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.
As to the sinister influence alleged to be wielded by international finance in the councils of diplomacy, it has been shown that war on a great scale terrifies finance and inflicts great distress on it. To suppose, therefore, that finance is interested in the promotion of such wars is to suppose that it is a power shortsighted to the point of imbecility. In the case of wars which finance is believed with some truth to have helped to instigate, we have seen that it could not have done so if other influences had not helped it. In short, both the occurrence of the present war, and the circumstances that led up to war in Egypt and South Africa, have shown how little power finance wields in the realm of foreign politics. In the City if one suggests that our Foreign Office is swayed by financial influences one is met by incredulous mockery, probably accompanied by assertions that the Foreign Office is, in fact, neglectful, to a fault, of British financial interests abroad, and that when it does, as in China, interfere with financial matters, it is apt to tie the hands of finance, in order to further what it believes to be the political interests of the country. The formation of the Six Power Group in China meant that the financial strength of England and France had to be shared, for political reasons, with powers which had, on purely financial grounds, no claim whatever to participate in the business of furnishing capital to China. The introduction to the 1898 edition of "Fenn on the Funds," expresses the view that our Government is ready to protect our traders abroad, but only helps investors when it suits it to do so. "If," it says, "a barbarian potentate's subjects rob a British trader we never hesitate to insist upon the payment of liberal compensation, which we enforce if necessary by a 'punitive expedition,' but if a civilized Government robs a large number of British investors, the Government does not even, so far as we know, enlist the help of its diplomatic service. Only when, as in the case of Egypt, there are important political objects in view, does the State protect those citizens who are creditors of foreign nations. One or two other countries, notably Germany, set us a good example, with the best results as far as their investors are concerned." Germany is often thus taken as the example of the State which gives its financiers the most efficient backing abroad; but even in Germany finance is, like everything else, the obedient servant of the military and political authorities. For several years before the present war, the financiers of Berlin were forbidden to engage in moneylending operations abroad. No doubt the Government saw that the present war was coming, and so it preferred to keep German money at home. It is true that Germany once shook its mailed fist with some vigour on behalf of its financial interest when it made, with us, a demonstration against Venezuela. But it is at least possible that it did so chiefly with a view to the promotion of the popularity of its navy at home, and to making it easier to get the money for its upkeep and increase from the taxpayers, already oppressed by their military burden. In Morocco questions of trade and finance were at the back of the quarrel, but it would not have become acute if it had not been for the expected political consequences that were feared from the financial penetration that was being attempted; and as has been already pointed out, the financiers are generally credited with having persuaded Germany to agree to a settlement on that occasion.
In short, finance, if left to itself, is international and peace-loving. Many financiers are at the same time ardent patriots, and see in their efforts to enrich themselves and their own country a means for furthering its political greatness and diplomatic prestige. Man is a jumble of contradictory crotchets, and it would be difficult to find anywhere a financier who lived, as they are all commonly supposed to do, purely for the pleasure of amassing wealth. If such a being could be discovered he would probably be a lavish subscriber to peace societies, and would show a deep mistrust of diplomatists and politicians.