Capital, then, is wealth invested in industry, finance is the machinery by which this process of investment is carried out, and international finance is the machinery by which the wealth of one country is invested in another.

Let us consider the case of a doctor in a provincial town who is making an annual income of about £800 a year, living on £600 of it and saving £200. Instead of spending this quarter of his income on immediate enjoyments, such as wine and cigars, and journeys to London, he invests it in different parts of the world through the mechanism of international finance, because he has been attracted by the advantages of a system of investment which was fashionable some years ago, which worked by what was called Geographical Distribution. This meant to say that the investors who practised it put their money into as many different countries as possible, so that the risk of loss owing to climatic or other disturbances might be spread as widely as possible. So here we have this quiet country doctor spreading all over the world the money that he gets for dosing and poulticing and dieting his patients, stimulating industry in many climates and bringing some part of its proceeds to be added to his store. Let us see how the process works. First of all he has a bank, into which he pays day by day the fees that he receives in coin or notes and the cheques that he gets, each half year, from those of his patients who have an account with him. As long as his money is in the bank, the bank has the use of it, and not much of it is likely to go abroad. For the banks use most of the funds entrusted to them in investments in home securities, or in loans and advances to home customers. Part of them they use in buying bills of exchange drawn on London houses by merchants and financiers all over the world, so that even when he pays money into his bank it is possible that our doctor is already forming part of the machinery of international finance and involving us in the need for an explanation of one of its mysteries.

A bill of exchange is an order to pay. When a merchant in Argentina sells wheat to an English buyer, he draws a bill on the buyer (or some bank or firm in England whom the buyer instructs him to draw on), saying, "Pay to me" (or anybody else whom he may name) "the sum of so many pounds." This bill, if it is drawn on a firm or company of well known standing, the seller of the wheat can immediately dispose of, and so has got payment for his goods. Usually the bill is made payable two or three, or sometimes six months after sight, that is after it has been received by the firm on which it is drawn, and "accepted" by it, that is signed across the front to show that the firm drawn on will pay the bill when it falls due. These bills of exchange, when thus accepted, are promises to pay entered into by firms of first-rate standing, and are held as investments by English banks. Bills of exchange are also drawn on English houses to finance trade transactions between foreign countries, and also as a means of borrowing money from England. When they are drawn on behalf of English customers, the credit given is given at home, but as it is (almost always) given in connection with international trade, the transaction may be considered as part of international finance. When they are drawn on behalf of foreign countries, trading with other foreigners, or using the credit to lend to other foreigners, the connection with international finance is obvious. They are readily taken all over the world, because all over the world there are people who have payments to make to England owing to the wide distribution of our trade, and it has long been England's boast that bills of exchange drawn on London firms are the currency of international commerce and finance.

Some people tell us that this commanding position of the English bill in the world's markets is in danger of being lost owing to the present war: in the first place because America is gaining wealth rapidly, while we are shooting away our savings, and also because the Germans will make every endeavour to free themselves from dependence on English credit for the conduct of their trade. Certainly this danger is a real one, but it does not follow that we shall not be able to meet it and defeat it. If the war teaches us to work hard and consume little, so that when peace comes we shall have a great volume of goods to export, there is no reason why the bill on London should not retain much if not all of its old prestige and supremacy in the marts of the world. For we must always remember that finance is only the handmaid of industry. She is often a pert handmaid who steals her mistress's clothes and tries to flaunt before the world as the mistress, and so she sometimes imposes on many people who ought to know better, who think that finance is an all-powerful influence. Finance is a mighty influence, but it is a mere piece of machinery which assists, quickens, and lives on production. The men who make and grow things, and carry them from the place where they are made and grown to the place where they are wanted, these are the men who furnish the raw material of finance, without which it would have to shut up its shop.

If they and their work ceased, we should all starve, and the financiers would have nothing behind the pieces of paper that they handle. If finance and the financiers were suddenly to cease, there would be a very awkward jar and jolt in our commercial machinery, but as long as the stuff and the means of carrying it were available, we should very soon patch up some other method for exchanging it between one nation and another and one citizen and another. The supremacy of the London bill of exchange was created only to a small extent by any supremacy in London's financial machinery; it was based chiefly on the supremacy of England's world-wide trade, and on our readiness to take goods from all nations. The consequence of this was that traders of all nations sold goods to us, and so had claims on us and drew bills on us, and bought goods from us, and so owed us money and wanted to buy bills drawn on us to pay their debts with. So everywhere the bill on London was known and familiar and welcome. If the Americans are able and willing to develop such a world-wide trade as ours, then the bill on New York will have a vogue all over the world just as is enjoyed by the bill on London. Then London and New York will have to fight the matter out by seeing which will provide the best and cheapest machinery for discounting the bill, that is, turning it into cash on arrival, so that the holder of it shall get the best possible price at the present moment, for a bill due two or three months hence.

In this matter of machinery London has certain advantages which ought, if well used and applied, to stand her in good stead in any struggle that lies ahead of her. London's credit machinery has grown up in almost complete freedom from legislation, and it has consequently been able to grow, without let or hindrance, along the lines that expediency and convenience have shown to be most practical and useful. It has been too busy to be logical or theoretical, and consequently it is full of absurdities and anomalies, but it works with marvellous ease and elasticity.

In its centre is the Bank of England, with the prestige of antiquity and of official dignity derived from acting as banker to the British Government, and with still more practical strength derived from acting as banker to all the other great banks, several of them much bigger, in certain respects, than it. The Bank of England is very severely and strictly restricted by law in the matter of its note issue, but it luckily happened, when Parliament was imposing these restrictions on the Bank's business, that note issuing was already becoming a comparatively unimportant part of banking, owing to the development of the use of cheques. Nowadays, when borrowers go to the Bank of England for loans, they do not want to take them out in notes; all they want is a credit in the Bank's books against which they can draw cheques. A credit in the Bank of England's books is regarded by the financial community as "cash," and this pleasant fiction has given the Bank the power of creating cash by a stroke of its pen and to any extent that it pleases, subject only to its own view as to what is prudent and sound business. On p. is a specimen of a return that is published each week by the Bank of England, showing its position in two separate accounts with regard to its note issuing business and its banking business: the return taken is an old one, published before the war, so as to show how the machine worked in normal times before war's demands had blown out the balloon of credit to many times its former size.

If the commercial and financial community is short of cash, all that it has to do is to go to the Bank of England and borrow a few millions, and the only effect on the Bank's position is an addition of so many millions to its holding of securities and a similar addition to its deposits. It may sometimes happen that the borrowers may require the use of actual currency, and in that case part of the advances made will be taken out in the form of notes and gold, but as a general rule the Bank is able to perform its function of providing emergency credit by merely making entries in its books.


Notes Issued £56,908,235 Government Debt £11,015,100
Other Securities 7,434,900
Gold Coin and Bullion 38,458,235
Silver Bullion ---
----------- -----------
£56,908,235 £56,908,235
----------- -----------


Proprietors' Capital £14,553,000 Government Securities £11,005,126
Rest 3,431,484 Other Securities 33,623,288
Public Deposits 13,318,714 Notes 27,592,980
Other Deposits 42,485,605 Gold and Silver Coin 1,596,419
Seven Day and other
Bills 29,010
----------- -----------
£73,817,813 £73,817,813
----------- -----------

With the Bank of England thus acting as a centre to the system, there has grown up around it a circle of the great joint stock banks, which provide credit and currency for commerce and finance by lending money and taking it on deposit, or on current account. These banks work under practically no legal restrictions of any kind with regard to the amount of cash that they hold, or the use that they make of the money that is entrusted to their keeping. They are not allowed, if they have an office in London, to issue notes at all, but in all other respects they are left free to conduct their business along the lines that experience has shown them to be most profitable to themselves, and most convenient for their customers. Being joint stock companies they have to publish periodically, for the information of their shareholders, a balance sheet showing their position. Before the war most of them published a monthly statement of their position, but this habit has lately been given up. No legal regulations guide them in the form or extent of the information that they give in their balance sheets, and their great success and solidity is a triumph of unfettered business freedom. This absence of restriction gives great elasticity and adaptability to the credit machinery of London. Here is a specimen of one of their balance sheets, slightly simplified, and dating from the days before the war:—


Capital (subscribed) £14,000,000
Paid up 3,500,000
Reserve 4,000,000
Deposits 87,000,000
Circular Notes, etc. 3,000,000
Acceptances 6,000,000
Profit and loss 500,000


Cash in hand and
at Bank of England £12,500,000
Cash at call and
short notice 13,000,000
Bills discounted 19,000,000
Govt. Securities 5,000,000
Other Investments 4,500,000
Advances and loans 42,000,000
Liability of customers
on account of
Acceptances 6,000,000
Promises 2,000,000

On one side are the sums that the bank has received, in the shape of capital subscribed, from its shareholders, and in the shape of deposits from its customers, including Dr. Pillman and thousands like him; on the other the cash that it holds, in coin, notes and credit at the Bank of England, its cash lent at call or short notice to bill brokers (of whom more anon) and the Stock Exchange, the bills of exchange that it holds, its investments in British Government and other stocks, and the big item of loans and advances, through which it finances industry and commerce at home. It should be noted that the entry on the left side of the balance sheet, "Acceptances," refers to bills of exchange which the bank has accepted for merchants and manufacturers who are importing goods and raw material, and have instructed the foreign exporters to draw bills on their bankers. As these merchants and manufacturers are responsible to the bank for meeting the bills when they fall due, the acceptance item is balanced by an exactly equivalent entry on the other side, showing this liability of customers as an asset in the bank's favour.

This business of acceptance is done not only by the great banks, but also by a number of private firms with connections in foreign countries, and at home, through which they place their names and credit at the disposal of people less eminent for wealth and position, who pay them a commission for the use of them.

Other wheels in London's credit machinery are the London offices of colonial and foreign banks, and the bill brokers or discount houses which deal in bills of exchange and constitute the discount market. Thus we see that there is in London a highly specialized and elaborate machinery for making and dealing in these bills, which are the currency of international trade. Let us recapitulate the history of the bill and see the part contributed to its career by each wheel in the machine. We imagined a bill drawn by an Argentine seller against a cargo of wheat shipped to an English merchant. The bill will be drawn on a London accepting house, to whom the English merchant is liable for its due payment. The Argentine merchant, having drawn the bill, sells it to the Buenos Ayres branch of a South American bank, formed with English capital, and having its head office in London. It is shipped to London, to the head office of the South American bank, which presents it for acceptance to the accepting house on which it is drawn, and then sells it to a bill broker at the market rate of discount. If the bill is due three months after sight, and is for £2000, and the market rate of discount is 4 per cent. for three months' bills, the present value of the bill is obviously £1980. The bill broker, either at once or later, probably sells the bill to a bank, which holds it as an investment until its due date, by which time the importer having sold the wheat at a profit, pays the money required to meet the bill to his banker and the transaction is closed. Thus by means of the bill the exporter has received immediate payment for his wheat, the importing merchant has been supplied with credit for three months in which to bring home his profit, and the bank which bought the bill has provided itself with an investment such as bankers love, because it has to be met within a short period by a house of first-rate standing.

All this elaborate, but easily working machinery has grown up for the service of commerce. It is true that bills of exchange are often drawn by moneylenders abroad on moneylenders in England merely in order to raise credit, that is to say, to borrow money by means of the London discount market. Sometimes these credits are used for merely speculative purposes, but in the great majority of cases they are wanted for the furtherance of production in the borrowing country. The justification of the English accepting houses, and bill brokers, and banks (in so far as they engage in this business), is the fact that they are assisting trade, and could not live without trade, and that trade if deprived of their services would be gravely inconvenienced and could only resume its present activity by making a new machinery more or less on the same lines. The bill whose imaginary history has been traced, came into being because the drawer had a claim on England through a trade transaction. He was able to sell it to the South American bank only because the bank knew that many other people in Argentina would have to make payments to England and would come to it and ask it for drafts on London, which, by remitting this bill to be sold in London, it would be able to supply. International finance is so often regarded as a machinery by which paper wealth is manufactured out of nothing, that it is very important to remember that all this paper wealth only acquires value by being ultimately based on something that is grown or made and wanted to keep people alive or comfortable, or at least happy in the belief that they have got something that they thought they wanted, or which habit or convention obliged them to possess.