Essay on the Nature of Commerce

Richard Cantillon

[Part 7 of 7]

Chapter V

Of the augmentation and diminution of coin in denomination

According to the principles we have established the quantity of money circulating in exchange fixes and determines the price of everything in a State taking into account the rapidity or sluggishness of circulation.

We often see however in the increases and decreases practised in France such strange variations that it might be supposed that market prices correspond rather to the nominal value of coin than to its quantity in exchange, the quantity of livres tournois in money of account rather than the quantity of marks and ounces, which seems directly opposed to our principles. ...

All those who owe money will make haste to pay it during the diminutions so as not to lose by them. Undertakers and Merchants find it easy to borrow which decides the least able and the least increase their enterprise. They borrow money, as fancy, without interest and load themselves with violence of their demands. Vendors have getting rid of their merchandise for money which diminish in their hands in nominal value. They towards foreign merchandise and import considerable quantities of it for the consumption of several years. All this causes money to circulate more rapidly and raises the price of everything. Then high prices prevent the foreigner from taking merchandise from France as usual. France keeps her own merchandise and at the same time imports great quantities. This double operation is the reason why considerable amounts of specie must be sent abroad to pay the balance.

The rate of exchange never fails to show this disadvantage. ...

With this object after several diminutions they begin to hoard money in the King's Treasury, to postpone the payments, pensions, and army pay. In these circumstances money becomes extremely rare at the end of the diminutions both by reason of the sums hoarded by the King and various individuals and by reason of the nominal value of the coin, which value is diminished. The amounts sent abroad also contribute greatly to the scarcity of money, and this scarcity gradually brings it about that the merchandise with which the undertakers are loaded up is offered at 50 or 60 per cent below the prices prevailing at the time of the first diminutions. Circulation falls into convulsions. Hardly enough money can be found to send to market. Many Undertakers and Merchants go bankrupt and their merchandise is sold at bargain prices.

Then the King augments anew the coinage, settles the new ecu or ounce of silver of the new issue at 5 livres, begins with this new coinage to pay the troops and the pensions. The old coinage is demonetised and received at the Mint at a lower nominal value. The King profits by the difference.

But all the sums of new coinage which come from the Mint do not restore the abundance of money in circulation. The amounts kept hoarded by individuals and those sent abroad greatly exceed the nominal increase on the coinage which comes from the Mint.

The cheapness of merchandise in France begins to draw thither the money of the foreigner, who finding it 50 or 60 or more per cent cheaper sends gold and silver metal to France to buy it. In this way the foreigner who sends his bullion to the Mint recoups himself easily from the tax paid there on this bullion. He finds the double advantage of the low price of the merchandise he buys, and the loss of the Mint charge falls really on the French in the sale of their merchandise to the foreigner. ...

The King makes a considerable profit by the Mint tax, but it costs France three times as much to enable him to make this profit.

It is well understood that when there is a current balance of trade in favour of France against the foreigner the King is able to raise a tax of 20 per cent or more by a new coinage and an increase in the nominal value of coins. But if the trade balance was against France at the time of this new coinage and augmentation the operation would have no success and the King would not derive a great profit from it. The reason is that in this case it is necessary to send money continually abroad. ...

The change in the nominal value of money has at all times been the effect of some disaster or scarcity in the State, or of the ambition of some Prince or individual. ... A State neither gains nor loses by the raising or lowering of these coins so long as it keeps the same quantity of them, though individuals may gain or lose by the variation according to their engagements. All people are full of false prejudice and false ideas as to the nominal value of their coinage. We have shown in the Chapter on Exchanges that the invariable rule of them is the price and fineness of the current coins of different countries, marc for marc and ounce for ounce. If a raising or lowering of the nominal value changes this rule for a time in France it is only during a crisis and difficulty in trade. A return is always made little by little to intrinsic value, to which prices are necessarily brought both in the market and in the foreign exchanges.

Chapter VI

Of Banks and their Credit

If a hundred economical gentlemen or proprietors of land, who put by every year money from their savings to buy land on occasion, deposit each one 10,000 ounces of silver with a goldsmith or banker in London, to avoid the trouble of keeping this money in their houses and the thefts which might be made of it, they will take from them notes payable on demand. Often they will leave their money there a long time, and even when they have made some purchase they will give notice to the banker some time in advance to have their money ready when the formalities and legal documents are complete.

In these circumstances the banker will often be able to lend 90,000 ounces of the 100,000 he owes throughout the year and will only need to keep in hand 10,000 ounces to meet all the withdrawals. He has to do with wealthy and economical persons; as fast as one thousand ounces are demanded of him in one direction, a thousand are brought to him from another. It is enough as a rule for him to keep in hand the tenth part of his deposits. ... The bankers or goldsmiths contribute to accelerate the circulation of money. They lend it out at interest at their own risk and peril, and yet they are or ought to be always ready to cash their notes when desired on demand.

If an individual has 1000 ounces to pay to another he will give him in payment the banker's note for that amount. This other will perhaps not go and demand the money of the banker. He will keep the note and give it on occasion to a third person in payment, and this note may pass through several hands in large payments without any one going for a long time to demand the money from the banker. It will be only some one who has not complete confidence or has several small sums to pay who will demand the amount of it. In this first example the cash of a banker is only the tenth part of his trade.

If 100 individuals or landowners deposit with a banker their income every six months as it is received, and then demand their money back as and when they have need to spend it, the banker will be in a position to lend much more of the money which he owes and receives at the beginning of the half years, for a short term of some months, than he will be towards the end of these periods. And his experience of the conduct of his clients will teach him that he can hardly lend during the whole year more than about one half of the sums which he owes. Bankers of this kind will be ruined in credit if they fail for one instant to pay their notes on their first presentation, and when they are short of cash in hand they will give anything to have money at once, that is to say a much higher interest than they receive on the sums they have lent. Hence they make it a rule based on their experience to keep always in hand enough to meet demands, and rather more than less. Many Bankers of this kind (and they are the greatest number) always keep in hand half the amount deposited with them and lend the other half at interest and put it into circulation. In this second example the Banker causes his notes of 100,000 ounces or ecus to circulate with 50,000 ecus, If he has a great flow of deposits and great credit this increases confidence in his notes, and makes people less eager to cash them, but only delays, his payments a few days or weeks when the notes fall into the hands of persons who are not accustomed to deal with him, and he ought always to guide himself by those who are accustomed to entrust their money to him. If his notes come into the hands of those of his own business they will have nothing more pressing than to withdraw the money from him.

If those who deposit money with the Banker are Undertakers and Merchants who pay in large sums daily and soon after draw them out it will often happen that if the Banker divert more than one third of his cash he will find himself in difficulty to meet the demands.

It is easy to understand by these examples that the sums of money which a Goldsmith or a Banker can lend at interest or divert from his cash are naturally proportionable to the practice and conduct of his clients; that while we have seen Bankers who were safe with a cash reserve of one-tenth, others can hardly keep less than one half or two-thirds, though their credit be as high as that of the first.

Some trust one Banker, some another. The most fortunate is the Banker who has for clients rich gentlemen who are always looking out for safe employment for their money without wishing to invest it at interest while they wait.

A general national bank has this advantage over the bank of a single Goldsmith that there is always more confidence in it. The largest deposits are willingly brought to it, even from the most remote quarters of the city, and it leaves generally to small Bankers only the deposit of petty sums in their neighbourhood. Even the revenues of the State are paid in to it in countries where the Prince is not absolute. And this, far from injuring credit and confidence in it, serves only to increase them.

If payments in a national bank are made by transfers or clearings there will be this advantage, that they are not subject to forgeries, but if the Bank gives notes false notes may be made and cause disorder. There will be also this disadvantage that those who are in the quarters of the city at a distance from the Bank will rather pay and receive in money than go thither, especially those in the country. But if the bank notes are dispersed they can be used far and near. In the national Banks of Venice and Amsterdam payment is made only in book credit, but in that of London it is made in credit, in notes, and in money at the choice of the individuals, and it is today the strongest Bank.

It will then be understood that all the advantage of Banks, public or private in a city, is to accelerate the circulation of money and to prevent so much of it from being hoarded as it would naturally be for several intervals.

Chapter VII

Further explanations and enquiries as to the utility of a National Bank

...It is found that the sellers and buyers of the Bank money are regularly equal when the total of all the credits or inscriptions on the books of the Bank do not exceed the value of 800,000 ounces of silver or thereabout. ...

...A national Bank in the capital of a great Kingdom or State must, it seems, contribute less to the utility of circulation because of the distance of its provinces, than in a small State. And when money circulates there in greater abundance than among its neighbours a national Bank does more harm than good. An abundance of fictitious and imaginary money causes the same disadvantages as an increase of real money in circulation, by raising the price of land and labour, or by making works and manufactures more expensive at the risk of subsequent loss. But this furtive abundance vanishes at the first gust of discreet and precipitates disorder. ...

I think pubic banks of very great utility in small States and those where silver is rather scarce, but of little service for the solid advantage of a great State. ...

Though I consider a general Bank is in reality of very little solid service in a great State I allow that there are circumstances in which a Bank may have effects which seem astonishing.

In a city where there are public debts for considerable amounts the facility of a Bank enables one to buy and sell capital stock in a moment for enormous sums without causing any disturbance in the circulation. If at London a person sells his South Sea stock to buy stock in the Bank or in the East India Company, or hoping that in a short time he will be able to buy at a lower price stock in the same South Sea Company, he always takes Banknotes, and generally money is not asked for in respect of these notes but only for the interest on them. As one hardly spends one's capital there is no need to change it into coin, but one is always forced to ask the Bank for money for subsistence since cash is needed for small dealings.

If a Landowner who has 1000 ounces of silver pays 200 of them for the interest of public stock and spends 800 ounces of them himself, the thousand ounces will always require coinage. This proprietor will spend 800 and the Owners of the funds will spend 200 of them. But when these Proprietors are in the habit of speculation, selling and buying public stock, no ready silver is needed for these operations, bank notes suffice. If it were necessary to draw hard cash out of circulation to serve in these purchases and sales it would amount to a great sum and would often impede the circulation, or rather it would happen in that case that the stocks could not be sold and bought so often.

It is doubtless the origin of these capitals or money deposited in the Bank and drawn out only on rare occasions, such as when an owner of capital engages in some transaction or needs cash for small purchases, which explains why the Bank keeps in reserve only the fourth or sixth part of the silver against which it issues notes. If the Bank had not the funds of many of these capitals it wonld in the ordinary course of circulation find itself would in the ordinary course of circulation find itself compelled like private banks to keep half its deposits in hand to be solvent. It is true that the Bank books and its dealings do not distinguish those capitals which pass through several hands in the sales and purchases made in Change Alley. These notes are often renewed at the Bank and changed against others in purchases. But the experience of purchases and sales of stock show clearly that the total of them is considerable, and without these purchases and sales the sums deposited at the Bank would be certainly smaller.

This means that when a State is not in debt and has no need of purchases and sales of stock the help of a Bank will be less necessary and less important. ...

Chapter VIII

Of the Refinements of Credit of General Banks

The national Bank of London is composed of a large number of shareholders who make choice of Directors to govern its operations. Their primitive advantage consisted in making a yearly distribution of the profits made by interest on the money lent out of the Bank deposits. Later the public debt was incorporated with it, on which the State pays an annual interest.

In spite of such a solid foundation when the Bank had made large advances to the State and the holders of notes were apprehensive that the Bank was in difficulties, a run on the Bank has been seen and holders of notes went in crowds to the Bank to draw out money. The same thing happened on the collapse of the South Sea Company in 1720.

The refinements introduced to support the Bank and moderate its discredit were first to set up a number of clerks to count out the money to those bringing notes, to pay out large amounts in sixpences and shillings to gain time, to pay some part to individual holders who had been waiting whole days to take their turn; but the most considerable sums were paid to friends who took them away and brought them back secretly to the Bank to repeat the same manoeuvre the next day. In this way the Bank saved its appearance and gained time until the panic should abate. But when that did not suffice the Bank opened a subscription engaging trusty and solvent people to join as guarantors of large amounts to maintain the credit and circulation of the Bank notes.

It was by this last refinement that the credit of the Bank was maintained in 1720 when the South Sea Company collapsed. As soon as it was publicly known that the subscription list was filled by wealthy and powerful people, the r un on the Bank ceased and deposits were brought in as usual.

If a Minister of State in England, seeking to lower the rate of interest or for other reasons, forces up the price of public stock in London and if he has enough credit with the Directors of the Bank (under the obligation of indemnifying them in case of loss) to get them to issue a quantity of bank notes without backing, begging them to use these notes themselves to buy several blocks and capitals of the public stock, this stock will not fail to rise in price through these operations, And those who have sold stock, seeing the high price continue, will perhaps decide (so as not to leave their bank notes idle and thinking from the rumours spread about that the rate of interest will fall and the stock go up further in price) to buy it back at a higher price than they sold it for, If several people seeing the agents of the Banks buy this stock step in and do likewise thinking to profit like them, the public funds will increase in price to the point which the Minister wishes. And it may happen that the Bank will cleverly resell at a higher price all the stock it has purchased at the Minister's request, and will not only make a large profit on it but will retire and cancel all the extraordinary banknotes which it had issued.

If the Bank alone raises the price of public stock by buying it, it will by so much depress it when it resells to cancel its excess issue of notes. But it always happens that many people wishing to follow the Agents of the Bank in their operations help to keep up the price. Some of them get caught for want of understanding these operations, in which there enter infinite refinements or rather trickery which lie outside my subject.

It is then undoubted that a Bank with the complicity of a Minister is able to raise and support the price of public stock and to lower the rate of interest in the State at the pleasure of this Minister when the steps are taken discreetly, and thus pay off the State debt. But these refinements which open the door to making large fortunes are rarely carried out for the sole advantage of the State, and those who take part in them are generally corrupted. The excess banknotes, made and issued on these occasions, do not upset the circulation, because being used for the buying and selling of stock they do not serve for household expenses and are not changed into silver. But if some panic or unforeseen crisis drove the holders to demand silver from the Bank the bomb would burst and it would be seen that these are dangerous operations.

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