Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter iv: Mr. Bosanquet's Objections to the Statement, that the Balance of Payments has been in Favour of Great Britain, examined. - The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 3 Pamphlets and Papers 1809-1811
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chapter iv: Mr. Bosanquet’s Objections to the Statement, that the Balance of Payments has been in Favour of Great Britain, examined. - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 3 Pamphlets and Papers 1809-1811 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 3 Pamphlets and Papers 1809-1811.
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Mr. Bosanquet’s Objections to the Statement, that the Balance of Payments has been in Favour of Great Britain, examined.
Having considered all those points deemed so important by Mr. Bosanquet in contradiction of the opinion of the Committee, “that it is by a comparison of the market and Mint value of bullion, that the fact of the depreciation of the currency can be estimated;” and having, I trust, made it evident that there is no other test singly, by which we are enabled to judge of the sound or unsound state of our paper currency, I shall proceed to the consideration of the next disputed position of the Bullion Committee; namely, “That so far as any inference is to be drawn from Custom House returns of exports and imports, the state of the exchanges ought to be peculiarly favourable.”
Mr. Bosanquet has been at the trouble of consulting numerous documents to prove that the Committee have not only committed an error to the amount of 7,500,000l. in their estimate of the balance of exports, but other errors to a still greater amount; and that, in fact, so far from their opinion being well founded, that the state of the exchange ought to have been favourable to this country during the past year, the actual amount of the balance of payments to the continent had been unusually great.
As I am desirous only of defending the principles of the Committee, and as these facts are by no means essential to those principles, I shall not enter into any examination of the correctness either of the statements of the Committee, or of those of Mr. Bosanquet, but will at once concede to him the facts, difficult as he would find it to prove all of them, for which he contends.
That the balance of payments has been against this country cannot, I conceive, admit of dispute. The state of the real exchange sufficiently proves it, as that infallibly indicates from which country bullion is passing. It would, however, have been of some satisfaction to those who are desirous of clearly understanding this difficult subject, if Mr. Bosanquet had acquainted us with the means which we possessed of paying the very large unfavourable balance for which he contends. Does he imagine that it has actually been discharged with our own hoard of gold? Do we usually keep unemployed such a large amount of bullion that we can afford to pay such balances year after year?
As we have no mines of our own, if we do not actually possess it, we must purchase it from foreign countries; but Bank notes will be useless for such purpose. If the price of gold in Bank notes be 4l. per ounce, or 10l. per ounce, we shall not obtain the slightest addition to our quantity of bullion, as it can only be procured by the exportation of goods. If we obtain it from America, for example, it is with goods we must purchase it. In that case, on a view of the whole trade of the country, we have discharged a debt in Europe by the exportation of goods to some other part of the world, and the balance of payments, however large it may be, must ultimately be paid by the produce of the labour of the people of this country. Bills of exchange never discharge a debt from one country to another; they enable a creditor of England to receive, at the place where he is resident, a sum of money from a debtor to England; they effect a transfer of a debt, but do not discharge it. That a demand for gold (if it could be allowed that our creditor would accept nothing but gold) might occasion a rise in its value no one denies. If, therefore, goods had become exceedingly cheap, it would have been the natural effect of such a cause. But how is any rise in its price in Bank notes to procure it, even if we suppose it hoarded in England?
The seller is not to be deluded with an increase of nominal value; it will be to him of little importance whether he sells his gold at 3l. 17s. 10½ d, or at 4l. 12s. per ounce, provided either of those sums will procure him the commodities for which he intends ultimately to exchange his gold. If then Bank notes to the amount of 3l. 17s. 10½d. be rendered of equal value in procuring the commodities which he seeks to purchase, with 4l. 12s., as much gold will be procured at one price as at the other. Now can it be denied, that by reducing the amount of Bank notes their value will be increased? If so, how can the reduction of Bank notes prevent us from obtaining the same amount of gold both at home and abroad to discharge our foreign debt, as we now obtain by a nominal and fictitious price?
“At a moment,” says Mr. Bosanquet,1 “when we were compelled to receive corn, even from our enemy, without the slightest stipulation in favour of our own manufacturer, and to pay neutrals for bringing it, Mr. Ricardo tells us,2 that the export of bullion and merchandize, in payment of the corn we may import, resolves itself entirely into a question of interest, and that, if we give corn3 in exchange for goods, it must be from choice, not necessity. Whilst providing against famine, he tells us, that we should not import more goods than we export, unless we had a redundancy of currency.”
Mr. Bosanquet speaks as if the nation collectively, as one body, imported corn and exported gold, and that it was compelled by hunger so to do, not reflecting that the importation of corn, even under the case supposed, is the act of individuals, and governed by the same motives as all other branches of trade. What is the degree of compulsion which is employed to make us receive corn from our enemy? I suppose no other than the want of that commodity which makes it an advantageous article of import; but if it be a voluntary, as it most certainly is, and not a compulsory bargain between the two nations, I do still maintain that gold would not, even if famine raged amongst us, be given to France in exchange for corn, unless the exportation of gold was attended with advantage to the exporter, unless he could sell corn in England for more gold than he was obliged to give for the purchase of it.
Would Mr. Bosanquet, would any merchant he knows, import corn for gold on any other terms? If no importer would, how could the corn be introduced into the country, unless gold or some other commodity were cheaper here? As far as those two commodities are concerned, do not these transactions as certainly indicate that gold is dearer in France, as that corn is dearer in England?
Seeing nothing in Mr. Bosanquet’s statement to induce me to change my opinion, I must continue to think that it is interest, and interest alone, which determines the exportation of gold, in the same manner as it regulates the exportation of all other commodities. Mr. Bosanquet would have done well, before he had deemed this opinion so extravagant, to have used something like argument to prove it so; and he would not have hurt his cause, if, even in the year 1810, he had explained his reason for supporting a principle advanced by Mr. Thornton in 1802, the correctness of which was questioned in 1809.
Bullion will not be exported unless we have previously imported it for such purpose, or unless from some circumstances in our internal circulation it has been rendered cheap and less useful to us. If Milan decrees, embargoes, nonintercourse acts, &c. affect the exportation of commodities, they also affect their importation, as no country can long continue to buy unless it can also sell; and least of all England, who by the abundance of her paper has driven from her circulation every vestige of the precious metals.
“If the currency be depreciated below the value of gold,” Mr. Bosanquet tells us, “it is so positively, not relatively, and all exchanges must equally feel the influence of the depreciation.” (Page 20.) Most true; and therefore if Mr. Bosanquet could have shewn that with any one country in the world, whose currency is not debased nor depreciated, the exchange had been favourable to England, more than the expences of transporting bullion,1 he would have successfully controverted the opinion of the Committee.
Some able writers on this subject have lately taken, I think, a mistaken view of the exportation of money, and of the effects produced on the price of bullion by an increase of currency through paper circulation.
Mr. Blake observes,2 “All writers upon the subject of political economy that I have met with, seem to be persuaded that when the rate of exchange has deviated from par beyond the expences of the transit of bullion, bullion will immediately pass; and the error has arisen from not sufficiently distinguishing the effects of a real and a nominal exchange;” and many pages are employed in proving, that on every addition to the paper circulation, even when a great part of the currency consists of the precious metals, the price of bullion will be raised in the same proportion as other commodities; and as the foreign exchange will be nominally depressed in the same degree, no advantage will arise from the exportation of bullion. The same opinion is maintained by Mr. Huskisson,3 page 27.
“If the circulation of a country were supplied partly by gold and partly by paper, and the amount of that circulation were doubled by an augmentation of that paper, the effect upon prices at home would be the same as in the former case,” (a rise in the price of commodities). “But gold not becoming by this augmentation of currency more abundant in such a country than in other parts of the world, as a commodity, its relative value to other commodities would remain unaltered; as a commodity also, its price would rise in the same proportion as that of other commodities, although, in the state of coin, of which the denomination is fixed by law, it could only pass current according to that denomination.
“When paper is thus augmented in any country, the exportation of the gold coin, therefore, will take place; not because gold, as a commodity, is become more abundant and less valuable with reference to other commodities in such a country; but, from the circumstance of its value as currency remaining the same, while its price in that currency is increased in common with the prices of all other commodities.”
I should perfectly agree with these writers, that the effects on the value of gold as an exportable commodity would be as they describe, provided the circulation consisted wholly of paper, but no rise would take place in the price of bullion, in consequence of an addition of paper currency, whilst the currency was either wholly metallic, or consisted partly of gold and partly of paper.
If an addition be made to a currency consisting partly of gold and partly of paper, by an increase of paper currency the value of the whole currency would be diminished, or, in other words, the prices of commodities would rise, estimated either in gold coin or in paper currency. The same commodity would purchase, after the increase of paper, a greater number of ounces of gold coin, because it would exchange for a greater quantity of money. But these gentlemen do not dispute the fact of the convertibility of coin into bullion, in spite of the law to prevent it. Does it not follow, therefore, that the value of gold in coin, and the value of gold in bullion, would speedily approach a perfect equality? If then a commodity would sell in consequence of the issue of paper for more gold coin, it would also sell for more gold bullion. It cannot therefore be correct to say that the relative value of gold bullion and commodities would be the same after as before the increase of paper.
The diminution in the value of gold, as compared with commodities, in consequence of the issues of paper in a country where gold forms part of the circulation, is, in the first instance, confined to that country only. If such country were insulated, and had no commerce whatever with any other country, this diminution in the value of gold would continue till the demand for gold for its manufactures had withdrawn the whole of its coin from circulation, and not till then would there be any visible depreciation in the value of paper as compared with gold, whatever the amount of paper might be which was in circulation.
As soon as the gold had been wholly withdrawn, the demand for manufactures still continuing, gold would rise above the value of paper, and would soon obtain that relative value to other commodities which subsisted before any addition had been made to the circulation by the issues of paper. The mines would then supply the quantity of gold required, and the paper currency would continue to be permanently depreciated. During this interval the gold mines of such country, if it possessed any, could not be worked, because of the low value of gold, which would have reduced the profits on capital employed in the mines below the level of the profits of other mercantile concerns. As soon as this equality of profit were established, the supply of gold would be as regular as before. These would be the consequences of a great issue of paper in a country having no intercourse with any other.
But if the country supposed, as is the case with England, had intercourse with all other countries, any excess of her currency would be counteracted by an exportation of specie, and if that excess did not exceed the amount of coin in circulation which could be easily collected by those who evade the law, no depreciation of the currency would take place.
Suppose England to have 1000 ounces of gold in the state of bullion, and 1000 ounces in the state of coin, whilst her exchange with foreign countries was at par; that is to say, whilst the value of gold abroad was precisely the same as here, and therefore could be neither advantageously exported nor imported.
Suppose, too, that the Bank were at such time to issue notes to an amount which should represent 1000 ounces more of gold, and that they were not exchangeable for specie. If her bullion retained the same value after as before the issue of paper (which is the point contended for), how could a single guinea be exported? Who would be at the trouble and risk of sending guineas to the continent to be sold there for their value as bullion, while the value of bullion continued here as high as before, and consequently as high as the price abroad? Would not the coin be melted and sold as bullion at home, till the value of bullion had so much diminished in its relative value to the bullion of other countries, and therefore to the relative value of commodities here, as to pay the expences of transportation; or, in other words, till the exchange had fallen to the price at which it would repay such expences? At that price the whole 1000 ounces would go at once, or if any part were retained in circulation, it would not be of less value than an equal weight of gold bullion. I am all along considering the law as having no effect in preventing exportation, and if it be contended that the law could be strictly executed, that argument would be equally applicable if the addition to the currency had been made in gold coin, and not in paper currency.
It appears, therefore, evident, first, that by the addition of paper to a currency consisting partly of gold and partly of paper, gold bullion will not necessarily rise in the same degree as other commodities; and, secondly, that such addition will cause depression not in the nominal but in the real exchange, and therefore that gold will be exported.
But to return to Mr. Bosanquet. He observes,1 “that the three propositions,” viz. those on which I have been commenting, “appear to have been brought forward by the Committee as well as by the authors on whose theories the report is founded, to induce the admission of the depreciation of the paper currency of this country as the necessary consequence of the impossibility of accounting for the depression of the exchanges and the increased price of bullion in any other way. They may be termed negative arguments.”
Now, as far as I, who am one of the authors arraigned, am concerned, Mr. Bosanquet is incorrect: the third of these propositions was not on any occasion brought forward by me. The fact of the balance of payments being for or against this country could be of little consequence, in my estimation, to the proof of the theory which I maintain. Whether a part of our exports or a part of our imports consisted of gold cannot in the least affect this question, it is abundantly certain that our currency is neither by ourselves nor by foreigners estimated at its bullion value. And why should our currency be degraded below such value more than those of America, France, Hamburgh, Holland, &c.? The answer is, because neither of those countries have a paper currency not convertible into specie at the will of the holder.
[1 ]p. 47. The italics are Ricardo’s.
[2 ]High Price of Bullion, above,p. 61.
[3 ]Bosanquet’s misquotation, for ‘coin’.
[1 ]‘more than the expences of transporting bullion,’ was inserted in Errata.
[2 ]Observations on...the Course of Exchange, p. 52.
[3 ]The Question concerning the Depreciation of our Currency.
[1 ]p. 48.