Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter v: Mr. Bosanquet's Argument to prove that the Bank of England hasnotthe Power of forcing the Circulation of Bank Notes—considered. - The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 3 Pamphlets and Papers 1809-1811
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chapter v: Mr. Bosanquet’s Argument to prove that the Bank of England hasnotthe Power of forcing the Circulation of Bank Notes—considered. - 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 Argument to prove that the Bank of England hasnotthe Power of forcing the Circulation of Bank Notes—considered.
The fourth proposition is what now presents itself for discussion:
“That the Bank, during the restriction, possesses exclusively the power of limiting the circulation of Bank notes.”
It is difficult to determine whether Mr. Bosanquet thinks that even a forced paper circulation could have the effect of lowering the exchange; so confidently is it asserted by him that there is no connexion between the exchanges and the amount of Bank notes. If the Bank were to become truly a government Bank, in the sense in which Mr. Bosanquet somewhere uses that term; if they were to advance all the money requisite for the service of the year; if from twenty millions they were to raise the amount of their notes to fifty millions, would not such a Bank be justly said to force a circulation of paper? and would not the effect of such a forced circulation of paper be, that their notes would be depreciated, that the price of bullion would rise and the foreign exchanges fall? Would not these effects take place although Government were to guarantee the notes of the Bank, and the final payment of them should by no one be doubted? Would not the abundance of the circulation alone produce depreciation? Or is it to be maintained that no abundance of paper money, provided its final redemption be certain, can cause depreciation? A proposition so extravagant will hardly, I think, be supported, and it must therefore be admitted that depreciation may arise from the abundance of notes alone, however great might be the funds of those who were the issuers of them. As these symptoms, then, which accompany a forced paper currency are, at this moment, too glaring to be denied, as they cannot be accounted for in any other way either by theory or by an appeal to experience, are we not justified in our suspicions that the Bank of England, as at present constituted, is not so devoid of the power of forcing a circulation as their friends would have us believe? It is not intended by the words forced circulation to accuse the Bank of having departed from those cautions which have usually accompanied the issue of their paper; it is meant only that the restriction bill enables them to keep in circulation an amount of notes (allowance made for the coin that would then be in circulation) greater than they could maintain but for that measure. It is this surplus sum which I consider as producing precisely the same effects as if it were forced on the public by a Government Bank. The plea that no more is issued than the wants of commerce require is of no weight; because the sum required for such purpose cannot be defined. Commerce is insatiable in its demands, and the same portion of it may employ 10 millions or 100 millions of circulating medium; the quantity depends wholly on its value. If the mines had been ten times more productive, ten times more money would the same commerce employ. This Mr. Bosanquet admits, but denies the analogy between the issues of the Bank and the produce of a new gold mine.
On this subject Mr. Bosanquet makes the following observations.1
“Mr. Ricardo2 has assimilated the Bank of England during the restriction, so far as relates to the effects of its issues, to a gold mine, the produce of which being thrown into circulation, in addition to the circulating medium already sufficient, is an excess; and has the acknowledged effect of depreciating the value of the existing medium, or, in other words, of raising the prices of commodities for which it is usually exchanged. But Mr. Ricardo has not stated what is essential to the comparison, why it is that the discovery of a gold mine would produce this effect. It would produce it, because the proprietors would issue it, for whatever services, without any engagement, to give an equal value for it again to the holders, or any wish, or any means, of calling back and annihilating that which they have issued. By degrees, as the issues increase they exceed the wants of circulation; gold produces no benefit to the holder as gold; he cannot eat it, nor clothe himself with it; to render it useful, he must exchange it either for such things as are immediately useful, or for such as produce revenue. The demand and consequently the prices of commodities and real properties measured in gold, increases; and will continue to increase as long as the mine continues to produce. And this effect will equally follow whether, under the circumstances I have supposed, the issue be gold from a mine or paper from a government-bank. All this I distinctly admit; but in all this statement, there is not one point of analogy to the issues of the Bank of England.
“But the principle on which the Bank issues its notes is that of loan. Every note is issued at the requisition of some party, who becomes indebted to the Bank for its amount, and gives security to return this note, or another of equal value at a fixed and not remote period; paying an interest proportioned to the time allowed.”
Now supposing the gold mine to be actually the property of the Bank, even to be situated on their own premises, and that they procured the gold which it produced to be coined into guineas, and in lieu of issuing their notes when they discounted bills or lent money to Government that they issued nothing but guineas; could there be any other limit to their issues but the want of the further productiveness in their mine? In what would the circumstances differ if the mine were the property of the king, of a company of merchants, or of a single individual? In that case Mr. Bosanquet admits that the value of money would fall, and I suppose he would also admit that it would fall in exact proportion to its increase.
What would be done with the gold by the owner of the mine? It must be either employed at interest by himself, or it would finally find its way into the hands of those who would so employ it. This is its natural destination; it may pass through the hands of 100, or 1000 persons, but it could be employed in no other manner at last. Now if the mine should double the quantity of money, it would depress its value in the same proportion, and there would be double the demand for it. A merchant who before required the loan of 10,000l. would now want 20,000l.; and it could be of little importance to him whether he continued to borrow 10,000l. of the Bank, and 10,000l. of those with whom the money finally rested, or whether he borrowed the whole 20,000l. of the Bank. The analogy seems to me to be complete, and not to admit of dispute. The issues of paper not convertible are guided by the same principle, and will be attended with the same effects as if the Bank were the proprietor of the mine, and issued nothing but gold. However much gold may be increased, borrowers will increase to the same amount, in consequence of its depreciation; and the same rule is equally true with respect to paper. If money be but depreciated sufficiently, there is no amount which may not be absorbed, and it would not make the slightest difference whether the Bank with their notes actually purchased the commodities themselves, or whether they discounted the bills of those who would so employ them.
If it were granted to Mr. Bosanquet that a given sum, and no more, could be absorbed in the circulation, the effects he states would follow: but I deny that there would be a surplus seeking in vain for advantageous employment, and which, not being able to find it, would necessarily either return to the Bank in payment of a bill already discounted, or would prevent an application to them for an advance of money to that amount.
If money, however abundantly issued, could retain its value, such might be the effects; but as, when once it is brought into circulation, depreciation commences, the employment for the additional sum would retain it in the currency.
Let us recur to the effect which would result from the establishment of a Bank of undoubted credit in a country where the circulation was wholly metallic.
Such a Bank would discount bills or make advances to government as our Bank does; and if the principle now contended for by Mr. Bosanquet be correct, their notes would necessarily return on them as soon as issued; because the metallic currency being before sufficient for the commerce of the country, no additional quantity could be employed.—But this is contrary both to theory and experience. The issues of the Bank would, as they now do, not only depreciate the currency, but the value of bullion at the same time, as I have endeavoured to explain at page 211; this, again, would be the temptation to exportation, and the diminution of the currency would make it regain its value. The Bank would issue more notes, and the same effects would follow; but in no case would there be such an excess as would induce any holder of notes to return them to the Bank in payment of loans, if the law against the exportation of money could be effectually executed. Money would be demanded because it could be profitably exported, and not because it could not be absorbed in the circulation. But let us suppose a case in which money could not be profitably exported—Let us suppose all the countries of Europe to carry on their circulation by means of the precious metals, and that each were at the same moment to establish a Bank on the same principles as the Bank of England—Could they, or could they not, each add to the metallic circulation a certain portion of paper? and could or could they not permanently maintain that paper in circulation? If they could, the question is at an end, an addition might then be made to a circulation already sufficient, without occasioning the notes to return to the Bank in payment of bills due. If it is said they could not, then I appeal to experience, and ask for some explanation of the manner in which Bank notes were originally called into existence, and how they are permanently kept in circulation.
I should find it laborious to follow up in all its bearings the analogy between the first establishment of a Bank, the discovery of a mine, and the present situation of our Bank; but of this I am fully certain, that if the principle advanced by the Bank Directors be correct, not a Bank note could ever have been permanently kept in circulation, nor would the discovery of the mines of America have added one guinea to the circulation of England. The additional gold would, according to this system, have found a circulation already adequate, and in which no more could be admitted.
The refusal to discount any bills but those for bon^ fide transactions would be as little effectual in limiting the circulation; because, though the directors should have the means of distinguishing such bills, which can by no means be allowed, a greater portion of paper currency might be called into circulation, not than the wants of commerce could employ, but greater than what could remain in the channel of currency without depreciation. It is well known that the same thousand pounds may settle 20 bonâ fide transactions in one day. It may pay for a ship; the seller of a ship may pay with it his rope-maker;— he again may pay the Russian merchants for hemp, &c. &c. Now as each of these was a bonâ fide transaction, a bill might have been drawn by each, and the Bank, by their rule, might discount them all; so that 20,000l. might be called into circulation to perform those payments for which 1000l. was equal. I am aware that the opinion of Dr. Smith, as quoted by Mr. Bosanquet, appears to favour his opinion1 ; but that able writer has in various passages of his work, and within a few pages of that from whence Mr. Bosanquet has quoted, declared that, “The whole paper money of every kind which can easily circulate in any country can never exceed the value of the gold and silver of which it supplies the place, or which (the commerce being supposed the same) would circulate there if there were no paper money.”2
To this test we must not submit our currency. If at its present amount it consisted of gold and silver, no laws, however severe, could retain it in circulation; a part would be melted and exported till it was reduced to its just level. At that level it would be as impossible to force the exportation of it. In such case we should no longer hear of the balance of payments being against us, nor of the necessity of exporting gold in return for corn. That such would be the consequences cannot be doubted by those who are familiar with the writings of Dr. Smith. But if it should be otherwise, if the continent should adopt the almost impossible, absurd policy of wishing to buy more of that of which they already had too much, what evil consequences would ensue to us, even if our currency were reduced to the same level at which it stood before the discovery of America? Would not this be a national gain? inasmuch as the circulation of the same commerce being carried on with a smaller amount of gold, the balance might be profitably employed in procuring a return of more useful and more productive commodities. And if the circulation of paper were reduced in the same proportion, would not the profits now gained by the Bank be enjoyed by those who can shew a much better title to them?
It is fortunate for the public that there should exist the disinclination to discount at the Bank which Mr. Bosanquet mentions,1 —as without some such check, it is impossible to say to what amount Bank notes might by this time have been multiplied. Indeed, to all those who have given the subject any consideration it is matter of suprise that our circulation has been confined within such moderate bounds, after knowing the principles which the Bank Directors have avowed as their guide in regulating their issues.
[1 ]pp. 51–3.
[2 ]Above, p. 54.
[i], p. 287.
[i], p. 283.
[1 ]p. 57.