In the eighteenth century a great outburst of gambling in the East Indian and South Sea companies, and a horde of less notorious concerns was a short-lived episode which must have helped for a very long time to strengthen the natural prejudice that investors feel in favour of putting their money into enterprise at home; and it was still further strengthened by the disastrous results of another great plague of bad foreign securities that smote London just after the war that ended at Waterloo. This prejudice survived up to within living memory, and I have heard myself old-fashioned stockbrokers maintain that, after all, there was no investment like Home Rails, because investors could always go and look at their property, which could not run away. Gradually, however, the habit of foreign investment grew, under the influence of the higher rates of interest and profit offered by new countries, the greater political stability that was developed in them, and political apprehensions at home. In fact it grew so fast and so lustily that there came a time, not many years ago, when investments at home were under a cloud, and many clients, when asking their brokers where and how to place their savings, stipulated that they must be put somewhere abroad.
This was at a time when Mr. Lloyd George's financial measures were arousing resentment and fear among the investing classes, and when preachers of the Tariff Reform creed were laying so much stress on our "dying industries" that they were frightening those who trusted them into the belief that the sun was setting on our industrial greatness. The effect of this belief was to bring down the prices of home securities, and to raise those of other countries, as investors changed from the former into the latter.
So the theory that we were industrially and financially doomed got another argument from its own effects, and its missionaries were able to point to the fall in Consols and the relative steadiness of foreign and colonial securities which their own preaching had brought about, as fresh evidence of its truth. At the same time fear of Socialistic legislation at home had the humorous result of making British investors fear to touch Consols, but rush eagerly to buy the securities of Colonial Governments which had gone much further in the direction of Socialism than we had. Those were great days for all who handled the machinery of oversea investment and in the last few years before the war it is estimated that England was placing some 200 millions a year in her colonies and dependencies and in foreign countries. Old-fashioned folk who still believed in the industrial strength and financial stability of their native land waited for the reaction which was bound to follow when some of the countries into which we poured capital so freely, began to find a difficulty in paying the interest; and just before the war this reaction began to happen, in consequence of the default in Mexico and the financial embarrassments of Brazil. Mexico had shown that the political stability which investors had believed it to have achieved was a very thin veneer and a series of revolutions had plunged that hapless land into anarchy. Brazil was suffering from a heavy fall in the price of one of her chief staple products, rubber, owing to the competition of plantations in Ceylon, Straits Settlements and elsewhere, and was finding difficulty in meeting the interest on the big load of debt that the free facilities given by English and French investors had encouraged her to pile up. She had promised retrenchment at home, and another big loan was being hatched to tide her over her difficulties—or perhaps increase them—when the war cloud began to gather and she has had to resort for the second time in her history to the indignity of a funding scheme. By this "new way of paying old debts" she does not pay interest to her bondholders in cash, but gives them promises to pay instead, and so increases the burden of her debt, which she hopes some day to be able to shoulder again, by resuming payments in cash.
Mexico and Brazil were not the only countries that were showing signs, in 1914, of having indulged too freely in the opportunities given them by the eagerness of English and French investors to place money abroad. It looked as if in many parts of the earth a time of financial disillusionment was dawning, the probable result of which would have been a strong reaction in favour of investment at home. Then came the war with a short sharp spell of financial chaos followed by a halcyon period for young countries, which enabled them to sell their products at greatly increased prices to the warring powers and so to meet their debt charges with an ease that they had never dreamt of, and even to find themselves lending, out of the abundance of their war profits, money to their creditors. America has led the way with a loan of £100 millions to France and England, and Canada has placed 10 millions of credit at the disposal of the Mother Country. There can be little doubt that if the war goes on, and the neutral countries continue to pile up profits by selling food and war materials to the belligerents, many of them will find it convenient to lend some of their gains to their customers. America has also been taking the place of France and England as international moneylenders by financing Argentina; and a great company has been formed in New York to promote international activity, on the part of Americans, in foreign countries. "And thus the whirligig of time," assisted by the eclipse of civilization in Europe, "brings in his revenges" and turns debtors into creditors. In the meantime it need hardly be said that investment at home has become for the time being a matter of patriotic duty for every Englishman, since the financing of the war has the first and last claim on his savings.