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vantages, whatever value may bo put on them, are purchased by still greater disadvantages.
In the first place, a large extension of credit by Dankers, though most hurtful when, credit being already in an inflated state, it can only serve to retard and aggravate the collapse, is most salutary when the collapse has come, and when credit instead of being in excess is in distressing deficiency, and increased advances by bankers, instead of being an addition to the ordinary amount of floating credit, serve to replace a mass of other credit which has been suddenly destroyed. Antecedently to 1844, if the Bank of England occasionally aggravated the severity of a commercial revulsion by rendering the collapse of credit more tardy and thence more violent than necessary, it in return rendered invaluable services during the revulsion itself, by coming forward with advances to support solvent firms, at a time when all other paper and almost all mercantile credit had become comparatively valueless. This service was eminently conspicuous in the crisis of 1825-6, the severest probably ever experienced; during which the Bank increased what is called its circulation by many millions, in advances to those mercantile firms of whose ultimate solvency it felt no doubt; advances which if it had been obliged to withhold, the severity of the crisis would have been still greater than it was. If the Bank, it is justly remarked by Mr. Fullarton,* complies with such applications, "it must comply with them by an issue of notes, for notes constitute the only instrumentality through which the Bank is in the practice of leading its credit. But those notes are not intended to circulate, nor do they circulate. There is no more demand for circulation than there was before. On the contrary, the rapid decline of prices which the case in supposition presumes, would necessarily contract the demand for circulation. The notes would either be returned to the Bank of England, as fast as they were issued, in the • P. 106.
shape of deposits, or would be locked up in the drawers of the private London bankers, or distributed by them to their correspondents in the country, or intercepted by other capitalists, who, during the fervour of the previous excitement, had contracted liabilities which they might be imperfectly prepared on the sudden to encounter. In such emergencies, every man connected with business, who has been trading on other means than his own, is placed on the defensive, and his whole object is to make himself as strong as possible, an object which cannot be more effectually answered than by keeping by him as large a reserve as possible in paper which the law has made a legal tender. The notes themselves never find their way into the produce market; and if they at all contribute to retard" (or, as I should rather say, to moderate) "the fall of prices, it is not by promoting in the slightest degree the effective demand for commodities, not by enabling consumers to buy more largely for consumption, and so giving briskness to commerce, but by a process precisely the reverse, by enabling the holders of commodities to hold on, by obstructing traffic and repressing consumption.
The opportune relief thus afforded to credit, during the excessive contraction which succeeds to an undue expansion, is consistent with the principle of the new system; for an extraordinary contraction of credit, and fall of prices, inevitably draw gold into the country, and the principle of the system is that the bank-note currency shall bo permitted, and even compelled, to enlarge itself, in all cases in which a metallic currency would do the same. But, what the principle of the law would encourage, its provisions in this instance preclude, by not suffering the increased issues to take place until the gold has actually arrived; which is never until the worst part of the crisis is past, and almost all the losses and failures attendant on it are consummated. The machinery of the system withholds, until for many purposes it comes too late, the very medicine t) D
which the theory of the system prescribes as the appropriate remedy.*
This function of banks in filling up the gap made in mercantile credit by the consequences of undue speculation and its revulsion, is so entirely indispensable, that if the Act of 1844 continues unrepealed, there can be no difficulty in foreseeing that its provisions must be suspended, as they were in 1847, in every period of great commercial difficulty, as soon as the crisis has really and completely set in.f Were this all, there would be no absolute inconsistency in maintaining the restriction as a means of preventing a crisis, and relaxing it for the purpose of relieving one. But there is another objection, of a still more radical and comprehensive character, to the new system.
Professing, in theory, to require that a paper currency shall vary in its amount in exact conformity to the variations of a metallic currency, it provides, in fact, that in every case of an efflux of gold, a corresponding diminution shall take place in the quantity of bank notes; in other words, that every exportation of the precious metals shall be virtually drawn from the circulation; it being assumed that this would be the case if the currency were wholly metallic. This theory, and these practical arrangements, are adapted to the case in which the drain of gold originates in a rise of prices produced by an undue expansion of currency or credit; but they are adapted to no case beside.
When the efflux of gold is the last
* True, the Bank is not precluded from making increased advances from its deposits, which are likely to be of unusually large amount, since, at these periods, every one leaves his money in deposit in order to have it within call. But, that the deposits are not always sufficient, was conclusively proved in 1847, when the Bank stretched to the very utmost the means of relieving commerce which its deposits afforded, without allaying the panic, which however ceased at once when the Government decided on suspending the Act.
t This prediction was verified on the very next occurrence of a commercial crisis, in 1857; when Government were again under the necessity of suspending, on their own responsibility, the provisions of the Act.
stage of a series of effects arising from., an increase of the currency, or from an expansion of credit tantamount in its effect on prices to an increase of currency, it is in that case a fair assumption that in a purely metallic system the gold exported would be drawn from the currency itself; because such a drain, being in its nature unlimited, will necessarily continue as long as currency and credit are undiminished. But an exportation of the precious metals often arises from no causes affecting currency or credit, but simply from an unusual extension of foreign payments, arising either from the state of the markets for commodities, or from some circumstance not commercial. In this class of causes, four, of powerful operation, are included, of each of which the last fifty years of English history afford repeated instances. The first is that of an extraordinary foreign, expenditure by government, either political or military; as in the revolutionary war, and, as long as it lasted, during the late war with Russia. The second is the case of a large exportation of capital for foreign investment; such as the loans and mining operations which partly contributed to the crisis of 1825, and the American speculations which were the principal cause of the crisis of 1839. The third is a failure of crops in the countries which supply the raw material of important manufactures; such as the cotton failure in America, which compelled England, in 1847, to incur unusual liabilities for the purchase of that commodity at an advanced price. The fourth is a bad harvest, and a great consequent importation of food; of which the years 1846 and 1847 presented an example surpassing all antecedent experience.
In none of these cases, if the currency were metallic, would the gold or silver exported for the purposes in question be necessarily, or even probably, drawn wholly from the circulation. It would be drawn from the hoards, which under a metallic currency always exist to a very large amount; in uncivilized countries, in the hands of all who can afford it; in civilized countries chiefly in the form of bankers' reserves. Mr. Tooke, in his " Inquiry into the Currency Principle," bears testimony to this fact; but it is to Mr. Fullarton that the public are indebted for the clearest and most satisfactory elucidation of it. As I am not aware that this part of the theory of currency has been set forth by any other writer with anything like the same degree of completeness, I shall quote somewhat largely from this able production.
"No person who has ever resided in an Asiatic country, where hoarding is carried on to a far larger extent in proportion to the existing stock of wealth, and where the practice has become much more deeply engrafted in the habits of the people, by traditionary apprehensions of insecurity and the difficulty of finding safe and remunerative investments, than in any European community—no person who has had personal experience of this state of society, can he at a loss to recollect innumerable instances of large metallic treasures extracted in times of pecuniary difficulty from the coffers of individuals by the temptation of a high rate of interest, and brought in aid of the public necessities, nor, on the other hand, of the facility with which those treasures have been absorbed again, when the inducements which had drawn them into light were no longer in operation. In countries more advanced in civilization and wealth than the Asiatic principalities, and where no man is in fear of attracting the cupidity of power by an external display of riches, but where the interchange of commodities is still almost universally conducted through the medium of a metallic circulation, as is the case with most of the commercial countries on the Continent of Europe, the motives for amassing the precious metals may be less powerful than in the majority of Asiatic principalities; but the ability to accumulate being more widely extended, the absolute quantity amassed will be found probably to bear a considerably larger proportion to the population.* In
* It is known, from unquestionable facts,
those states which lie exposed to hostile invasion, or whose social condition is unsettled and menacing, the motive indeed must still be very strong; and in a nation carrying on an extensive commerce, both foreign and internal, without any considerable aid from any of the banking substitutes for money, the reserves of gold and silver indispensably required to secure the regularity of payments, must of themselves engross a share of the circulating coin which it would not be easy to estimate. "In this country, where the banking system has been carried to an extent and perfection unknown in any other part of Europe, and may be said to have entirely superseded the use of coin, except for retail dealings and the purposes of foreign commerce, the incentives to private hoarding exist no longer, and the hoards have all been transferred to the banks, or rather, I should say, to the Bank of England. But in France, where the bank-note circulation is still comparatively limited, the quantity of gold and silver coin in existence I find now currently estimated, on what are described as the latest authorities, at the enormous sum of 120 millions sterling; nor is the estimate at all at variance with the reasonable probabilities of the case. Of this vast treasure there is every reason, to presume that a very large proportion, probably by much the greater part, is absorbed in the hoards. If you present for payment a bill for a thousand francs to a French banker, he brings you the silver in a sealed bag from his strongroom. And not the banker only, but every merchant and trader, according to his means, is under the necessity of keeping by him a stock of' cash sufficient not only for his ordinary disbursements, but to meet any unexpected demauds. That the quantity of specie accumulated in these innu
that the hoards of money at all times existing in the hands of the French peasantry, often from a remote date, surpass any amount which could have been imagined possible; and even in so poor a country as Ireland, it has of late been ascertained, that the small farmers sometimes possess hoards quite disproportioned to their visible means of subsistence.
merable depots, not in France only, but all over the Continent, where banking institutions are still either entirely wanting or very imperfectly organized, is not merely immense in itself, but admits of being largely drawn upon, and transferred even in vast masses from one country to another, with very little, if any, effect on prices, or other material derangements, we have had some remarkable proofs:" among others, " the signal success which attended the simultaneous efforts of some of the principal European powers (Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark) to replenish their treasuries, and to replace with coin a considerable portion of the depreciated paper which the necessities of the war had forced upon them, and this at the very time when the available stock of the precious metals over the world had been reduced by the exertions of England to
recover her metallic currency
There can be no doubt that these combined operations were on a scale of very extraordinary magnitude, that they were accomplished without any sensible injury to commerce or public prosperity, or any other effect than some temporary derangement of the exchanges, and that the private hoards of treasure accumulated throughout Europe during the war must have been the principal source from which all this gold and silver was collected. And no person, I think, can fairly contemplate the vast superflux of metallic wealth thus proved to be at all times in existence, and, though in a dormant and inert state, always ready to spring into activity on the first indication of a sufficiently intense demand, without feeling themselves compelled to admit the possibility of the mines being even shut up for years together, and the production of the metals altogether suspended, while there might be scarcely a perceptible alteration in the exchangeable value of the metal."*
Applying this to the currency doctrine and its advocates, "one might imagine," says Mr. Fullarton,t " that
* Fullarton on the Regulation qfCurrenciee, pp. 71-4. t lb. pp. 139—«.
they supposed the gold which is drained off for exportation from a country using a currency exclusively metallic, to be collected by driblets at the fairs and markets, or from the tills of the grocers and mercers. They never even allude to the existence of such a thing as a great hoard of the metals, though upon the action of the hoards depends the whole economy of international payments between specie-circulating communities, while any operation of the money collected in hoards upon prices must, even according to the currency hypothesis, be wholly impossible.' We know from experience what enormous payments in gold and silver specie-circulating countries are capable, at times, of making, without the least disturbance of their internal prosperity; and whence is it supposed that these payments come, but from their hoards? Let us think how the money market of a country transacting all its exchanges through the medium of the precious metals only, would be likely to be affected by the necessity of making a foreign payment of several millions. . Of course the necessity could only be satisfied by a transmission of capital; and would not the competition for the possession of capital for transmission which the occasion would call forth, necessarily raise the market rate of interest? If the payment was to be made by the government, would not the government, in all probability, have to open a new loan on terms more than usually favourable to the lender?" If made by merchants, would it not be drawn either from the deposits in banks, or from the reserves which merchants keep by them in default of banks, or would it not oblige them to obtain the necessary amount of specie by going into tho money market as borrowers ?" And would not all this inevitably act upon the hoards, and draw forth into activity a portion of the gold and silver which the money-dealers had been accumulating, and some of them with the express view of watching such opportunities for turning their treasures to advantage? ....
"To come to the present time , the balance of payments with nearly all Europe has for about four years past been in favour of this country, and gold has been pouring in till the influx amounts to the unheard-of sum of about fourteen millions sterling. Yet in all this time, has any one heard a complaint of any serious suffering inflicted on the people of the Continent? Have prices there been greatly depressed beyond their range in this country? Have wages fallen, or have merchants been extensively ruined by the universal depreciation of their stock? There has occurred nothing of the kind. The tenor of commercial and monetary affairs has been everywhere even and tranquil; and in France more particularly, an improving revenue and extended commerce bear testimony to the continued progress of internal prosperity. It maybe doubted, indeed, if this great efflux of gold has withdrawn from that portion of the metallic wealth of the nation which really circulates, a single napoleon. And it has been equally obvious, from the undisturbed state of credit, that not only has the supply of specie indispensable for the conduct of business in the retail market been all the while uninterrupted, but that the hoards have continued to furnish every facility requisite for the regularity of mercantile payments. It is of the very essence of the metallic system, that the hoards, in all cases of probable occurrence, should be equal to both objects; that they should, in the first place, supply the bullion demanded for exportation, and in the next place, should keep up the home circulation to its legitimate complement. Every man trading under that system, who, in the course of his business, may have frequent occasion to remit large sums in specie to foreign countries, must either keep by him a sufficient treasure of his own or must have the means of borrowing enough from his neighbours, not only to make up when wanted the amount of his remittances, but to enable him, moreover, to carry on his ordinary transactions at home without interruption." In a country in which credit is
carried to so great an extent as in England, one great reserve, in a single establishment, the Bank of England, supplies the place, as far as the precious metals are concerned, of the multitudinous reserves of other countries. The theoretical principle, therefore, of the currency doctrine would require, that all those drains of the metal, which, if the currency were purely metallic, would be taken from tho hoards, should be allowed to operate freely upon the reserve in the coffers of the Bank of England, without any attempt to stop it either by a diminution of the currency or by a contraction of credit. Nor to this would there be any well-grounded objection, unless the drain were so great as to threaten the exhaustion of the reserve, and a consequent stoppage of payments; a danger against which it is possible to take adequate precautions, because in the cases which we are considering, the drain is for foreign payments of definite amount, and stops of itself as soon as these are effected. And in all systems it is admitted that the habitual reserve of the Bank should exceed the utmost amount to which experience warrants the belief that such a drain may extend; which extreme limit Mr. Fullarton affirms to be seven millions, but Mr. Tooke recommends an average reserve of ten, and in his last publication, of twelve millions. Under these circumstances, the habitual reserve, which would never be employed in discounts, but kept to be paid out exclusively in exchange for cheques or bank notes, would be sufficient for a crisis of this description ; which therefore would pass off without having its difficulties increased by a contraction either of credit or of the circulation. But this, tho most advantageous denouement that the case admits of, and not only consistent with, but required by, the professed principle of the system, the panegyrists of the system claim for it as a great merit that it prevents. They boast, that on the first appearance of a drain for exportation, (whatever may be its cause, and whether under a metallic currency it would involve a contraction of credit