Sir James Steuart (1767)
Having ended what I had to say of banks, in which most of the principles of private credit and domestic circulation, have been sufficiently deduced, I now proceed to the doctrine of exchange, which is the principal operation of mercantile credit, for the carrying on of foreign circulation.
The security which merchants commonly take from one another when they circulate their business, is a bill of exchange, or a note of hand: these are looked upon as payment. When they give credit to one another in account, or otherwise, the cause of confidence is of a mixed nature; established partly upon the security of their effects, partly on the capacity, integrity, and good fortune, of the person to whom the credit is given.
No man but a merchant has any idea of the extent and nature of this kind of credit. It is a thing to be felt, but cannot be reduced to principles; and merchants themselves can lay down no certain rules concerning it. It is an operation which totally depends upon their own sagacity.
But when they deal by bills of exchange, the case is very different. The punctuality of acquitting these obligations is essential to commerce; and no sooner is a merchant's accepted bill protested, than he is considered to be a bankrupt. For this reason, the laws of most nations have given very extraordinary privileges to bills of exchange. The security of trade is essential to every society; and were the claims of merchants to linger under the formalities of courts of law, when liquidated by bills of exchange, faith, confidence, and punctuality, would quickly disappear; and the great engine of commerce would be totally destroyed.
A regular bill of exchange is a mercantile contract, in which four persons are concerned, viz. First, The drawer, who receives the value: Secondly, His debtor in a distant place, upon whom the bill is drawn, and who must accept and pay it: Thirdly, The person who gives value for the bill, to whose order it is to be paid: and, Fourthly, The person to whom it is ordered to be paid, creditor to the third.
By this operation, reciprocal debts, due in two distant parts, are paid by a sort of transfer, or permutation of debtors and creditors.
(A) in London, is creditor to (B) in Paris, value 1OO l. (C) again in London, is debtor to (D) in Paris for a like sum. By the operation of the bill of exchange, the London creditor is paid by the London debtor, and the Paris creditor is paid by the Paris debtor; consequently, the two debts are paid, and no money is sent from London to Paris, nor from Paris to London.
In this example, (A) is the drawer, (B) is the acceptor, (C) is the purchaser of the bill, and (D) receives the money. Two persons here receive the money, (A) and (D), and two pay the money, (B) and (C); which is just what must be done when two debtors and two creditors clear accounts.
This is the plain principle of a bill of exchange. From which it appears, that reciprocal and equal debts only can be acquitted by them.
When it therefore happens, that the reciprocal debts of London and Paris (to use the same example) are not equal, there arises a balance on one side. Suppose London to owe Paris a balance, value 100 l. How can this be paid? I answer, that it may either be done with or without the intervention of a hill.
With a bill, if an exchanger, finding a demand for a bill upon Paris, for the value of 100 l. when Paris owes no more to London, shall send 100 l. to his correspondent at Paris in coin, at the expence, I suppose, of 1 l. and then, having become creditor on Paris, he can give a bill for the value of 100 l. upon his being repaid his expence, and paid for his risk and trouble.
Or it may be paid without a bill, if the London debtor shall send the coin himself to his Paris creditor, without employing an exchanger.
This last example shews of what little use bills are in the payment of balances. As far as the debts are equal, nothing can be more useful than bills of exchange, but the more they are useful in this easy way of business, the less profit there is to any person to make a trade of exchange, when he is not himself concerned, either as debtor or creditor.
When merchants have occasion to draw and remit bills for the liquidation of their own debts, active and passive, in distant parts, they meet upon Change; where, to pursue the former example, the creditors upon Paris, when they want money for bills, look out for those who are debtors to it. The debtors to Paris again, when they want bills for money, seek for those who are creditors upon it. This is a representation of what we have frequently called the money market, in which the demand is for money, or for bills.
This market is constantly attended by brokers, who relieve the merchant of the trouble of searching for those he wants. To the broker every one communicates his wants, as far as he finds it prudent; and by going about among all the merchants, the broker discovers the side upon which the greater demand lies, for money, or for bills.
We have often observed, that he who is the demander in any bargain, has constantly the disadvantage in dealing with him of whom he demands. This is no where so much the case as in exchange, and renders secrecy very essential to individuals among the merchants. If the London merchants want to pay their debts to Paris, when there is a balance against London, it is their interest to conceal their debts, and especially the necessity they may be under to pay them; from the fear lest those who are creditors upon Paris should demand too high a price for the exchange over and above par.
On the other hand, those who are creditors upon Paris, when Paris owes a balance to London, are as careful in concealing what is owing to them by Paris, from the fear lest those who are debtors to Paris should avail themselves of the competition among the Paris creditors, in order to obtain bills for their money, below the value of them, when at par. A creditor upon Paris, who is greatly pressed for money at London, will willingly abate something of his debt, in order to get one who will give him money for it.
It is not my intention to dip into the intricacies of exchange: all intricacies must here be banished; and instead of technical terms, which are very well adapted for expressing them, recourse must be had to plain language, for pointing out the simple operations of this trade. It is by this method that principles must be deduced, and from principles we shall draw the consequences which may be derived from them.
From the operation carried on among merchants upon Change, which we have been describing, we may discover the consequence of their separate and jarring interests. They are constantly interested in the state of the balance. Those who are creditors on Paris, fear a balance due to London; those who are debtors to Paris, dread a balance due to Paris. The interest of the first is to dissemble what they fear; that of the last, to exaggerate what they wish. The brokers are those who determine the course of the day: and the most intelligent merchants are those who dispatch their business before the fact be known.
Now I ask, how trade, in general, can be interested in the question, who shall outwit, and who shall be outwitted, in this complicated operation of exchange among merchants?
The interest of trade and of the nation is principally concerned in the proper method of paying and receiving the balances. It is also concerned in preserving a just equality of profit and loss among all the merchants, relatively to the real state of the balance. Unequal competition among men engaged in the same pursuit, constantly draws along with it bad consequences to the general undertaking, as has been often observed; and secrecy in trade will be found, upon examination, to be much more useful to merchants in their private capacity, than to the trade they are carrying on.
Merchants, we have said, in speaking of the bank of England, endeavour to simplify their business as much as possible; and commit to brokers many operations which require no peculiar talents to execute. This of exchange is of such a nature that it is hardly possible for a merchant to carry on the business of his bills, without their assistance, upon many occasions. When merchants come upon Change, they are so full of fears and jealousies, that they will not open themselves to one another, lest they should discover what they want to conceal. The broker is a confidential man, in some degree, between parties, and brings them together.
Besides the merchants, who circulate among themselves their reciprocal debts and credits, arising from their importation and exportation of goods, there is another set of merchants who deal in exchange; which is the importation and exportation of money and bills.
Were there never any balance on the trade of nations, exchangers and brokers would find little employment: reciprocal and equal debts would easily be transacted openly between the parties themselves. No man feigns or dissembles, except when he thinks he has an interest in so doing.
But when balances come to be paid, exchange becomes intricate; and merchants are so much employed in particular branches of business, that they are obliged to leave the liquidation of their debts to a particular set of men, who make it turn out to the best advantage for themselves.
Whenever a balance comes to be paid, that payment costs, as we have seen, an additional expence to those of the place who owe it, over and above the value of the debt.
If, therefore, this expence be a loss to the trading man, he must either be repaid this loss by those whom he serves, that is, by the nation; or the trade he carries on will become less profitable to him.
Every one will agree, I believe, that the expence of high exchange upon paying a balance, is a loss to a people, no way to be compensated by the advantages they reap from enriching the few individuals among them, who gain by contriving methods to pay it off: and if an argument be necessary to prove this proposition, it may be drawn from this principle, to wit, whatever renders the profit upon trade precarious or uncertain, is a loss to trade in general: this loss is a consequence of high exchange; and although a profit do result from it upon one branch of trade, namely, the exchange business, yet this profit cannot compensate the loss upon every other.
We may, therefore, here repeat what we have said above, that the more difficulty, there be found in paying a balance, the greater will be the loss to the nation.
This being admitted, I shall here enumerate all the difficulties which occur in the paying of balances. Most of them have been already mentioned from their relation to subjects already discussed; and could it be supposed, that every reader had retained the whole chain of reasoning already gone through, a repetition in this place would be superfluous: but as this cannot be expected, I shall, in as short and distinct a manner as possible, recapitulate, under four articles, what I hope will be sufficient to refresh the memory upon each of them.
The first difficulty which occurs in paying a balance, is to determine exactly the true and intrinsic value of the metals or coin in which it is to be paid; that is to say, the real par.
The second, How to remove the domestic inconveniences which occur in paying with the metals or coin.
The third, How to prevent the price of exchange from operating upon the whole mass of reciprocal payments, instead of affecting the balance only.
The remedies and palliatives for these three inconveniences once discovered, comes the last question, viz. How, when other expedients prove ineffectual for the payment of a balance, the same may be paid by the means of credit, without the intervention of coin; and who are those who should conduct this operation.
This first question regards the whole mass of reciprocal payments, as well as that of the balance.
Every payment to be made of a determinate and fixed value, that is to say, of a liquidated debt, must be paid in a value equally determinate in its nature.
This I suppose to be the case, whether payment be made in the precious metals unmanufactured, that is bullion, or in a nation's coin, or in denominations of money of account. All payments in merchandize, except bullion, must suffer conversions of value before the debts can be liquidated.
Money of accompt, which is what we understand by denominations, we have defined to be a scale of equal parts, calculated to determine the value of things, relatively to one another. It must, therefore, be by the money of accompt of different nations, that the value of bullion and of coin can be ascertained.
When coin is introduced, the denominations of money are realized in a determinate quantity of the precious metals, and the fabrication of the bullion into coin, raises the value of this commodity, bullion, like the manufacturing of every other natural production.
When coin, therefore, is employed in paying sums according to the legal denomination which it carries, it is money, not merchandize; but when it is given at any other rate than its denomination, it is merchandize, not money.
In the third book, we have shewn how utterly impossible it is to realize with exactness, the denominations of money of accompt, in the metals which are constantly varying in their value, and exposed to waste in circulation.
We have shewn, by many examples, how, in fact, the value of the pound sterling has been subject to great vicissitudes of late, from the great disorder of the coin.
The coin of France, is, indeed, upon a better footing in point of uniformity of weight, than ours; and the proportion of the metals in it comes nearer their present value in the market: but then as oft as the balance turns against France, the high imposition upon her coinage, exposes the coin to great fluctuations of value, when compared with bullion in the Paris market. This is also to be ascribed to the imperfection of the metals when used as money, while they are merchandize at the same time.
This being the case, the way to calculate the real par of exchange between nations, who have in common no determinate and invariable money, exclusive of coin, is to consider fine gold and silver as the next best standard.
This is a merchandize which never varies in its quality. Fine gold is always the same in every mass; and weight for weight, there is no difference in its value or quality any where.
This standard being once adopted, the calculation of the real par becomes an easy operation to those who know the course of the bullion market in the two places exchanging.
If, by the exportation of all the heavy coin of London, bills must be paid in a worn out currency, the rise in the price of gold in their market, above mint price, will mark pretty nearly how far it is light.
If, on the other hand, the wars of France, or an unfavourable balance upon her trade, shall oblige her to export her coin, this operation will sink the value of it, or raise the price of bullion, which ever way you choose to express it.
It is not here a proper place to resume the question, which of the two expressions is the most proper: we are here considering the value of the bullion to be the thing fixed, because it answers the purpose. But whether we say that bullion rises in the markets of Paris and London; or that the value of their currencies sink, though from very different causes, the calculation of the real par will proceed with equal accuracy. An example will illustrate this.
When fine gold is at the lowest price to which it can ever fall at Paris, that is to say, at the mint price, it is worth 740 livres 9 sols, or 740.45 livres per mark, in decimals, for the ease of calculation. The mark contains eight ounces Paris weight.
Were the ounces of Paris equal to those of troy weight, 1/8 of this sum, or 92.5562 livres, would be the value of that ounce by which gold is sold at London.
But the Paris ounce is about 1 1/2 per cent lighter than the troy ounce; and the exact proportion between them is unknown, from the confusion of weights, and the want of a fixed standard in England. By the best calculation I have been able to make, a Paris ounce should contain 473 grains troy, which makes the proportion between the two ounces to be as 473 is to 480, which last is the number of grins in the troy ounce.
Gold bullion at Paris is regulated by the mark fine, at London by the ounce standard.
When standard gold bullion is at the lowest price it can be at London, it is worth the mint price, or 3 l. 17 s. 101/2 d. per troy ounce, which, expressed in decimals, is 3.8937 l. sterling. Standard is to fine, as 11 is to 12; consequently, the ounce fine is 4.2476 l. sterling: and if the Paris ounce of fine bullion be worth at the mint, as has been said, 92.5562 livres; the ounce troy, according to the above proportion, will be worth 93.926 livres. Divide then the livres by the sterling money, and the quotient will give you the real par of exchange of the pound sterling, while bullion remains at the mint price in Paris and in London, viz. 93/42 920/476 = 22.112 livres for the pound, or 32.56 d. sterling for the French crown of 3 livres.
Gold bullion never can rise in the Paris market, at least all the last war it never did rise, above the value of the coin; that is, to 801.6 livres the mark fine, or 100.2 livres per ounce Paris, and 101.7 livres the troy ounce.
How high the price of gold bullion may rise at London no man can say; but the highest it rose to, during the last war, was, I believe, 4 l. 0 s. 8 d. per ounce standard, or to 4.3999 l. sterling per ounce fine. By this divide the value of the ounce troy fine in French livres, the real par at this rate of the metals in both cities will be 101.7/4.3999 = 23.11 livres for the pound sterling, or 31.155 pence sterling for the French crown of 3 livres. But suppose two cases which may happen, viz. 1. That gold bullion at Paris should be at the price of coin, while at London it may be at mint price: or, 2. That at Paris it may be at mint price, when at London it is at 4 l. 0 s. 8 d. what will then the real par of exchange be?
I answer, that on the first supposition, it will be one pound sterling, equal to 23.939 livres, and the crown of 3 livres equal to 30.076 pence sterling. In the other, equal to 21.34 livres for the pound sterling, and for the crown of 3 livres 33.728. A difference of no less than 8.9 per cent.
Is it not evident that these variations must occur in the exchange between London and Paris? And is it not also plain, that they proceed from the fluctuation of the price of bullion, not from exchange?
We have, I think, demonstrated, in the third book, that a wrong balance upon the French trade may raise bullion in the Paris market to the price of coin; and that a right balance may bring it down to mint price. The price of coinage is above 8 per cent. So that 8 per cent of fluctuation in the price of bullion is easily accounted for in the Paris market, without taking into the account the variations in the English market.
In London, where no coinage is paid, were all the coin of full weight, and exportation free, coin and standard bullion would constantly stand at the same price: but when the heavy coin is exported, and the currency becomes light by the old coin remaining in circulation, the price of bullion rises in proportion.
Is it surprising that, at London, gold in bullion should be worth as much as gold of the same standard in guineas, weight for weight? Is it not worth as much at the mint? Why should it not be worth as much at the market? I affirm that any man may offer to pay for the ounce of all the guineas coined by Charles II, James II, and William III, now in circulation, the highest market price that ever was given for standard gold bullion in London, and gain by the bargain.
This, I hope, will be sufficient to satisfy any body that there is a mistake in ascribing the high price paid for the French crown in the London exchange to a wrong balance upon the trade of England with France.
From this new light in which I have placed the question, I hope the arguments used in the 16th chapter of the first part of the third book, will acquire an additional force; and that thereby the eyes of this nation may be opened with regard to the interests of the French trade; a point, I should think, of the highest concern.
To calculate, as every body does, the par of the French crown, either by the gold or the silver in the English standard coin, when no such standard coin exists; and to state all that is given for the crown above 29 1/2 d. if you reckon by the silver, or 30 3/4 d. if you reckon by the gold, for the price of a wrong balance, is an error which may lead to the most fatal consequences.
If government should think fit to impose, in their own mint, a coinage, equal to that of France, and make all their coin of equal weight, and at the due proportion, it will take off all the loss we suffer by paying coinage to France (which we at present impute to the exchange) while she pays none to us. But then it will occasion nearly the same fluctuations upon the real par of exchange as at present; only from another cause on the side of Great Britain. At present our exchange becomes favourable from the weight of our own currency, and the balance against France upon her trade; which, in Paris, raises the price of the bullion with which we pay our French debts. On the other hand, our exchange becomes unfavourable from the lightness of our own currency, from the coinage we pay to France, and balance against us; which last carries off all our new guineas; and in the Paris market, sinks the value of that bullion in which we pay our French debts.
Were matters put upon a right footing, we should gain from France the price of our coinage, when our balance is favourable, and pay coinage to France when their balance is favourable; instead of seeing our exchange turn more in our favour, from the additional weight only of the coin in which we pay.
If French coinage should appear too high a price for the interest of other branches of British trade, a question I shall not here determine, let us impose at least as much as to keep our guineas out of the melting pot, and banish all the old coin which throws us into such confusion.
What has been said is undoubtedly too much upon this subject for the generality of readers. The number of those who can go through a chapter like this with pleasure is very small. But if the idea I have been endeavouring to communicate, be found just by one man of capacity, whose opinion shall have weight in the deliberations of Great Britain, the consequences may be of great advantage to this nation; and this consideration will, I hope, plead my excuse.
I shall now set this question in another point of view, from which the stress of my arguments will be felt, and all intricate reasonings will be laid aside.
Does not the price of exchange, or what is given above the par, proceed from the expence of sending the metals from the one place to the other, the insurance of them, and the exchanger's profit? If this be true, which I believe nobody will deny, must not what is paid for the bill, over and above these three articles, be considered as the real par, relatively to exchange? Now does the price of the bullion which the exchanger pays in his own market, or the price he gets for that bullion in the market to which he sends it, at all enter into the account of the transportation, risk, and profit, which the exchanger has on the operation? Certainly not. May there not be a very great difference between the buying and selling the very same bullion in different markets at one time and another? Ought we not to charge this to some other accompt than to the price of exchange, which is confined to the expence of transporting the balance only, and when two objects totally different are included under the same term, does it not tend to perplex our notions concerning them?
The great variation in the price of bullion in France, for example, and the expence of procuring it, proceeds from three causes. The first is, the coinage imposed in France, while none is imposed in England. What, therefore, is paid upon this account, is profit to France, and loss to England.
The second cause of variation, is the debasement of the value of the pound sterling, when the heavy gold has been sent abroad. This loss affects the nation, and every man in England, in the quality of creditor for sums specified in pounds sterling, to the profit of all debtors.
The third cause of variation, is from the great expence exchangers are put to, in procuring the metals from other countries, when they cannot be got at home: the consequence of this shall be explained in a succeeding chapter.
As all these causes are combined in the exchange upon bills when they come to market, I think it is proper to analize them, before the doctrine we are upon can be distinctly understood.
I shall therefore conclude my chapter with this proposition.
That the best method of determining exactly the true and intrinsic value of the metals, coin, or money, in which the balance due to or from a foreign nation is to be paid, is to compare the respective value of fine bullion with the respective denominations of the coin in the one and the other; and to state the difference as the price paid for the exchange.
The inconveniences which occur when balances are to be paid in bullion or coin are these:
First, the want of secure and ready transportation, from the obstructions government throws in the way to prevent it.
Secondly, The difficulty of procuring the metals abroad when they are not to be found at home.
When we speak here of balances to be paid from one country to another, we understand that the general amount of the whole payments to be made to the world, exceeds the sum of all that is reciprocally due from it. So far as a balance due to one country is compensated with a balance due by another, they may be mutually discharged by bills of exchange, according to the principles already laid down. All compensations being made by bills drawn for reciprocal debts, we must here suppose a balance due by the country whose interest we are considering. This, like debts between private people, must either be paid in intrinsic value, or by security for it; that is, by contracting a permanent debt bearing interest. The first is the question here before us; the second will be examined in the succeeding chapter.
The first difficulty mentioned, to wit, the want of secure and ready transportation of the metals, proceeds in a great measure from the obstruction government throws in the way, to prevent the exportation of them. To remove which difficulty, it is proper to shew how far it is the interest of government to obstruct, how far to accelerate the transportation of the metals.
We have said that it is the advantage of every state, in point of trade, to have balances paid with the least expence. If then we suppose that it is either necessary or expedient that this balance should be paid in the metals, government, in this case, should facilitate by every method the sending them off in the cheapest and securest way.
But since governments do not generally follow this rule, we must examine the reasons which engage them to prefer a contrary conduct.
The principal, the most general, and most rational objection against the exportation of the metals, is, that when it is permitted without restriction, it engages the people, when they go to foreign markets for articles of importation, to run to the coin, instead of carrying thither the product and manufactures of the country. From which a consequence is drawn, that as long as coin and bullion are fairly allowed to be exported, the rich inhabitants will employ them for the purchase of foreign commodities, to the hurt of domestic industry.
This is an objection of great weight, relatively to the situation of many nations. The Spaniards and Portuguese feel it severely. Many individuals there are very rich; the numerous classes of the people are either lazy or not properly bred to industry. In this situation the alternative to government is very disagreeable. Either the rich must be deprived of many enjoyments with which their industrious neighbours alone can supply them, until, by very slow degrees, the lowest classes of their countrymen can be engaged to change their way of living, and be inspired with a spirit of industry; or they must be allowed to gratify the desires which riches create, at the expence of the nation's treasure, and the improvement of their country.
From this alternative we discover the principle which must direct the conduct of a statesman under such circumstances, viz.
To forbid the importation of every foreign manufacture whatsoever; to submit to the hardships necessarily implied in the circumstances of the nation; and to pay freely what balance may be owing upon natural produce imported for the uses of subsistence or manufacture.
This is a plan more rational and more easily executed, than a general prohibition to export the metals; because by good regulations, you may prevent the importation of manufactures; but it is hardly possible to prevent the exportation of the metals necessary to pay for what you have bought from strangers, by the permission of government: and on the other hand, suppose you do effectually prevent the exportation of the metals, the consequence will be, to put an end to all foreign trade even in natural produce, which on many occasions may be necessary for the subsistence of the people. What nation will trade with another who can pay only by barter? All credit will likewise be cut off; for who will exchange by bills, with a place which cannot pay, either in their own currency, or with the metals, the debts which they reciprocally owe?
The maxim therefore, here, is to prevent as much as possible the contracting of debts with strangers; but when they must be contracted, to facilitate the payment of them.
This reasoning is calculated to direct a statesman who finds himself at the head of a rich luxurious nobility, and an idle or ill-instructed common people, surrounded by industrious neighbours, whose assistance may be necessary upon many occasions, to provide subsistence, or the materials of manufacture, for his people; and this while he is forming a scheme for introducing industry at home, as a basis for establishing afterwards a proper foreign commerce.
But in this subject combinations are finite, and the smallest change of circumstances throws the decision of a question on a different principle.
I will not therefore say, that in every case which can be supposed, certain restrictions upon the exportation of bullion or coin are contrary to good policy. This proposition I confine to the flourishing trading nations of our own time.
To set this matter in a fair light, and as an exercise upon principles, I shall borrow two examples, one from history, and another from a recent experiment made in France, in which a clog upon the exportation of the metals and coin was very politically laid on.
We learn from the history of Henry VII of England, a sagacious Prince, that he established very severe laws against the exportation of bullion; and obliged the merchants who imported foreign commodities into his dominions, to invest their returns in the natural produce of England, which at that time consisted principally in wool and in grain.
The circumstances of the times in which that Prince lived, must therefore be examined, before we can justly find fault with this step of his political oeconomy.
In Henry the VIIth's time, the foreign trade of England was entirely in the hands of foreigners, and every elegant manufacture almost came from abroad.
Under such circumstances, is it not plain, that the prohibition to export bullion and coin, was a compulsion only concomitant with other regulations, to oblige the foreign merchants, residing in his kingdom, to buy up the superfluity of the English natural produce of wool and grain? Had not the King taken these measures, the whole money of the nation would have been exported; the superfluous natural produce of England would have lain upon hand; the redundancy of which would have brought the price of them below the value of the subsistence of those who produced them; agriculture would have been abandoned; and the nation would have been undone.
I allow that nothing is so absurd as to permit the consumption of foreign productions, and to forbid the exportation of the price of them. I also allow that every restraint laid upon exporting silver and gold, affects the consumer of foreign goods, and obliges him to pay the dearer for them; but this additional expence to the consumer, does not augment the mass of foreign debts. The debt due abroad will constantly be paid with the same quantity of coin, whether the exportation of it be allowed or not; because the loss of those who pay the balance arises from the risk of confiscation of the money they want to export against law; or from the high exchange they are obliged to pay to those who take this risk upon themselves. In both cases, the additional expence they are put to remains in the country, and is repaid them by the consumers; consequently, can never occasion one farthing more to be exported. Prohibitions, therefore, upon the exportation of specie, are not in every case so absurd as they appear at first sight. It is very certain that nobody ever gives money for nothing; consequently, a state may rest assured that the proprietors of the specie, their subjects, will take sufficient care not to make a present of it to foreigners. The intention, therefore, of such prohibitions is not so much to prevent the payment of what people owe, as to prevent that payment from being made in coin or bullion; and also to discourage the buying of such foreign commodities as must be paid in specie, preferably to others which may be paid for with the returns of home produce.
When a statesman, therefore, finds the balance of trade, upon the main, favourable to the country he governs, he need give himself no trouble about the exportation of the specie, from this single principle, to wit, that he is sure that what is exported is not given for nothing; and that the favourable balance cannot fail to bring it back again, together with an additional supply But when the balance turns against him in the regular course of business, not from a temporary cause, then he may lay restraints upon the exportation of specie, as a concomitant restriction, together with others, in order to diminish the general mass of importations, and thereby to set the balance even.
In a trading nation, I allow that no restriction of this kind ought to be made general; because it then affects the useful as well as the hurtful branches of importation: but in Henry's days, the sale of corn and wool was sufficient to procure for England all it wanted from abroad; and the interests of trade were not sufficiently understood, to enable the state to act by any other than the most general rules. Forbidding the exportation of coin was found to promote the exportation of English productions, and this was a sufficient reason for making the prohibition peremptory. In this view of the matter, did not Henry judge well, when he obliged the merchants who imported foreign goods, to invest the price they received for them in English commodities? Once more I must say it, he was not so much afraid of the consequences of the money going out, as of the corn and wool remaining at home: had he been sure of the exportation of these articles to as good purpose another way, the prohibition would have been absurd; but I am persuaded this was not the case.
The example taken from France is this.
After the fatal bankruptcy in 1720, by the blowing up of the Missisippi, the trade of France languished from the effects of the instability of their coin, until the year 1726, when it was set upon that footing on which it has remained ever since.
Upon that last general coinage, the same principles of enriching the King by the operation directed the conduct of the minister.
The old specie was cried down, and proscribed in circulation: but it was thought, that as it was the King's coin, he had a liberty to set a price upon it, at a different rate from any other bullion of the same fineness: and that he had also a right to command the proprietors of it to bring it to the mint at his own price.
The consequence was, that those who could were very desirous to send it to Holland, in order to draw back the full value of it, in bills upon Paris.
Under such circumstances, were not prohibitions upon the exportation of this coin most consistent with the plan laid down? We shall, in the next chapter, examine the consequences of this operation upon the exchange of France.
What has been said, will, I hope, suffice to explain some of the principal motives which statesmen may have, when they lay restrictions on the exportation of the metals, with a view to favour the trade of their nation, or the interest of the exchequer.
But besides the interest of trade, there are other reasons for laying prohibitions on the exportation of the national coin, although that of bullion be left free under certain restrictions.
As often as it happens, that the value of a nation's coin remains at par with bullion of the same weight and fineness, this coin, if exported, may be melted down. This is a loss; because it puts the nation to the expence of coining more for the use of circulation.
When nations give coinage gratis, or when they allow the coin of other nations the privilege of passing current under denominations exactly proportioned to its intrinsic value, then coin never can be worth more than any other bullion of the same standard; consequently, will be exported or smuggled out whenever there is a demand for it abroad.
If, therefore, a nation do really desire to avoid an expence at the mint, they must make it the interest of merchants to export every other thing preferably to their own coin. This is done by imposing a duty upon the coinage; and this will either prevent the coins going out unnecessarily, or if it be necessary to export it, the coin will return in the payments made to the nation; because of its advanced value above any other bullion which can be sent.
The forbidding of the exportation of coin, implies a restriction upon the exportation of bullion; because, unless the bullion be examined at the custom house, and the stamps upon it looked at, it may happen to be nothing but the nation's coin melted down, with an intention to avoid the law. For this reason, whoever brings bullion to be stamped, whether it be for exportation or not, must declare that it has not been made of the nation's coin. How slender a check are all such declarations! The only one effectual is private interest; and as no man will take his wig to stuff his chair, when he can get cheaper materials equally good, so no man will melt down coin which bears an advanced value, when he can procure any other bullion.
On the whole, we may determine, that a flourishing commercial state, which has, on the average of its trade, a balance coming in from other countries, should lay it down as a general rule, to facilitate the exportation of its coin, as well as of bullion: and if a very particular circumstance should occur, which may continue for a short time, it may then put a temporary stop to it, and facilitate the payment of the balance by the means of credit.
I have enlarged so much upon the methods of removing the first difficulty of paying a balance, with the coin or bullion found in a nation, that what remains to be said upon the second difficulty, to wit, the procuring them from other nations, need not be long.
Were the mint weights of all countries sufficiently determinate; were the regulations concerning the standard of bullion exactly complied with; and were the current market prices of this important commodity, considered as a valuable piece of intelligence every where, the bullion trade would be much easier than it is.
We have said, that when the reciprocal debts of two nations are equal, there is no occasion for bullion to discharge them. But trading nations are many; and from this it may happen, that one who, upon the whole, is creditor to the world, may be debtor to a place which is also creditor to the world; and in this case bullion is necessary to pay the debt.
If a man owe money to a person who has many creditors, the person owing, may buy up a claim against him, and pay what he owes in that way: but if the person to whom he owes the money be indebted to nobody, then the debt must be paid with ready money. Just so of nations. For instance, when bullion is demanded to be exported to Holland, the English merchants, who are creditors on Spain and Portugal, take from thence their returns in bullion, for the sake of paying the balance to Holland, which is, upon the whole, creditor to the world.
But as it seldom happens, that he who deals with Holland is the person who has credit in Spain or Portugal, he is obliged to apply to Portugal merchants in order to procure bullion. They again who trade thither, having profit on the returns of the commodities they bring from thence, will expect the same profits upon the bills they give to the man who wants to take his return in bullion. This plainly raises the price of bullion in the English market; because it is brought home in consequence of a demand from England. On the other hand, when the demands of England for Portuguese commodities is less than the value of what Portugal owes her, the Portugal merchants in London are obliged to take the balance in the metals. These come to the London market, and are offered to sale to those who want them: then the price of bullion falls; because the demand comes from the other side.
To go through all the operations which merchants employ to abbreviate the process I have been describing, would, indeed, better explain the practical part of exchange, than what I have said; but I write not to instruct merchants, but to extract from their complicated operations, the principles upon which they are founded.
We have taken for granted, that the price of exchange is a hurt to trade in general.
In this chapter, we shall inquire more particularly than we have done, in what this hurt consists. The point of view of every man, whether he be a merchant or not, is first honestly, and as far as law and fair dealing do permit, to consult his own private interest; and in the second place, to promote that interest with which his own is most closely connected.
According to this rule, every merchant will endeavour to manage his exchange business to the best advantage to himself. If the balance be against his country, he will sell his bills on the country creditor as dear as he can; that is, he will endeavour to raise the price of exchange as high as he can against his country, whatever hurt may thereby result to the general trade of it; and in so doing, he does only what duty to himself requires; because it is by minding his business only, that he can trade upon equal terms with his neighbours, every one of whom will avail themselves of the like fluctuations, when they happen to be in their favour.
From this I conclude, that since the loss upon high exchange against a country, affects principally the cumulative interest of the whole, relatively to other trading nations; it is the business of the statesman, not of the merchants, to provide a remedy against it.
The whole class of merchants, no doubt, exchangers excepted, would be very glad to find the course of exchange constantly at par. This is also greatly the interest of the state because it is from the balance in its favour, not from the profit made in drawing that balance from the debtor, that the state is a gainer. This must be explained.
I am to shew how it happens, that a nation is benefited or hurt by the net balance only, which it receives from, or pays to her neighbours: and that the whole expence of paying or receiving this balance, is not national, but particular to individuals at home. consequently, it would be the interest of all states, that balances both favourable and unfavourable, were paid by the nation-debtor, at the least expence possible.
The great difficulty in communicating one's thoughts upon this subject with distinctness, proceeds from the ambiguity of the terms necessary to express them. This may be avoided by adopting the technical terms of merchants; but these are still more difficult to be comprehended by any one who is not conversant in commerce. I shall acquit myself of this difficult task the best way I can.
When we speak of a balance between two nations, we shall call the nation who owes the balance the nation-debtor; the other to whom it is owing, the nation-creditor.
Balances imply reciprocal debts; consequently, reciprocal debtors and creditors. To avoid, therefore, confusion in this particular, we shall use four expressions, viz. the debtors to the nation-creditor; the debtors to the nation-debtor; the creditors of the nation-creditor; the creditors of the nation-debtor.
Let me suppose that Paris owes a balance to London, no matter for what sum. The reciprocal debts between Paris and London are all affected by the consequence of this balance: that is to say, some pay or receive more than the real par; some pay or receive less. To discover where the profit centers, we are now to inquire who are those who receive more, who are those who receive less. And as profit and loss are here only relative, that is to say, the profit of the one is compensated by the loss of the other; we must see whether upon the whole, the price of the exchange in this case be favourable to England, to which, by the supposition, the balance is due, and unfavourable to France, which is the debtor.
The question thus stated, let us examine the operations of exchange at London and Paris, and the state of demand in both, for money or bills.
In the London market the demand will be for money in London for bills on Paris; and he who demands, must pay the exchange; consequently, the London merchants, creditors of the nation-debtor, will pay the exchange; that is to say they will sell their bills on Paris below par; and the London merchants, debtors to the nation-debtor, will buy them, and gain the exchange; that is, they will buy bills upon Paris below par.
Now as this negotiation is carried on at London, I must suppose it to take place amongst Englishmen; one part of whom will gain exactly what the other loses; consequently England, in this respect, neither gains or loses by the exchange paid in London.
Let us next examine the interest of the merchants, and the interest of the nation's trade.
The creditors of the nation-debtor, who have lost by the exchange, are those who have exported English commodities to France. Upon this profitable branch of commerce the exchange occasions a loss, the consequence of which is, to discourage exportation.
The debtors to the nation-debtor, who have gained by the exchange, are those who have imported French commodities to England. Upon this hurtful branch of commerce, the exchange occasions a profit; the consequence of which is, to encourage importation.
This is not all. The English merchants exporters, who have lost, cannot draw back their loss upon the return of their trade; because the return of their trade is the money due by France, the balance included. Whereas the English merchants importers may draw back their loss upon the return of their trade; because that return is merchandize, which they can sell so much the dearer to their own countrymen.
If the balance be in favour of London, importers gain, as we have seen; when it is otherwise, and when they are obliged to pay the exchange, they indemnify themselves, by the sale of their goods so much the dearer. High exchange, therefore, may hurt exporters, but never can hurt importers.
Let us next examine the operation of exchange at Paris.
In the Paris market, the demand will be for bills upon London for money in Paris; and he who demands must pay the exchange. The debtors, therefore, to the nation-creditor, must pay the exchange, and the creditors of the nation-creditor will receive it; and as both are Frenchmen, the profit and loss to Paris exactly balance one another.
But the debtors of the nation-creditor are here the importers of English goods; consequently, this trade, hurtful to France, would be hurtful to the importer, could he not indemnify himself by selling them so much the dearer to his countrymen.
The creditors, again, of the nation-creditor, who gain the exchange, are the exporters of French goods to England; so that here the exportation meets with an encouragement from a balance against the country.
From the advantage found upon exchange in favour of exporters, and the loss upon it to the prejudice of importers, in the case of a wrong balance, it has been believed, that a wrong balance produced, upon importations and exportations, effects equal and contrary, which destroy one another, and thereby bring the balance even.
In answer to this, I have two short arguments to offer.
The first is, that were the argument conclusive, it would hold good in reversing the proposition; to wit, that the consequence of a favourable balance would be to destroy the difference also, and bring the balance even. This I never heard alleged.
My second argument is the stronger: that the enhancing of the prices of importations will not so effectually discourage the sale of them at home, as the enhancing the prices of exportations will discourage the sale of them abroad; for the reasons I shall give presently. But in the mean time,
If the compensation be considered in relation only to the merchants importers and exporters, there, indeed, I agree, that their profit and loss upon the exchange is most exactly balanced; because what the one party gains the other loses; and the country loses the balance only, as has been said.
The reciprocal debts thus transacted by bills of exchange, we see that no profit can be made, nor loss incurred, either to London, or Paris, by this operation.
The profit to Frenchmen is compensated by the loss to Frenchmen; the same may be said of the English merchants: but the balance due after these operations are over, and the more remote consequences of high exchange, affect the relative interest of the two nations.
This balance is generally sent by the country-debtor, either to the country-creditor, or to their order in a third country, to which the country-creditor is indebted.
The transportation and insurance of this balance is an expence to those who owe it, and the profit, if any there be on this operation, naturally belongs to the exchangers of the same nation, who conduct it. So whether exchange be paid upon bills drawn, or expence be incurred in the sending away the balances, no profit can accrue upon this to the nation-creditor, to the detriment of the debtor: it must, therefore, do hurt to both, relatively to nations where, upon the average of trade, exchange is lower.
I come now to the method of transporting balances in the metals.
We have seen how the creditors of the nation-debtor pay exchange upon the sale of their bills on Paris, which owes the balance. If by the operations of exchangers, this exchange should rise, to their detriment, higher than the expence, trouble, and insurance, upon bringing this balance from Paris, then they will appoint some factor at Paris, to whose order they will draw bills upon their debtors in that city; and as what the Paris-debtors owe to London is stated in pounds sterling, the London-creditors will value the pound sterling, according to the rate of exchange, in their favour; and in their bills upon their Paris-debtor, they will convert the sum into livres, including the exchange.
By this operation, we see how the transportation of the balance may become the business of the creditors of the nation-debtor: which is a circumstance we have not as yet attended to: a few words will explain it.
When the creditors of the nation-debtor sell their bills, they must pay the exchange, as has been said. When they draw bills to the order of a friend in the place where the balance is owing, they superadd the exchange. This their debtors pay: but then they themselves must be at the trouble and expence of bringing home the money.
It is from this alternative which both parties have of either sending what they owe to their creditors in bullion, or of allowing them to draw for it at the additional expence of paying the exchange, that a check is put to the extravagant profit of exchangers: and from this circumstance arise all the delicate operations of drawing and remitting.
Into these we shall not inquire: the principle on which they depend appears sufficiently plain, and this is the principal object of our attention.
I proceed now to consider how far those reciprocal profits and losses, between merchants in the same country, affect the trade of it in general.
When the balance is favourable, we have said that the exporters lose the exchange, and the importers gain it; and both being citizens, the country would not be concerned in their relative interests, were it not that these interests are connected with that of the country, which reaps great benefit from the trade of those who deal in exportations, and loss from the other.
If, therefore, exchange be found to hurt exportation, when the balance is favourable, in this respect the country has an interest in bringing it as low as possible. But as it may be said, that since the return of an unfavourable balance hurts in its turn the interests of importation, and favours that of exportation, exchange thereby operates a national compensation: I must, in this place, add one reJection more, in order to destroy the strength of this argument.
Were this proposition admitted, as I am sure it cannot, from what we have already said, it would afford no argument against doing what can be done, to render exchange as little hurtful as possible to exportation, during the favourable balance. But next as to the question itself of national compensation, I cannot allow that even exporters and importers are thereby brought on a level in point of trade: for this reason, that since it is allowed, that when the balance of trade is favourable, the price of exchange is a loss to the merchants exporters; this exchange in proportion as it augments, must discourage manufacturers, who must have regular, and even growing profits, according to the increase of demand. These the merchant exporter cannot afford; because he cannot draw back from his foreign correspondents, any advance upon manufactures at home, arising from domestic circumstances. But when upon an unfavourable balance, the merchant importer is affected by the exchange against him; this additional expence he can draw back. because he sells to those who are affected by all domestic circumstances.
Let us therefore determine, that it is the interest of a state to disregard this compensation which is said to be given to exportation during a wrong balance, which does so much harm; and to avoid the discouragement given to it by a right balance, which does so much good. The only way to compass these ends, is to keep exchange as near to par as possible.
Could reciprocal debts be always exchanged at par, and could the expence of bringing home, and sending a balance abroad, be defrayed by the state, I think it would prove a great advantage to the trade of a nation. I do not pretend to say that, as matters stand, the thing is practicable; but as this is a question which relates to my subject, and seems both curious and interesting, I shall here examine it.
At first sight, this idea will appear chimerical; and some readers may despise it too much, to be at the trouble to read what may be said for it. I shall therefore set out by informing them that the scheme has been tried, in a great kingdom in Europe, under a great minister: I say it was attempted in France, in the year 1726, under the administration of Cardinal Fleuri, and produced its effect; although it was soon given up, for a circumstance which, I think, never can occur in Great Britain.
After the last general coinage in France, 1726, exchange became so unfavourable to that kingdom, as to occasion a general outcry. The Cardinal, to put a stop to the clamour, and to set exchange to rights, as he thought, ordered Samuel Bernard, at that time a man of great credit, to give bills on Holland at par, to all the merchants; and in order to enable him to place funds in Amsterdam, for the payment of his bills, the Cardinal supplied this exchanger with sufficient quantities of the old coin, then cried down, and paid for the exportation of it to Holland.
Upon this, exchange on Holland came to par; and the exchangers at Paris looked on the operation with amazement. The minister, however, in a short time discovered, that by this he was undoing with one hand, what he wanted to establish with the other. He therefore stopped in his career, after having paid, perhaps, ten times the balance due to Holland.
By unfolding the combination of this operation, I shall be better able to cast light on the question before us, than in any other way.
When the general coinage was made in France, by the arret of the month of January 1726, all the old coin was cried down, and ordered to be recoined. The mint price of fine gold per marc was fixed at 536 livres 14 sols 6 deniers; that of the silver at 37 livres 1 sol 9 deniers. These were the prices at which the mint paid for bullion, when offered to be coined. But the King, as if he had a right upon the metal in the old coin, commanded it to be delivered at the mint at no higher rate than 492 livres for the marc of fine gold, and at 34 livres for the marc of fine silver: and to compel the possessors of it to bring it in, all exportation and melting down was made highly penal; the avenues from France were beset with guards to prevent the going out; and the melting pots were strictly watched. Upon this, the possessors of the old coin, rather than sell it to the mint at so great an undervalue, had recourse to exchangers for bills upon Holland for it: and these being obliged to send it thither at a great expence and risk, exacted a very high exchange, which, consequently, affected the whole trade of France.
Politicians persuaded the Cardinal, that exchange had got up so high, not from the discredit cast on the old coin, but because of the wrong balance of trade, and of the alteration which had been made at that time upon the denomination of the new coin: and that as soon as the balance against France was paid, exchange would return to par. Upon this the Cardinal set Bernard to work, but he soon discovered his mistake; and by arret of the 15th of June the same year, raised the mint price of the old coin, and then exchange became favourable.
These are all facts mentioned by Dutot, and yet he never will ascribe the rise of exchange in France to any other cause than to the tampering with the denominations of their coin: an operation which may rob one set of people in favour of another; but which has very little effect upon exchange, when other circumstances do not concur, as in the case before us.
Now had the high exchange against France been owing to a wrong balance upon her trade, is it not evident that the Cardinal's operation would have succeeded, that all demands for bills at Samuel Bernard's office would have been confined to the exact extent of this balance; that the reciprocal debts would have been negociated between the merchants at par; and, consequently, that all expence upon exchange would have been saved to individuals, at the small charge to government of transporting the balance paid by the merchants at Paris, for Samuel Bernard's bills?
Were prosperous trading states, therefore conducted by statesmen, intelligent, capable, and uninfluenced by motives of private interest, they would make it a rule to be at the expence of sending off, and bringing home all balances, without any charge for exchange to the traders; but the consequence of either neglect, or incapacity in the person at the helm, would then make it too dangerous to attempt, at once, so great a change in the present method of paying balances: but I never make allowances for such defects in ministers, while I am deducing the principles which ought to direct the conduct of a statesman.
I shall next slightly point out the bad consequences which, upon an unfavourable state of commerce, might result from such a plan: and without recommending any thing to practice, leave the reader to judge of the expediency.
We see, that by a statesman's giving bills at par, on all occasions, and being himself at the expence of transportation and insurance, in bringing home and sending off all balances, exchange would of itself come to par.
The first consequence of this would be, the total annihilation of the exchange business; and if, after this, any interruption should happen by neglect in the statesman, trade might suffer considerably.
Another consequence is, that the most destructive trade would go forward without a check, as long as merchants could pay the par of the bills they demanded upon foreign parts: and this they would constantly be enabled to do, while there was neither coin or paper in circulation, as has been explained in treating banks of circulation upon mortgage.
The consequence of this again would be, to oblige the state to pledge the revenue of the country to strangers, in proportion to the balance owing, over and above the extent of the metals to discharge it.
Now the question is, and this I shall leave to the sagacity of my reader to determine, whether, as matters stand, there be any check proceeding from high exchange which can prevent the bad consequences here set forth. I suspect there is none. We see the most enormous sums lent by nations to nations; raising the exchange against the lenders; turning it in favour of the borrowers, but never preventing the loan from going forward. Does not Great Britain, as well as France, owe amazing sums to other nations, at the expence of paying the interest out of their revenue? And have not all these sums been transacted by exchangers, who have made great fortunes by the operation? Are not the most unfavourable balances paid in the ordinary method? Are there not, already, instruments in the hands of all nations, sufficient for their undoing? How then can their ruin be accelerated by this alteration in the mode only of performing the same thing?
But let it be observed, that our business, in this chapter, is to search for methods to advance the prosperity of flourishing nations, who have a balance owing to them; and here we have been setting forth the bad consequences which result from them, to others who are in decay. Every argument, therefore, drawn against this scheme, in favour of the idle or prodigal, is an argument in favour of it, with respect to the industrious and frugal. As all nations are liable to alternate vicissitudes of prosperity and adversity, the principles here laid down, require to be carefully combined with domestic circumstances, before they be applied to practice.
It was with a view to this distinction, that, in the title of this chapter, I pointed out the question there proposed, as being relative to the state of it in a prosperous trading nation; and I am not quite clear how far it might not be advantageous in every case: but this question I shall not here enlarge upon. What has been said, will, I hope, be sufficient to point out the principles upon which the decision depends; and if any statesman incline to try the consequences of it now and then, by an experiment, nothing is so easy as to do it, without any detriment. This is proved from the operation performed by the French cardinal, on the occasion of a very unfavourable and high exchange.
We have now applied the principles formerly laid down, towards discovering the most proper expedients for removing or palliating the three inconveniences to be struggled with in regulating exchange. First, How to estimate the value of a balance due: Secondly, How to pay it with the coin or bullion of the country: and lastly, How to prevent the price of exchange from affecting any thing more than the balance to be paid, after all reciprocal debts have been compensated.
It remains to inquire, what are the most proper methods to acquit what a nation may owe, after it has done all it can to pay the value of their balance in the other way.
At first sight, it must appear evident that the only method here is to give security, and pay interest for what cannot be paid in any other value. This in the end is constantly what is done by every nation; but as the ordinary methods of bringing it about, are very perplexed, and are attended with expences which raise exchange to a great height, and thereby prove a prodigious discouragement to trade in general: it would be no small advantage, could all this loss on exchange be thrown equally upon every class within the state, instead of being thrown entirely upon its commerce.
As this is the expedient to be proposed, it will not be amiss to observe, that foreign balances arise chiefly upon four articles. First, The great importation and consumption of foreign productions. Secondly, The payment of debts and interest due to foreigners. Thirdly, The lending money to other nations. And, Fourthly, The great expence of the state, or of individuals, abroad.
Could all the bad consequences arising from these four causes, and the high exchange occasioned by them, be cast upon that interest alone which occasions them, I should not propose to lay the whole body of the nation under contribution for repairing the loss.
But if from the nature of the thing, as matters stand, the whole be found to fall upon trade, without a possibility of preventing it; in this case, I think it would be better for the nation, in cumulo, to lend its assistance, and to share the burden, than to allow it to fall upon that part of the body politic from which the whole draws its vigour and prosperity.
It cannot be denied, that when a heavy balance is due by a nation, it has the effect of raising exchange upon every draught or remittance. When bills are demanded to pay a foreign claim, it cannot be determined from which of the four articles, just now mentioned, the claim has arisen. Whether for national purposes or not, the exchange is the same, and equally affects the whole interest of trade.
If this be a fair state of the case, I think we may determine that such balances ought to be paid by the assistance and intervention of a statesman's administration.
The object is not so great as at first sight, it may appear. We do not propose that the value of this balance should be advanced by the state: by no means. They who owe the balance must then, as at present, find a value for the bills they demand. Neither would I propose such a plan for any nation who had, upon the average of their trade, a balance against them; but if, on the whole, the balance be favourable, I would not, for the sake of saving a little trouble and expence, suffer the alternate vibrations of exchange to disturb the uniformity of profits, which uniformity tends so much to encourage every branch of commerce.
We have abundantly explained the fatal effect of a wrong balance to banks which circulate paper; and we have shewn how necessary it is that they should perform what we here recommend, to be done by the state itself. There is therefore nothing new in this proposal: it is merely carrying the consequences of the same principle one step farther, and making it a branch of policy, for government to be assisting to trade in the payment of balances, where credit abroad is required; and we have proposed that this assistance should be given out of the public money.
The greatest, and indeed, I think, the only objection to this scheme, is, that by it the condition of our foreign creditors, will be bettered, for no value received from them. This I allow will be the case when the balance is against England: but it will be compensated to the creditors by the loss they will sustain when the balance is in her favour. But supposing there should be a benefit to foreign creditors, will not this circumstance raise the confidence of all the world in the English funds? If, upon a proposal to government to lower the rate of money by refunding the debts which bear a higher interest than what money can be procured for, the continent should pour her wealth into our subscription, might we not then more readily expect a supply from that quarter? Besides, is not all the interest due to foreign creditors paid in bank paper? Is not this demandable in coin, and will not this coin be exported, if credit be not found? Were the bank of England to keep a subscription open, at all times, in Amsterdam, for money to be borrowed there, on the payment of the interest in that city, who doubts but loans might be procured at much less expence than at present, when we are beating about for credit every where, until by the return of a favourable balance upon the trade of England, she shall be enabled to fill up the void.
I feel my own insufficiency to unfold the many intricacies which such an operation must imply. I therefore shall not attempt what, at any rate, I must leave imperfect. What has been said, together with what has been thrown out on the same subject, in treating of other matters, is sufficient to give a hint, concerning the expediency of the plan in general. And as to the objection which arises from the payments to the public creditors abroad, I shall reserve the more ample discussion of it till I come to consider the doctrine of public credit.
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