No one who writes of the evils of international finance runs any risk of being "gravelled for lack of matter." The theme is one that has been copiously developed, in a variety of keys by all sorts and conditions of composers. Since Philip the Second of Spain published his views on "financiering and unhallowed practices with bills of exchange," and illustrated them by repudiating his debts, there has been a chorus of opinion singing the same tune with variations, and describing the financier as a bloodsucker who makes nothing, and consumes an inordinate amount of the good things that are made by other people.
It has already been shown that capital, saved by thrifty folk, is essential to industry as society is at present built and worked; and the financiers are the people who see to the management of these savings, their collection into the great reservoir of the money market, and their placing at the disposal of industry. It seems, therefore, that, though not immediately concerned with the making of anything, the financiers actually do work which is now necessary to the making of almost everything. Railway managers do not make anything that can be touched or seen, but the power to move things from the place where they are grown or made, to the place where they are eaten or otherwise consumed or enjoyed, is so important that industry could not be carried on on its present scale without them; and that is only another way of saying that, if it had not been for the railway managers, a large number of us who at present do our best to enjoy life, could never have been born. Financiers are, if possible, even more necessary, to the present structure of industry than railway men. If, then, there is this general prejudice against people who turn an all important wheel in the machinery of modern production, it must either be based on some popular delusion, or if there is any truth behind it, it must be due to the fact that the financiers do their work ill, or charge the community too much for it, or both.
Before we can examine this interesting problem on its merits, we have to get over one nasty puddle that lies at the beginning of it. Much of the prejudice against financiers is based on, or connected with, anti-Semitic feeling, that miserable relic of medieval barbarism. No candid examination of the views current about finance and financiers can shirk the fact that the common prejudice against Jews is at the back of them; and the absurdity of this prejudice is a very fair measure of the validity of other current notions on the subject of financiers. The Jews are, chiefly, and in general, what they have been made by the alleged Christianity of the so-called Christians among whom they have dwelt. An obvious example of their treatment in the good old days, is given by Antonio's behaviour to Shylock. Antonio, of whom another character in the Merchant of Venice says that—"A kinder gentleman treads not the earth,"
not only makes no attempt to deny that he has spat on the wicked Shylock, and called him cut-throat dog, but remarks that he is quite likely to do so again. Such was the behaviour towards Jews of the princely Venetian merchant, whom Shakespeare was portraying as a model of all the virtues. Compare also, for a more modern example, Kinglake in a note to Chapter V of "Eothen."
Merchant of Venice, I, 3.
"The Jews of Smyrna are poor, and having little merchandize of their own to dispose of, they are sadly importunate in offering their services as intermediaries; their troublesome conduct had led to the custom of beating them in the open streets. It is usual for Europeans to carry long sticks with them, for the express purpose of keeping off the chosen people. I always felt ashamed to strike the poor fellows myself, but I confess to the amusement with which I witnessed the observance of this custom by other people."
Originally, as we see from the Hebrew scriptures, a hardy race of shepherds, farmers, and warriors, they were forced into the business of finance by the canonical law which forbade Christians to lend money at interest, and also by the persecution, robbery and risk of banishment to which Christian prejudice made them always liable. For these reasons they had to have their belongings in a form in which they could at any moment be concealed from robbers, or packed up and carried off if their owners suddenly found themselves told to quit their homes. So they were practically compelled to traffic in coins and precious metals and jewellery, and in many places all other trades and professions were expressly forbidden to them. This traffic in coins and metals naturally led to the business of moneylending and finance, and the centuries of practice, imposed on them by Christianity, have given them a skill in this trade, which is now the envy of Christians who have in the meantime found out that there is nothing wicked about moneylending, when it is honestly done. At the same time these centuries of persecution have given the Jews other qualities which we have more reason to envy than their skill in finance, such as their strong family affection and the steadfastness with which they stand by one another in all countries of the world. The fact of their being scattered over the face of the earth has given them added strength since finance became international. The great Jew houses have relations and connections in every business centre, and so their power has been welded, by centuries of racial prejudice, into a weapon the strength of which it is easy for popular imagination to exaggerate. Christendom forced the money power into the hands of this persecuted race, and now feels sorry when it sees that in an ordered and civilized society, in which it is no longer possible to roast an awkward creditor alive, money power is a formidable force. That a large part of this power is in the hands of a family party, scattered over all lands in which finance is possible, is another reason why, as I have already shown, international finance works for peace. The fact of the existence of the present war, however, shows that the limits of its power are soon reached, at times when the nations believe that their honour and safety can only be assured by bloodshed.