of capital abroad, sometimes as the price of some unusual importation of goods, the most frequent case being that of large importations of food consequent on a bad harvest. To meet such demands it is necessary that there should be, either in circulation or in the coffers of the banks, coin or bullion to a very considerable amount, and that this, when drawn out by any emergency, should be allowed to return after the emergency is past. But since gold wanted for exportation is almost invariably drawn from the reserves of the banks, and is never likely to be taken directly from the circulation while the banks remain solvent, the only advantage which can be obtained from retaining partially a metallic currency for daily purposes is that the banks may occasionally replenish their reserves from it.
§ 3. When metallic money had been entirely superseded and expelled from circulation, by the substitution of an equal amount of bank notes, any attempt to keep a still further quantity of paper in circulation must, if the notes are convertible, be a complete failure. The new issue would again set in motion the same train of consequences by which the gold coin had already been expelled. The metals would, as before, be required for exportation, and would be for that purpose demanded from the banks, to the full extent of the superfluous notes; which thus could not possibly be retained in circulation. If, indeed, the notes were inconvertible, there would be no such obstacle to the increase of their quantity. An inconvertible paper acts in the same way as a convertible, while there remains any coin for it to supersede: the difference begins to manifest itself when all the coin is driven from circulation (except what may be retained for the convenience of small change), and the issues still go on increasing. When the paper begins to exceed in quantity the metallic currency which it superseded, prices of course rise; things which were worth 51. in metallic money, become worth 6L in inconvertible paper, or more, as the case may be. But this rise of price will not, as in the cases before examined, stimulate import, and discourage export. The imports and exports are determined by the metallic prices of things, not by the paper prices: and it is only when the paper is exchangeable at pleasure for the metals that paper prices and metallic prices must correspond.
Let us suppose that England is the country which has the depreciated paper. Suppose that some English production could be bought, while the currency was still metallic, for 51., and sold in France for 51. 10s., the difference covering the expense and risk, and affording a profit to the merchant. On account of the depreciation this commodity will now cost in England 61., and cannot be sold in France for more than 51. 10s., and yet it will be exported as before. Why? Because the 51. 10s., which the exporter can get for it in France, is not depreciated paper, but gold or silver: and since in England bullion has risen, in the same proportion with other things—if the merchant brings the gold or silver to England, he can sell his 51.10s. for 61.12s., and obtain as before 10 per cent for profit and expenses.
It thus appears, that a depreciation of the currency does not affect the foreign trade of the country: this is carried on precisely as if the currency maintained its value. But though the trade is not affected, the exchanges are. When the imports and exports are in equilibrium, the exchange, in a metallic currency, would be at par; a bill on France for the equivalent of five sovereigns, would be worth five sovereigns. But five sovereigns, or the quantity of gold contained in them, having come to be worth in England 61., it follows that a bill on France for 51. will be worth 61. When, therefore, the real exchange is at par, there will be a nominal exchange against the country, of as much per cent as the amount of the depreciation. If the currency is depreciated 10,15, or 20 per cent, then in whatever way the real exchange, arising from the variations of international debts and credits, may vary, the quoted exchange will always differ 10, 15, or 20 per cent from it. However high this nominal premium may be, it has no tendency to send gold out of the country, for the purpose of drawing a bill against it and profiting by the premium; because the gold so sent must be procured, not from the banks and at par, as in the case of a convertible currency, but in the market at an advance of price equal to the premium. In such cases, instead of saying that the exchange is unfavourable, it would be a more correct representation to say that the par has altered, since there is now required a larger quantity of English currency to be equivalent to the same quantity of foreign. The exchanges, however, continue to be computed according to the metallic par. The quoted exchanges, therefore, when there is a depreciated currency, are compounded of two elements or factors; the real exchange, which follows the variations of international payments, and the nominal exchange, which varies with the depreciation of the currency, but which, while there is any depreciation at all, must always be unfavourable. Since the
amount of depreciation is exactly measured by the degree in which the market price of bullion exceeds the Mint valuation, we have a sure criterion to determine what portion of the quoted exchange, being referable to depreciation, may be struck off as nominal; the result so corrected expressing the real exchange.
The same disturbance of the exchanges and of international trade, which is produced by an increased issue of convertible bank notes, is in like manner produced by those extensions of credit, which, as was so fully shown in a preceding chapter, have the same effect on prices as an increase of the currency. Whenever circumstances have given such an impulse to the spirit of speculation as to occasion a great increase of purchases on credit, money prices rise, just as much as they would have risen if each person who so buys on credit had bought with money. All the effects, therefore, must be similar. As a consequence of high prices, exportation is checked and importation stimulated; though in fact the increase of importation seldom waits for the rise of prices which is the consequence of speculation, inasmuch as some of the great articles of import are usually among the things in which speculative overtrading first shows itself. There is, therefore, in such periods, usually a great excess of imports over exports; and when the time comes at which these must be paid for, the exchanges become unfavourable, and gold flows out of the country. In what precise manner this efflux of gold takes effect on prices, depends on circumstances of which we shah1 presently speak more fully; but that its effect is to make them recoil downwards, is certain and evident. The recoil, once begun, generally becomes a total rout, and the unusual extension of credit is rapidly exchanged for an unusual contraction of it. Accordingly, when credit has been imprudently stretched, and the speculative spirit carried to excess, the turn of the exchanges, and consequent pressure on the banks to obtain gold for exportation, are generally the proximate cause of the catastrophe. But these phenomena, though a conspicuous accompaniment, are no essential part of the collapse of credit called a commercial crisis; which, as we formerly showed,* might happen to as great an extent, and is quite as likely to happen, in a country, if any such there were, altogether destitute of foreign trade.
* Supra, pp. 525-7.
OF THE RATE OF INTEREST
§ 1. The present seems the most proper place for discussing the circumstances which determine the rate of interest. The interest of loans, being really a question of exchange value, falls naturally into the present division of our subject: and the two topics of Currency and Loans, though in themselves distinct, are so intimately blended in the phenomena of what is called the money market, that it is impossible to understand the one without the other, and in many minds the two subjects are mixed up in the most inextricable confusion.
In the preceding Book * we defined the relation in which interest stands to profit. We found that the gross profit of capital might be distinguished into three parts, which are respectively the remuneration for risk, for trouble, and for the capital itself, and may be termed insurance, wages of superintendence, and interest. After making compensation for risk, that is, after covering the average losses to which capital is exposed either by the general circumstances of society or by the hazards of the particular employment, there remains a surplus, which partly goes to repay the owner of the capital for his abstinence, and partly the employer of it for his time and trouble. How much goes to the one and how much to the other, is shown by the amount of the remuneration which, when the two functions are separated, the owner of capital can obtain from the employer for its use. This is evidently a question of demand and supply. Nor have demand and supply any different meaning or effect in this case from what they have in all others. The rate of interest will be such as to equalize the demand for loans with the supply of them. It will be such, that exactly as much as some people are desirous to borrow at that rate, others shall be willing
* Supra, book ii. ch. xv. § 1. •
to lend. If there is more offered than demanded, interest will fall; if more is demanded than offered, it will rise; and, in both cases, to the point at which the equation of supply and demand is re-established.
Both the demand and supply of loans fluctuate more incessantly than any other demand or supply whatsoever. The fluctuations in other things depend on a limited number of influencing circumstances; but the desire to borrow, and the willingness to lend, are more or less influenced by every circumstance which affects the state or prospects of industry or commerce, either generally or in any of their branches. The rate of interest, therefore, on good security, which alone we have here to consider (for interest in which considerations of risk bear a part may swell to any amount) is seldom, in the great centres of money transactions, precisely the same for two days together; as is shown by the never-ceasing variations in the quoted prices of the funds and other negotiable securities. Nevertheless, there must be, as in other cases of value, some rate which (in the language of Adam Smith and Ricardo) may be called the natural rate; some rate about which the market rate oscillates, and to which it always tends to return. This rate partly depends on the amount of accumulation going on in the hands of persons who cannot themselves attend to the employment of their savings, and partly on the comparative taste existing in the community for the active pursuits of industry, or for the leisure, ease, and independence of an annuitant.
§ 2. To exclude casual fluctuations, we will suppose commerce to be in a quiescent condition, no employment being unusually prosperous, and none particularly distressed. In these circumstances, the more thriving producers and traders have their capital fully employed, and many are able to transact business to a considerably greater extent than they have capital for. These are naturally borrowers: and the amount which they desire to borrow, and can obtain credit for, constitutes the demand for loans on account of productive employment. To these must be added the loans required by Government, and by landowners, or other unproductive consumers who have good security to give. This constitutes the mass of loans for which there is an habitual demand.
Now it is conceivable that there might exist, in the hands of, persons disinclined or disqualified for engaging personally in business, a mass of capital equal to, and even exceeding, this demand. In that