We have seen that finance becomes international when capital goes abroad, by being lent by investors in one country to borrowers in another, or by being invested in enterprises formed to carry on some kind of business abroad. We have next to consider why capital goes abroad and whether it is a good or a bad thing, for it to do so.
Capital goes abroad because it is more wanted in other countries than in the country of its origin, and consequently those who invest abroad are able to do so to greater advantage. In countries like England and France, where there have been for many centuries thrifty folk who have saved part of their income, and placed their savings at the disposal of industry, it is clear that industry is likely to be better supplied with capital than in the new countries which have been more lately peopled, and in which the store of accumulated goods is less adequate to the industrial needs of the community. For we must always remember that though we usually speak and think of capital as so much money it is really goods and property. In England money consists chiefly of credit in the books of banks, which can only be created because there is property on which the banks can make advances, or because there is property expressed in securities in which the banks can invest or against which they can lend. Because our forefathers did not spend all their incomes on their own personal comfort and amusement but put a large part of them into railways and factories, and shipbuilding yards, our country is now reasonably well supplied with the machinery of production and the means of transport. Whether it might not be much better so equipped is a question with which we are not at present concerned. At least it may be said that it is more fully provided in these respects than new countries like our colonies, America and Argentina, or old countries like Russia and China in which industrial development is a comparatively late growth, so that there has been less time for the storing up, by saving, of the necessary machinery.
So it comes about that new countries are in greater need of capital than old ones and consequently are ready to pay a higher rate of interest for it to lenders or to tempt shareholders with a higher rate of profit. And so the opportunity is given to investors in England to develop the agricultural or industrial resources of all the countries under the sun to their own profit and to that of the countries that it supplies. When, for example, the Government of one of the Australian colonies came to London to borrow money for a railway, it said in effect to English investors, "Your railways at home have covered your country with such a network that there are no more profitable lines to be built. The return that you get from investing in them is not too attractive in view of all the trade risks to which they are subject. Do not put your money into them, but lend it to us. We will take it and build a railway in a country which wants them, and, whether the railway pays or no, you will be creditors of a Colonial Government with the whole wealth of the colony pledged to pay you interest and pay back your money when the loan falls due for repayment." For in Australia the railways have all been built by the Colonial Governments, partly because they wished, by pledging their collective credit, to get the money as cheaply as possible, and keep the profits from them in their own hands, and partly probably because they did not wish the management of their railways to be in the hands of London boards. In Argentina, on the other hand, the chief railways have been built, not by the Government but by English companies, shareholders in which have taken all the risks of the enterprise, and have thereby secured handsome profits to themselves, tempered with periods of bad traffic and poor returns.
For many years there was a good deal of prejudice in England against investing abroad, especially among the more sleepy classes of investors who had made their money in home trade, and liked to keep it there when they invested it. As traders, we learnt a world-wide outlook many centuries before we did so as investors. To send a ship with a cargo of English goods to a far off country to be exchanged into its products was a risk that our enterprising forefathers took readily. The ship took in its return cargo and came home, bringing its sheaves with it in a reasonable time, though the Antonios of the period sometimes had awkward moments if their ships were delayed by bad weather, and they were liable on a bond to Shylock. But it was quite another matter to lend money in a distant country when communication was slow and difficult, and social and political conditions had not gained the stability that is needed before contracts can be entered into extending over many years. International moneylending took place, of course, in the middle ages, and everybody knows Motley's great description of the consternation that shook Europe when Philip the Second repudiated his debts "to put an end to such financiering and unhallowed practices with bills of exchange." But though there were moneylenders in those days who obliged foreign potentates with loans, the business was in the hands of expert professional specialists, and there was no medieval counterpart of the country doctor whom we have imagined to be developing industry all over the world by placing his savings in foreign countries. There could be no investing public until there were large classes that had accumulated wealth by saving, and until the discovery of the principle of limited liability enabled adventurers to put their savings into industry without running the risk of losing not only what they put in, but all else that they possessed. By means of this system, the risk of a shareholder in a company is limited to a definite amount, usually the amount that has been paid up on his shares or stock, though in some cases, such as bank and insurance shares, there is a further reserve liability which is left for the protection of the companies' customers.
"United Netherlands," chap. XXXII.