THE BENEFITS OF INTERNATIONAL FINANCE

In South Africa there was no question of default, or of suffering bondholders. There was a highly prosperous mining industry in a country that had formerly belonged to us, and had been given back to its Dutch inhabitants under circumstances which the majority of people in this country regarded as humiliating. On this occasion even the pretext was political. It may have been that the English mine-owners thought they could earn better profits under the British flag than under the rule of Mr. Kruger, though I am inclined to believe that even in their case their incentive was chiefly a patriotic desire to repaint in red that part of the map in which they carried on their business. Certainly their grievance, as it was put before us at home, was frankly and purely political. They said they wanted a vote and that Mr. Kruger would not give them one. That acute political thinker, Mr. Dooley of Chicago, pointed out at the time that if Mr. Kruger "had spint his life in a rale raypublic where they burn gas," he would have given them the votes, but done the counting himself. But Mr. Kruger did not adopt this cynical expedient, and public opinion here, though a considerable minority detested the war, endorsed the determination of the Government to restore the disputed British suzerainty over the Transvaal into actual sovereignty. Subsequent events, largely owing to the ample self-government given to the Transvaal immediately after its conquest, have shown that the war did more good than harm; and the splendid defeat of the Germans by the South African forces under General Botha—our most skilful opponent fifteen years ago—has, we may hope, wiped out all traces of the former conflict. But what we are now concerned with is the fact, which will be endorsed by all whose memory goes back to those days, that the South African war, though instigated and furthered by financial interests, would never have happened if public opinion had not been in favour of it on grounds which were quite other than financial—the desire to bring back the Transvaal into the British Empire and to wipe out the memory of the surrender after Majuba, and humanitarian feeling which believed, rightly or wrongly, that the natives would be treated better under our rule. These may or may not have been good reasons for going to war, but at least they were not financial.

Summing up the results of this rather discursive chapter we see that the chief benefit conferred on mankind by international finance is a quickening of the pace at which the wealth of the world is increased and multiplied, by using the capital saved by old countries for fostering the productive power of new ones. This is surely something solid on the credit side of the balance sheet, though it would be a good deal more so if mankind had made better progress with the much more difficult problem of using and distributing its wealth. If the rapid increase of wealth merely means that honest citizens, who find it as hard as ever to earn a living, are to be splashed with more mud from more motor-cars full of more road hogs, then there is little wonder if the results of international finance produce a feeling of disillusionment. But at least it must be admitted that the stuff has to be grown and made before it can be shared, and that a great advance has been made even in the general distribution of comfort. If we still find it hard to make a living, that is partly because we have very considerably expanded, during the course of the last generation or two, our notion of what we mean by a living.