A speculation in any commodity, therefore, is occasioned by some opinion that may be formed of its future price. It is well known that the price of commodities is governed by the proportion that may exist between the supply and the demand. Whatever increases the supply, or diminishes the demand, will lower the price; and, on the contrary, whatever diminishes the supply, or increases the demand, will advance the price. The greater part of our food, and the materials of most of our clothing, are produced by the seasons; and the quantity produced in each year depends, in a great degree, upon the most uncertain of all things, - the weather. Here, then, is a wide field for speculation. If our food, like the manna in the wilderness, were supplied to us day by day, in exactly the quantity that each individual required, it would furnish no subject for speculation. But as long as the seasons are variable in the quantity of their productions, so long will speculation exist. Many commodities, too, besides being influenced by the seasons, are influenced by several other circumstances, - as a state of peace or war, - the opening of new markets, - the discovery of cheaper modes of production, - or the substitution of a rival commodity; all these circumstances have an effect upon price, and the dealer who buys or sells any commodity in expectation that an alteration in price will be produced by such causes, is a speculator.
Now, it is obvious that no system of banking can prevent speculation, and that speculations would be formed, even were there no bank in existence. We learn from Holy Writ, that the owners of corn sometimes refused to sell, in expectation of an advance of price. These were speculations, though Judaea had neither banks nor paper money. If it be said that the country banks are the cause of speculation, I will ask how it is that speculations exist in countries where there are no country banks? If it be said that the issuing of country notes is the cause of speculation, I will ask how it is that Liverpool is the most speculative place in England, although the Liverpool bankers do not issue notes? If it be said that the speculations of 1825 were produced by the country banks, I will ask, what produced similar speculations in 1720, when there was not a single country bank in the kingdom?1
It must not, however, be denied that all banking gives to speculation facilities that would not otherwise be so easily supplied. It is the object of banking to give facilities to trade, and whatever gives facilities to trade gives facilities to speculation. Trade and speculation are in some cases so nearly allied, that it is impossible to say at what precise point trade ends and speculation begins. Wherever there are banks, capital is obtained at a cheaper rate. The cheapness of capital gives facilities to speculation just in the same way as the cheapness of beef and of beer gives facilities to gluttony and drunkenness.
The legitimate operations of banking, however, are such as to place speculation under some degree of restraint. As to men of large capital and immense wealth, they may speculate as much as they please; over them the bankers have no control. But if men of moderate means engage in speculation beyond their capital, it is not the interest of the banker to support them. For such persons to carry speculation to any great extent, it is necessary either that they raise money on slender security, or that the money be advanced for a considerable length of time. It is not the interest of a banker to meet their wishes in either of these respects. It is not his interest to advance his money on insufficient security. It is not his interest to advance money as a dead loan. The security a banker requires ought to be both ample and convertible. It is contrary to all sound principles of banking for a banker to advance money on dead security. In the first place, such loans do not create any banking capital; and, in the second place, they cannot be suddenly called up, in case any contraction of the banking capital should render it necessary.
1 This is not strictly true, for Smith's Nottingham Bank is supposed to have been founded in 1688, and a cheque drawn upon him and dated in 1705 is still in existence.
In admitting that banking, by granting facilities to trade, necessarily grants facilities, to a certain extent, to speculation, it is not admitted that bankers generally have granted facilities to speculation beyond the fair operations of their trade. All speculation, by increasing the number and amount of commercial transactions, puts into motion a greater quantity of money. This money is supplied by the bankers either in the way of repayment of deposits, or of discounting of bills, or by loans. Now as increased issues on the part of the banks are almost simultaneous with a spirit of speculation, it has been inferred that the issues of the notes have excited the spirit of speculation, whereas it has been the spirit of speculation that has called out the notes. In the years 1824 and 1825, as the speculations increased, the issues of notes increased; and when the speculations were over, the notes returned. This was the case not merely in England, but also in Scotland, though none of the Scotch banks sustained the least diminution of public confidence.
Another charge that has often been preferred against banks of circulation is, that by an increased issue of their notes they have caused a general rise in prices.
In investigating this charge, it will be proper to inquire what are the cases in which an increased issue of notes may produce a rise in prices.
It cannot be denied that if any bank have the privilege of issuing notes, not convertible into gold - that is, not payable in gold on demand - the notes may be issued to such an amount as to cause a considerable advance in prices. It is now generally believed that the issues of the Bank of England during the operation of the Restriction