A BANK that issues notes is called a bank of circulation. The amount of notes that any bank has in circulation is usually called by bankers "the circulation" Banks of circulation, both in England and Scotland, have all of them had to sustain heavy accusations.
The most common charge against banks of circulation is, that they have issued an excessive amount of their notes; and thus have encouraged speculation, raised the price of commodities, and led to commercial convulsions similar to that of December, 1825.
Before entering upon the consideration of these charges, I shall point out the checks that operate against an overissue of notes.
I have already stated that similar accusations may be as justly advanced against banks of deposit as against banks of circulation; for to give increased motion to the currency has the same effect as to increase its amount. If a million of money be taken from the counting-houses of the merchants, and the tills of the shopkeepers, and lodged in the hands of a London banker, for him to employ in advancing loans or discounting bills, this has the same effect as though he issued for the same purposes a million of his own promissory notes. There is, however, one difference. The advances of a London banker are limited by the amount of his lodgments. If the money be not placed in his hands, he cannot issue it; and hence he may be regarded as merely an agent regulating the distribution of the previously existing currency. But the country banker having the power of making money, the amount of his advances is not subject to this restraint.
1 Owing to the operation of the Bank Charter Act of 1844, the number of banks of issue in England has fallen to thirty, possessing an authorized issue on 22nd Sept., 1906, of £1,582,184, and an actual circulation on that date of only £509,989. Much of what Gilbart says in this chapter has, therefore, lost a great deal of its interest.
But the amount of notes issued by a bank must be limited by the demand of its customers. No banker is so anxious to put his notes into circulation that he gives them away. He advances them either by way of loan or discount; and he always believes that the security on which he makes his advances is sufficiently ample. He expects that the money will be repaid with interest. It is true, that like other commercial men, he is sometimes deceived in his customers; and by placing too much confidence in them, he sustains losses. But this is a misfortune against which he is always anxious to guard. The issues of bankers are limited, therefore; on the one hand by the wants of the public, and on the other by the bankers' desire to protect their own interests.
A further check upon the issues of banks is, that all their notes are payable on demand. Although a banker has the power of issuing his notes to excess, either by advancing them as dead loans or on slender security, yet he has not the power of keeping them out; their remaining in circulation depends not on him, but on the public; and the uncertainty as to the time of their return for payment compels him to keep at all times a sufficient stock of money to meet the most extensive demand that is likely in the ordinary course of business to occur.
Another check upon an excessive issue of notes, is the system of exchanges that is carried on between the banks.
Every banker that issues notes has an interest in withdrawing from circulation the notes of every other banker, in order to make more room for his own. When a banker receives the notes of another banker, he never reissues them. If the two bankers live in the same place, they meet once or twice a week, as they may find convenient, and exchange their notes. The balance between them, if any, is paid by a draft on London payable on demand; or, which amounts to the same thing, the London agent of the one party is directed to pay the amount to the London agent of the other party. If the country banker lives at a distance from the banker whose notes he has received, he sends them to his London agent to present for payment. Hence it is that country notes seldom travel far from the place of issue: they are sure to be intercepted by some of the rival banks; and in a country where banks are so numerous as in England, it is obvious that the notes of any individual bank must move in a very limited circle If a banker attempts to force out a higher amount of notes than the wants of this circle require, he will soon find that the notes will be returned to him in the exchanges with neighbouring bankers, or else they will speedily find their way for payment to his London agent.
Another check upon an over-issue on the part of the banks is their practice of allowing interest upon money lodged in their hands. No man will keep money lying idle in his hands if he can obtain interest for it, and have it returned to him upon demand. If a banker attempts to force out a large amount of notes, they will get into the hands of somebody. And those who do not employ them in their trade will take them back to the bank and lodge them to their credit, for the purpose of receiving the interest. Thus, if the notes of a banker are put in motion by the operations of commerce, they are soon inter cepted by rival bankers; and if they attain a state of rest, they are brought back and lodged upon interest; so that in either case they are withdrawn from circulation.
Banks of circulation have also been accused of encouraging a spirit of speculation.
To obtain clear ideas as to the justice of this charge, it will be necessary to define accurately the nature of speculation, and to view the circumstances by which it is governed.
Between the producer and the consumer of any commodity, there are generally two or more parties, who are merchants or dealers. The demand for any commodity is either a speculative or a consumptive demand. The demand by the consumers who purchase for immediate use, is always a consumptive demand. But if the commodity purchased be not intended for immediate use, but is purchased at any given time, merely because the purchaser apprehends that its price will advance, then is that demand a speculative demand. So, if a merchant purchase of a manufacturer, or a farmer, such a quantity of commodities as in the ordinary course of his trade he is likely to require, that demand may be considered a consumptive demand; but if, in expectation of a rise in price, he fills his warehouses with goods for which he has no immediate sale, then is that demand a speculative demand. A speculation, then, is that kind of traffic in which the dealer expects to realize a profit, not by the ordinary course of trade, but by the intervention of some fortuitous circumstance that shall change the price of the commodity in which he deals.