There is yet another reason why the attitude of an issuing house, to a borrowing State, should be paternal or even grand-motherly, as compared with the purely business-like attitude of a banker to a local borrower. If the bank makes a bad debt, it has to make it good to its depositors at the expense of its shareholders. It diminishes the amount that can be paid in dividends and so the bank is actually out of pocket. The international financier is in quite a different position. If he arranges a loan for Barataria, he takes his profit on the transaction, sells the bonds to investors, or to the underwriters if investors do not apply, and is, from the purely business point of view, quit of the whole operation. He still remains responsible for receiving from the State, and paying to the bondholders, the sum due each half year in interest, and for seeing to the redemption of the bonds by the operation of the Sinking Fund, if any. But if anything goes wrong with the interest or Sinking Fund he is not liable to the bondholders, as the bank is liable to its depositors. They have got their bonds, and if the bonds are in default they have made a bad debt and not the issuing house, unless, as is unlikely, it has kept any of them in its own hands.
But this absence of any legal liability on the part of the issuing house imposes on it a very strong moral obligation, which is fully recognized by the best of them. Just because the bondholders have no right of action against it, unless it can be shown that it issued a prospectus containing incorrect statements, it is all the more bound to see that their money shall not be imperilled by any action of its own. It knows that a firm with a good reputation as an international finance house has only to put its name to an issue, and a large number of investors, who have neither the education nor the knowledge required to form a judgment on its merits, will send in subscriptions for the bonds on the strength of the name of the issuing house. This fact makes it an obvious duty on the part of the latter to see that this trust is deserved. Moreover, it would obviously be bad business on their part to neglect this duty. For a good reputation as an issuing house takes years to build up, and is very easily shaken by any mistake, or even by any accident, which could not have been foreseen but yet brings a loan that it has handled into the list of doubtful payers. Mr. Brailsford, indeed, asserts that it may be to the advantage of bondholders to be faced by default on the part of their debtors. It may be so in those rare cases in which they can get reparation and increased security, as in the case of our seizure of Egypt. But in nine cases out of ten, as is shown by the plaintive story told by the yearly reports of the Council of Foreign Bondholders, default means loss and a shock to confidence, even if only temporary, and is generally followed by a composition involving a permanent reduction in debt and interest. Investors who have suffered these unpleasantnesses are likely to remember them for many a long year, and to remember also the name of the issuing house which fathered the loan that was the cause of the trouble.
There are thus many good reasons why it is the business of a careful issuing firm to see not only that any loan that it offers is well secured, but also that it is to be spent on objects that will not impair the productive capacity of the borrowing country by leading it down the path of extravagance, but will improve it by developing its resources or increasing its power to move its products. On the other hand, the temptation to undertake bad business on behalf of an importunate borrower is great. The profits are considerable for the issuing house and for all their followers in the City. The indirect advantages, in the way of trade orders, conferred on the lending country, are also profitable, and there is always the fear that if London firms take too austere a view of what is good business for them and the borrowing countries, the more accommodating loan-mongers of foreign centres may reap the benefit, and leave them with empty pockets and the somewhat chilly comfort conferred by the consciousness of a high ideal in finance.
One of the most unsatisfactory features about the monetary arrangements of society, as at present constituted, is the fact that the reward of effort is so often greater with every degree of evil involved by the effort. And to some extent this is true in finance. Just as big fortunes are made by the cheap-jacks who stuff the stomachs of an ignorant public with patent medicines, while doctors slave patiently for a pittance on the unsavoury task of keeping overfed people in health; just as Milton got £5 for "Paradise Lost," while certain modern novelists are rewarded with thousands of pounds for writing romances which would never be printed in a really educated community; so in finance the more questionable—up to a certain point—be the security to be handled, the greater are the profits of the issuing house, the larger the commissions of the underwriters and brokers, and the larger are the amounts paid to the newspapers for advertising. As has already been observed, that part of the City that lives on handling new issues has been half starved since the war began, because its activities have been practically confined to loans issued by the British Government. These loans have been huge in amount but there has been no underwriting, and brokerages are cut to the bone. Advertising for the second War Loan was on a great scale, but in proportion to the amount subscribed the cost of it was probably small, according to the ideals that ruled before the war. A Colonial loan, or a first-class American railroad bond, almost places itself, and the profits on the issue to all who handle it are proportionately low. The more questionable the security, the more it has to pay for its footing, and the higher are the profits of those who father it and assist the process of delivery, as long, that is, as the birth is successfully accomplished.