THE BENEFITS OF INTERNATIONAL FINANCE
Perhaps I have a weakness for financiers, but if so it is entitled to some respect, because it is based on closer knowledge of them than is owned by most of their critics. For years it was my business as a City journalist, to see them day by day; and this daily intercourse with financiers has taught me that the popular delusion that depicts them as hard, cruel, ruthless men, living on the blood and sweat of humanity, and engulfed to their eyebrows in their own sordid interests, is about as absurd a hallucination as the stage Irishman. Financiers are quite human—quiet, mild, good-natured people as a rule, many of them spending much time and trouble on good works in their leisure hours. What they want as financiers is plenty of good business and as little as possible disturbance in the orderly course of affairs. Such a cataclysm as the present war could only terrify them, especially those with interests in every country of the world. When war comes, especially such a war as this, financing in its ordinary and most profitable sense has to put up its shutters. Nobody can come to London now for loans except the British, or French, Governments, or, occasionally, one of our colonies. Any other borrower is warned off the field by a ruthless Committee whose leave has to be granted before dealings in new securities are allowed on the Stock Exchange. But when the British Government borrows, there are no profits for the rank and file of financiers. No underwriting is necessary, and the business is carried out by the Bank of England. The commissions earned by brokers are smaller, and the whole City feels that this is no time for profit-making, but for hard and ill-paid work, with depleted staffs, to help the great task of financing a great war. The Stock Exchange is half empty and nearly idle. It is tied and bound by all sorts of regulations in its dealings, and its members have probably suffered as severely from the war as any section of the community. The first interest of the City is unquestionably peace; and the fact that the City is nevertheless full of fine, full-flavoured patriotic fervour only shows that it is ready and eager to sink its interests in favour of those of its country.
Every knot that international finance ties between one country and another makes people in those two countries interested in their mutual good relations. The thing is so obvious, that, when one considers the number of these knots that have been tied since international finance first began to gather capital from one country's investors and place it at the disposal of others for the development of their resources, one can only marvel that the course of international goodwill has not made further progress. The fact that it is still a remarkably tender plant, likely to be crushed and withered by any breath of popular prejudice, is rather a comforting evidence of the slight importance that mankind attaches to the question of its bread and butter. It is clear that a purely material consideration, such as the interests of international finance, and the desire of those who have invested abroad to receive their dividends, weighs very little in the balance when the nations think that their honour or their national interests are at stake. Since the gilded cords of trade and finance have knit all the world into one great market, the proposition that war does not pay has become self-evident to any one who will give the question a few minutes' thought. International finance is a peacemaker every time it sends a British pound into a foreign country. But its influence as a peacemaker is astonishingly feeble just for this reason, that its appeal is to an interest which mankind very rightly disregards whenever it feels that more weighty matters are in question. The fact that war does not pay is an argument that is listened to as little by a nation when its blood is up, as the fact that being in love does not pay would be heeded by an amorous undergraduate.
If, then, the voice of international finance is so feeble when it is raised against the terrible scourge of war, can it have much force on the rare occasions when it speaks in its favour? For there is no inconsistency with the view that finance is a peacemaker, if we now acknowledge that finance may sometimes ask for the exertion of force on its behalf. As private citizens we all of us want to live at peace with our neighbours, but if one of them steals our property or makes a public nuisance of himself, we sometimes want to invoke the aid of the strong arm of the law in dealing with him. Consequently, although it cannot be true that finance wanted war such as this one, it cannot be denied that wars have happened in the past, which have been furthered by financiers who believed that they suffered wrongs which only war could put right. The Egyptian war of 1882 is a case in point, and the South African war of 1899 is another.