Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I. - A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, vol. 2 (Great Britain, Russian Empire, Savings-Banks in the U.S.)
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SECTION I. - Editor of the Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, vol. 2 (Great Britain, Russian Empire, Savings-Banks in the U.S.) 
A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations; comprising the United States; Great Britain; Germany; Austro-Hungary; France; Italy; Belgium; Spain; Switzerland; Portugal; Roumania; Russia; Holland; The Scandinavian Nations; Canada; China; Japan; compiled by thirteen authors. Edited by the Editor of the Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin. In Four Volumes. (New York: The Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, 1896). Vol. 2 A History of Banking in Great Britain, the Russian Empire, and Savings-Banks in the U.S.
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WE have now to explain the organization of the great system of credit—that is to say, the creation—the circulation, and the extinction of credits, or debts—the great marvel of modern commerce. What the steam-engine is in machinery, what the differential calculus is in mathematics, that is credit in commerce.
In the following chapters we shall explain the great juridical and scientific principles of the theory of credit, and show how they are applied to the practical business of banking.
ORIGIN OF THE SYSTEM OF CREDIT IN EUROPE.
If it were asked how that wonderful people, the Romans, commencing with a petty village, gradually extended their empire over so large a portion of the world, it would probably be said that it was due to their hardihood and their discipline. But probably a cause which has been entirely overlooked contributed in no slight degree to the result—and that is their wonderful and methodical habits of business. The Romans were, as far as we are aware, the creators of the great system of credit in all its branches. When the practice of writing became general at Rome, a very strict custom or law grew up. It was established that every dominus, or head of a house, should keep a great family ledger, as strict and exact as those of a modern banker. In this every incident of his life was recorded. In this he was obliged to enter all sums of money borrowed and lent; all trade profits and losses; all his revenues and profits, his outgoings, and expenses of every description.* These family ledgers were the only legal evidence of debt among Roman citizens receivable in courts of justice. And it was from these family ledgers that the whole of the modern system of bookkeeping and credit has been developed. It seems that every occurrence was noted down day by day in a waste-book, termed adversaria; and at the end of the month the various items were arranged under their proper heads in the ledger, which was termed tabulæ, or codex accepti et expensi, which was intended to be preserved as an heirloom in the family. Every five years, the dominus was obliged to swear to the truth of the codex before the censors; and it was regarded as invested almost with a species of sanctity.
A great difference was made between the adversaria and the codex. Cicero says:* “He acknowledges that he has not the sum entered in his ledger (codex), but he insists that it is entered in his day-book (adversaria). Are you, then, so fond of yourself, and have such an exalted opinion of yourself, as to sue for money, not on the evidence of the ledger, but of your day-book? It is arrogant to bring forward your ledger instead of witnesses; but is it not madness to bring forward your own scraps of writing and notes? If these notes have the same force and weight and authority as the ledger, what is the use of making a ledger? to make entries in it? or to keep it in regular order? or to make a permanent record of old writings? But if we have an established custom to make a ledger because we put no trust in notes, is that to be considered of weight, and approved before a judge, which we ourselves consider weak and unreliable? Why is it that we write notes without much care, and we write the ledger with great care? Because the one is to last a month and the other is to last forever. The former are soon erased, and the others are preserved with religious care; the former preserve the memory for a short time, the latter pledge the good faith and honesty of a man forever. Notes are thrown away; the ledger is kept in order. Therefore nobody produces notes in evidence in a cause, but they do produce the ledger, and read the entries.” This family ledger was kept in the arca, the chest or safe in the tablinum, or apartment opposite the door of the atrium, or central hall of the Roman house, where all the records and archives were kept.
THE SYSTEM OF CREDIT.
The great system of credit comprehends: 1. The creation of obligations; 2. The transfer of credits, or debts; and 3. The extinction of obligations; which will be fully discussed in the following sections.
The following is a short sketch of the history of the theory of credit:
Demosthenes, about 350 bc, first perceived and declared that credit is wealth and capital. But concrete practice has always preceded abstract theory. The Romans invented bookkeeping, and the business which in modern language is technically termed banking; the Roman bankers invented cheques and bills of exchange; and the Roman jurists elaborated the juridical theory of credit. Some of the elementary principles of credit are set forth in the Institutes of Gaius, which was the text-book for students from the age of the Antonines till Justinian. But the jurists Ulpian, Modestinus, Paulus, Javolenus, and Papinian, the greatest jurists the world ever saw, worked out the complete juridical theory of credit—except only on one point. And from the emphatic way in which certain elementary principles are laid down by these writers, it is quite clear that there were silly persons at Rome who chattered about credit, just as there are at the present day. The principles elaborated by these great jurists were incorporated in the Pandects of Justinian and in the Basilica, and have been the mercantile law of Europe ever since. They are contained in every Continental text-book of jurisprudence; but on this subject English text-books are lamentably defective. The doctrines of the Roman jurists were, however, inadequate for the complete theory of credit, as they chiefly regarded the subject from the creditor’s side, and only very slightly from the debtor’s side. But in every obligation there are two sides; the creditor’s, or the active, or positive, side; and the debtor’s, or the passive, or negative, side.
Accordingly, for the last 150 years—from the days of Maclaurin, at least—mathematicians have been in the habit of terming debts negative quantities. But very few have given any explanation of what they mean by terming a debt a negative quantity; and those who have done so, from a want of knowledge of the principles of mercantile law and the facts of commerce, have entirely failed in giving an explanation which can be received as suitable for economic science. If the subject had been handled by mathematicians who were well trained in mercantile law and practical business, there never would have been the slightest difficulty. But, unfortunately, it has been treated by a series of literary and mathematical writers who were entirely deficient in the necessary knowledge, and they have fallen into a mass of errors, which are fully provided for in the Digest, and in every Continental treatise on jurisprudence. It is well known that although mathematicians have been in the habit of using the algebraical signs, or their equivalents, for 1600 years, and have given the empirical rules for their combination, it is only within the present century that their scientific principles have been understood, and only within the last sixty years that they have been explained in popular treatises on algebra. We must therefore explain the modern theory of algebraical signs, and their application in mathematics and physical science, and then give an exposition of the principles of mercantile law and the facts of commerce, and then discover the interpretation of these signs which is suitable for the particular circumstances of economics.
By applying the principles of the great modern theory of algebraical signs, combined with the subtlest and most abstruse principles of mercantile law and practical business, I have demonstrated the theory of credit simultaneously from the creditor’s side and the debtor’s side. One difficulty, however, the Roman jurists were unable to solve, and it had hitherto been regarded as insoluble. In 1888 I at last succeeded in solving this difficulty; and the theory of credit is now absolutely complete. Thus, from the year 350 bc to 1888 ad, it has taken 2238 years to bring the theory of credit to perfection.
The doctrines of the Roman jurists are, of course, expressed in words. But we shall find that jurists working separately, algebraists working separately, and the practice of mercantile men acting separately and independently from their own instincts, are all in perfect harmony with each other. And when we fuse these three together—an exposition of the facts of commerce, an exposition of the juridical theory of credit, and show the application of the theory of algebraical signs to these facts of commerce and juridical principles of credit—we shall find a most beautiful exemplification of the use of these signs strictly in accordance with their use in mathematics and physical science.
ON THE CREATION OF OBLIGATIONS.
Personal credit, or mercantile character, is purchasing power, and, as first pointed out by Demosthenes, and now universally acknowledged, is wealth. But personal credit does not enter into economics until the merchant actually exercises his credit and makes a purchase with it.
When a merchant purchases goods “on credit” it is an absolute sale, just as much as if it had been effected with money. He acquires the actual property in the goods as fully and effectually as if he had paid for them in money. In exchange for the goods he gives his promise to pay their price at a future time. That is, he creates a right of action against himself. This right of action is a credit, or créance, or debt, and is the price of the goods, and is the property of the seller. Thus, at the very instant that the property in the goods is transferred to the buyer, a contract, or obligation, is created between the two parties, which consists of two parts: 1. The right to demand payment in the person of the seller, or creditor; and 2. The duty to pay in the person of the buyer, or debtor. These two quantities constitute the contract, obligation, or bond of law between the two parties. The obligation consists of two equal and opposite quantities, and may be denoted by this symbol ; where the (+ £100) denotes the creditor’s right to demand payment, and the (− £100) denotes the debtor’s duty to pay. Also, if either of these quantities be destroyed, the other is also destroyed with it. Hence, as these two equal and opposite quantities come into existence together, can only exist together, and vanish together, they are analogous to polar forces.
DIVISION OF OPINION AMONG URISTS AS TO THE POSITION OF THE DEBTOR IN AN OBLIGATION.
We have now come to the most subtle and abstruse point in all economics, which will demand the closest attention, because it is the great Serbonian bog in which multitudes of writers, literary and mathematical, have been swallowed up, from a want of knowledge of the most elementary principles of mercantile law and practical business; and its rectification and elucidation will open up a completely new branch of inquiry of the greatest novelty and interest.
When an obligation has been created between two parties by the sale of money or goods “on credit,” the case of the creditor is clear; in exchange for the money or goods he has received a right of action—which is termed a credit or a debt—which is his property, and which he can sell or dispose of in any way he pleases, for other goods, or for money. But a strong division of opinion exists among jurists as to the position of the debtor in the obligation. When a merchant has bought goods “on credit,” and has given a bill at three months for them, is he in debt at the present time? Roman jurists and English jurists hold different doctrines on this point. When an obligation was contracted the Roman jurists said dies cedit; when it became payable they said dies venit. “Cedere*diem significat incipere deberi pecuniam; venire diem significat cum diem venisse quo pecunia peti possit.”—“ ‘Cedit dies’ means the day on which money begins to be owed; ‘venit dies’ means the day on which it may be demanded.” The Roman jurists held that the money was due from the day on which the obligation was contracted, but that the remedy was suspended until the day of payment came. “Id†quod in diem stipulamur, statim quidem debetur; sed peti priusquam dies venerit non potest.”—“That which we agree to pay on a future day is indeed due at once; but it cannot be sued for until the day of payment has come.”
Paulus says:‡“Præsens obligatio est, in diem autem dilata solutio.”—“The obligation is present, but the payment is deferred until the fixed day.” Ulpian says:§ “Ubi in diem (quis stipulatus fuerit) cessit dies, sed nondum venit.”—“Whenever anyone has agreed to pay a sum on a fixed day, the obligation has begun to run, but the day of payment has not come.” So it was a maxim of Roman law, “Debitum in presenti, solvendum in futuro.”—“The money is due at present, but it is only to be paid in future.”
This doctrine throws considerable confusion into the nature of an obligation; and it was probably due to the fact that the jurists had not yet completely emancipated themselves from the idea that debitum meant the money actually due, and was only then beginning to acquire the meaning of the abstract incorporeal contract which it means now. But English jurists hold quite different doctrine. As in English law and common usage the word debt (passive) means simply the abstract personal duty to pay, English jurists hold that no debt is created until the duty to pay comes into existence—i. e., until the day of payment has come. It is a maxim of English law that credit unexpired may be pleaded under the general issue, which means that if an action is brought against a person who has contracted an obligation payable at a future time, before the day of payment has come he may reply that he is not in debt at all. Thus Pitt Taylor says:* “In addition to these examples, it may be observed that whenever the defendant can show that in fact no debt ever existed before action brought, he may do so under the plea of never indebted. Thus, for instance, if the action be for goods sold and delivered, he may defend himself under the plea by proving that they were sold on credit which was unexpired when the action was commenced.”
To understand the following discussions, the reader will find it very useful to fix these principles in his mind: 1. When a person is only bound to pay a sum of money on a future day, he is not in debt at the present time. 2. That if a person has contracted to pay a sum of money at a future day, his creditor has no right to any of his property; he has no jus in rem; it is only a claim against his person, or a jus in personam. A few examples will illustrate these principles.
(a) Suppose that a tenant takes a house or an apartment, and agrees to pay the rent quarterly. Suppose that the day after he had entered into possession the landlord came and demanded his rent. What would the tenant say? He would say: “My good friend, Mr. Landlord, I owe you nothing. The bargain is that I am to have the use and enjoyment of this house for three months before the rent becomes due and payable. My debt, or duty to pay, does not come into existence till then. Good morning to you.”
(b) So when a farmer takes a farm on a lease of nineteen years, and agrees to pay the rent half-yearly, the agreement is that he is to have the use and enjoyment of the farm for intervals of six months before each installment of rent becomes due. The successive rents are intended and expected to be paid out of the successive profits made out of the farm. And it is obviously absurd to say that the farmer is indebted at the present time for rent which only becomes due nineteen years hence, and is intended and expected to be paid out of profits which will only come into existence nineteen years hence.
(c) The same is obviously true in the case of a merchant who has bought goods, and given in exchange for them his promise to pay money for them three months hence. He is not in debt at the present time. The agreement is that he is to have the property in the goods for three months, and to dispose of them in any way he pleases so as to make a profit out of them; and it is expected on both sides that he is to pay his bill out of the profits realized by the goods. No debt, or duty to pay, comes into existence until the bill becomes due and payable; and the amount of the bill is not to be subtracted from his present property.
(d) It is commonly said that this country is “in debt” about £750,000,000. The answer is that this country is not “in debt” one penny. For a person to be “in debt” means that he is liable to pay a sum of money on demand. Does anyone suppose that the creditors of the country can call upon her to pay £750,000,000 on demand? What the country has undertaken to do is to pay an annuity of about £7,000,000 quarterly. And as soon as one quarter’s annuity is paid she is not in debt until next quarter-day comes round. It would be just as absurd to say that the farmer is in debt at the present time for nineteen years’ rent. The sum of £750,000,000 is merely the sum of the present values of the annuity.
(e) This principle strongly applies to a case of conscience. Suppose that a kind-hearted instructor engages to prepare a student for one of the public services—say the Indian Civil Service—and on his success agrees to taken an obligation payable five years after date. On entering the service the candidate is asked if he is in debt. He most properly and conscientiously replies that he is “not in debt,” because he has no sum of money which is payable by him on demand. He is only bound to pay at the end of five years; and it is quite understood on both sides that his obligation to his instructor is to be redeemed out of his annual salary. This case is an example of novation, which will be more fully described in another section. When the candidate has won his appointment in the Indian Civil Service, he is no doubt in debt to his instructors. But if the instructor agrees to take an obligation payable five years after date, that obligation pays, extinguishes, and discharges the debt payable as demand; and no new debt arises until the obligation becomes due. The release of the debt payable on demand is the consideration for the obligation payable five years after date.
The importance of the consideration consists in this: It is commonly supposed that when a person has to make a payment at a future time, the sum due is to be subtracted from his present property, and is a diminution of it. It is usual to denote debts by the negative sign − ; and according to this view, if a person possessed £100, and was bound to pay £30 three months hence, and therefore his property would be represented by £100 − £30, it would mean that his property was only £70. On a larger scale it would mean that all the obligations in the nation were to be subtracted from all the property in the nation. But this view is entirely erroneous. In this case the sign − does not mean subtraction. What it does really mean will be shown further on. The debtor has the full property in his £100, to do with exactly as he pleases. His duty to pay has no present existence; it is no subtraction from his present property. The expression is not to be read as if his property were only £70. The debt is a mere abstract personal duty; and a personal duty cannot be subtracted from a material sum of hard money. The expression is to be read in this way: He possessed £100 in money, but coupled with the duty to pay £30 at some future given time. Hence, the sign − does not mean subtraction in this case; it is a mere memorandum that he has to make an exchange, by buying up a right of action, at some future time.
ADVANTAGE OF ADOPTING THE CONCEPTION OF ECONOMICS AS THE SCIENCE OF COMMERCE, OR EXCHANGES.
We now see the advantage of adopting and firmly grasping the conception of economics as the science of commerce, or exchanges; because all the mechanism and phenomena of the great system of credit, which are a hopeless puzzle and an inscrutable perplexity so long as economics is treated as the “production, distribution, and consumption of wealth,” become perfectly clear and simple when it is understood to be the science of commerce, or exchanges. Every case of a “loan” of money or a sale of goods “on credit” is an exchange, or an act of commerce. In exchange for the money or the goods a right of action is created, and is the price of the goods. This right of action is a salable commodity, which may be bought and sold like any material chattel, and it has value because it will be paid in money. This right of action may circulate in commerce exactly like a piece of money, and effect exchanges exactly like a piece of money, until it is paid off and extinguished; and then it ceases to exist. The debt was created by one exchange; it then may effect any number of exchanges; and when it is due, the holder of it brings it to the debtor, who gives the money in exchange for the right of action. Thus the debt is created by one exchange, and is annihilated, or extinguished, by another exchange; and thus the whole system and operations on credit are merely a series of exchanges.
ON THE THREE AMBIGUITIES IN THE THEORY OF CREDIT, OR DEBT.
We have now to notice three perplexities, or ambiguities, in the theory of credit, or debt, which have been the cause of an immense amount of confusion and misconception, which the reader must carefully observe.
A debt is not the money owed by the debtor, but the abstract personal duty to pay the money.
We have now to explain the meaning of the word debt, about which there is a great misconception. It is one of the examples of words which, in early jurisprudence and classical Latin, meant a material thing, but has come in the progress of civilization and jurisprudence to mean solely a right and a duty. We think it absolutely certain that in classical Latin the word debitum means the material thing, whether money or any other, which is due. And in this we are confirmed by the high authority of Professor H. Nettleship, of Oxford. The idea that the word debt means the money due is very common at the present day, and has greatly impeded the due apprehension of the nature of credit. Many literary and mathematical writers suppose that a debt is the money due; or money in the debtor’s possession to which the creditor has a right. This very common error, of which we shall hereafter produce several examples. is expressly provided for in the Digest. It is said:* “Obligationum substantia non in eo consistit ut aliquod corpus nostrum faciat, sed ut alium nobis ad stringit ad dandum aliquod, vel faciendum, vel prestandum.”—“The essence of obligations does not consist in this that it makes any specific goods our property; but that it binds some person to pay us something, or to do something, or to guarantee something.” Pothier well says:† “The right which the obligation gives the creditor of proceeding to obtain payment of the thing which the debtor is obliged to give him, is not a right in the thing itself (jus in re); it is only a right against the person of the debtor for the purpose of compelling him to give it (jus ad rem acquirendam). The thing which the debtor is obliged to give continues to belong to him; and the creditor cannot become proprietor of it except by the delivery, real or fictitious, which is made to him by the debtor in the performance of the obligation. And till this delivery is made the creditor has nothing more than the right of demanding the thing; and he has only that right against the person of the debtor who has contracted the obligation. Hence it follows that if my debtor, who has contracted the obligation to give a thing to me, transfers it upon a particular title to a third person, whether by sale or donation, I cannot demand it from the party who has so acquired it, but only from my debtor. The reason is, as the obligation does not, according to our principle, give the creditor any right in the thing which is due to me, which I can pursue against the person in whose hands it may be found.”
This doctrine is most true and most important. Suppose a creditor comes to his debtor and demands payment of his debt, and the debtor has the very money wherewith to pay his debt in his hand, he may still, nevertheless, give it away, or spend it under the very eyes of his creditor, and the creditor has no legal right to prevent him. So Gide says:‡ “A debt is not the material object, the money; but the juridical object, the duty to pay.” So Williams says:§ “Every person who borrows money on mortgage or not, incurs a debt or personal obligation to repay it out of whatever means he possesses.”
The distinction is perfectly plain, and of the greatest importance in economics. If the creditor has the right to any specific money in the debtor’s possession, that would be a diminution of the debtor’s property; he would have no right to spend or part with it; and there would be only one economic quantity in existence—the money. But as a matter of fact, the whole of the money remains the debtor’s property, which he can sell, donate, or exchange as he pleases. And also there is the right, or property, in the person of the creditor, which he can sell, or exchange, as he pleases; and which may be sold, or exchanged, any number of times till it is paid off and extinguished. Hence, in this case there are two economic quantities in existence, which may each circulate in commerce at the same time. To consider a debt as a sum of money in the debtor’s possession to which the creditor has a right, is to confound the distinction between a trustee and a debtor. A trustee merely holds money which is in reality the property of the cestui que trust; it is in no sense whatever his property; he has no right to use it for his own purposes; and, therefore, there is only one, and not two, economic quantities in existence. If the creditor’s right were the right to a specific sum of money in the debtor’s possession, it would follow that a debtor could never be insolvent; because if he had no money, his creditor could have no right. But unfortunately this is far from being the case. In too many cases persons are insolvent—i. e., they are under the duty to pay money, and have no money to pay it with; but the creditor’s right to demand exists whether the debtor has any money to pay it with or not. If the creditor’s right were the right to a specific sum of money, it would follow that the quantity of credit could never exceed the quantity of money; but this is entirely contrary to fact; every jurist knows perfectly well that credit is itself a marketable commodity, a merchandise, and the amount of it in existence and circulation in this country is about 100 times the quantity of money. Hence, the reader must carefully observe that a debt is simply the abstract personal duty to pay money, and has no reference to any specific sum of money.
The word debt means both the creditor’s right of action and the debtor’s duty to pay.
The second ambiguity is this: It has been shown that the word debt means in the first instance the debtor’s personal duty to pay money, and not the money which is due. But it has long been used both in law and common usage to mean the creditor’s right of action as well, and is thus used as synonymous with credit. And a creditor’s right of action is termed perfectly indiscriminately a credit and a debt. As has been said above, the word debitum in classical Latin denotes the material thing, whether money or any other, which is owed. But in the Pandects the word debitum is used as synonymous with obligatio, the bond of law, or contract, between the creditor and the debtor; and therefore it includes both the creditor’s right to demand and the debtor’s duty to pay, In classical Latin, a creditor’s right of action was termed nomen. But in course of time, while obligatio always continued to mean the nexus, or contract, between the two parties, the word debitum split up into two parts, and was used to mean both the creditor’s right of action and the debtor’s duty to pay, quite indiscriminately. In the twelfth century, the word debitum was commonly used to mean a right of action. In 1194, Richard I. issued instructions for a judicial visitation on financial matters in which it was ordered: “Omnia debita Judæorum inbrevientur, terræ, domus, reditus, et possessiones.”—“Let all the debts (i. e., rights of action) of the Jews be scheduled, their lands, houses, rents, and possessions.” “Item quilibet Judæus jurabit super rotulum quod omnia debita sua et vadia, et reditus, et omnes res et possessiones suas inbreviari faciat.”—“Also let every Jew swear that he will make a true return of all his debts (rights of action), pledges, rents, and all his property and possessions.”
In mediæval charters, the word debitale was used in the same sense. Thus in one of 1324 it says: “In omnibus et singulis bonis * * * dominiis, baroniis, censibus, redditualibus, debitalibus, servitutibus, homatgiis.”—“In all and singular goods * * * lordships, baronies, revenues, rents, debts (rights of action), servitudes, homages.” In another, of 1374, it is said: “Acquisiverunt reditus, census annuos, et debitalia in fœdis * * * quorum redditorum, censuum, et debitalium.”—“They have acquired rents, annual revenues, and debts (rights of action) in fee * * * of which rents, revenues, and debts (rights of action).” A statute of the city of Placentia, in 1386, clearly shows that debitum and nomen were synonymous:*“Nullus homo Plac. emat vel aliqualiter acquirat aliquod debitum vel nomen seu revisamentum contra comm. Placentiæ.”
Thus, the words debitum and debitale were already at this period used to mean rights of action, and as synonymous with nomen, in public instruments; and if they were so used in public instruments, it is clear that that must long have been their well understood meaning in common usage. In English law the word debt has long been used to mean a right of action. Thus in the statute of Acton Burnell, 11 Edward I. (1283), commonly called the Statute of Merchants, it is said: “Pur ceo qe merchauntz qi avaunt ces houres unt preste lur aver a diverse genz, sunt cheuz en poverte, pur ceo qe il ni aveit pas si redde ley purvewe, par la quele il poeint lur dettes hastivement recoverir. Le rei par luy par sun conseil ad ordine e establi, qe marchaunt qi veut estre seur de sa dette. E si le meire ne troesse achatur face par renable pris liverer les moebles al creanzur, desque a la summe de la dette en allowance de sa dette.” By which it appears that at that time the word debt had already acquired in English law the meaning of a right of action; a meaning which it has ever since retained, both in law and common usage. So it is said in “Les Termes de la Ley,” first published in 1567: “Dett est un brief que gist lou ascun summe d’argent est due au un par reason d’accompt.”—“Debt is a writ,” etc. So in the Act, 46 Geo. III. (1806), c. 125, s. 3, it is enacted that one debt, or demand, may be set off against another. So, as may be seen in any daily paper, the executors of deceased persons advertise for any persons who have “debts, claims, or demands” against the estate to give in a statement of them.
It is so perfectly well known that in English law the word debt means both the creditor’s right of action and the debtor’s duty to pay, that it is used in both senses in the same Act of Parliament. So in the law of Scotland, debts are included under the title of movable rights. And in a Scotch marriage contract it is usual for the bride to transfer to her intended husband “all goods, gear, debts, sums of money, and other movable estate.” Accordingly, in the digest of the law of bills of exchange which we prepared for the law digest commissioners we began with this fundamental definition: “Credit or debt in legal and commercial [and economical] language, means a right of action against a person for a sum of money.”
We need not further multiply examples. The reader must carefully observe that the word debt is used both in English law and common usage, quite indiscriminately, to mean both the creditor’s right of action and the debtor’s duty to pay; and it requires constant vigilance to perceive in which sense it is used. The word duty also originally meant a right; thus the King’s duties meant his right to levy customs. The word “right” had also this double meaning in English. Thus Lord Shelburne said in the House of Lords: “He would think that America had as good a right to pay taxes as Britain”—i. e., it was as much their duty to do so. The word right is but seldom, if at all, now used in this sense in England at the present day; but it is quite common in Scotland to say, “I have no right to do that”—i. e., it is not my duty to do it. The word χρέος in Greek has also this double meaning; it originally meant the actual thing owed, like debitum in Latin, or the duty to pay it; but the Greek jurists used χρεος to mean the right of action. Thus Demosthenes says: “τὴν οὐϭίαν ἅπαϭαν χρέα κατέλίπε.”—“He left all his property in outstanding debts, i. e., rights of action.” In the Basilica, χρέος is used as synonymous with nomen, créance, a right of action.
So in German the word schuld properly means a debt or liability; accordingly, schuldner properly means a debtor; but Austin says that schuld has also the double meaning, and that in German law schuldner is often used to mean the creditor.
In French, the words droit and dette are also used in the double sense of the right and the duty; but in the creditor’s case it is termed the droit or dette active; in the debtor’s it is termed the droit or dette passive.
Thus the student must carefully observe that all these words which denote a contract, or obligation, between two persons—such as χρέος, debitum, debitale, right, debt, duty, droit, dette, schuld—are used quite indiscriminately with respect to both parties; and it requires constant vigilance to determine in which sense they are used. The explanation of this seeming confusion is this: χρέος comes from χρῆ, it is fit, or ordained; debitum means that which is due; right, from rectum, that which is ordered; and if one person has the right to demand, and another has the duty to pay, a sum of money, it is equally fit, due, ordained, and right that the one person should receive as that the other should pay; hence they are equally χρέα, debts, duties, and rights. On the Continent it is usual to term a person’s rights, simply his actif; and his liabilities his passif; the word droit or dette being understood; thus in the accounts of a bank its liabilities are termed its passif, and its assets its actif.
On the double meaning of the words “lend,” “loan,” “borrow”; or the distinction between the mutuum, δάνειον or δάνειϭμα, and the commodatum, or τὸ χρηϭάμενον.
The third ambiguity has been the cause of immense misconception in modern times on the subject of credit. When persons hear for the first time such an expression as “credit is capital,” they are apt to be startled; and they think that such a doctrine is as much as to say that if one person lends another his book, or his watch, or his horse, that makes two books, or two watches, or two horses. The whole difficulty arises from a want of knowledge of mercantile law, and from not being aware that unfortunately the English words “lend,” “loan,” and “borrow” are ambiguous, and are used to denote two different operations of an essentially distinct nature.
It has already been shown that there are two kinds of right—the right of property and the mere right of possession, or of use. And there are two distinct kinds of “loan”; the one in which the right of possession only for a limited time is given to the “borrower,” but the right of property remains in the “lender,” and there is no new creation of property, and the identical thing “lent” is returned to the “lender.” The other, in which the “borrower” acquires the actual right of property in the thing “lent,” and the “lender” acquires in exchange for it the right, or property, to demand an equivalent only for the thing “lent,” both in quantity and quality, but not the identical thing “lent.” In this class of “loan” there is always a new creation of property.
1. The commodatum, or τὸ χρησάμενον.
There are some things which can be lent, and the borrower can enjoy their use without acquiring the actual property in them; and after having enjoyed their use, he can restore the identical things “lent” to their owner. Thus, if a person “lends” his horse or a book to his friend, his friend can ride the horse or read the book without acquiring the property in them; and after he has enjoyed their use, he can restore the identical horse or book to its owner. In such a case, the “lender” only grants a certain limited right of “possession” and “use” of the thing lent to the “borrower”; but he does not cede the right of property in it to the “borrower.” He retains in himself the right of property and possession in the thing “lent”; and can reclaim it at any moment he pleases, without any notice to the “borrower.” In such cases, there is no sale, or exchange; and there is no new property created. In such cases, the relation of creditor and debtor does not arise between the parties. And there being no sale, or exchange, there is no economic phenomenon; consequently, such transactions not being acts of commerce, do not enter into the science of economics. Such a “loan” is termed in Roman law a commodatum, and in Greek law τὸ χρησάμενον; because the “use” only of the thing “lent” is granted to the “borrower,” but not the “property” in it.
2. The mutuum, or τὸ δάνειον, or δάνεισμα.
But there is another kind of “loan” in which the things “lent” cannot be enjoyed unless they are consumed, destroyed, or alienated. Thus, if a person “borrows” such things as bread, wine, coals, oil, meat, or other things of a similar nature, he cannot enjoy their use without consuming or destroying them; and they are lent and borrowed with the knowledge and consent of both parties, for the purpose of being consumed and destroyed. Hence, from the very nature of the case, the “borrower” must acquire the right of property in such things when lent; and what he undertakes to do is to return, not the identical things lent, but an equivalent amount of other things of the same nature, equal in quality and quantity to the things “lent.” So when a person “borrows” money, he cannot enjoy its use, unless he is able to exchange it away for other things. Hence, the person who borrows money must, from the very necessity of the case, acquire the property in it. And what he undertakes to do is, not to restore the identical money lent, but an equivalent amount of money, at the stipulated time.
In all cases, therefore, of the “loan” of such things as bread, wine, oil, meat, coals, money, and things of a similar nature, the lender cedes the property in the thing “lent” to the “borrower,” and he acquires in exchange the right to demand, and the “borrower” incurs the personal duty to render, an equivalent amount of things “lent,” but not the identical things. In all such cases a new property is created; a contract, or an obligation, is created between the lender and the borrower; and they stand in the relation of creditor and debtor. All such transactions are sales or exchanges; they are all acts of commerce, or economic phenomena, and they all enter into the science of economics. A “loan” of this nature is termed in Roman law a mutuum, and in Greek law a δάνειον, or δάνεισμα. To contract a loan of this nature is mutuare, or δανείζειν. A loan, therefore, comprehends two transactions of an essentially distinct nature; but the essential feature of a loan is, that it is always the same person who restores the identical thing “lent” or repays an equivalent.
The Roman jurists said that mutuum is derived from quod de meo tuum fit—because from being my property it becomes yours. Modern scholars, however, repudiate this etymology, however plausible it may seem. The Romans and the Greeks knew very little of their own language. Modern scholars say that mutuum is connected with mutare, to exchange; as deciduus is with decido, and dividuus with divido. But though the etymology may be fanciful, as are so many others given by Roman and Greek writers, it exactly expresses the fact. In the loan of the mutuum there is always an exchange of properties. In all cases of the mutuum, or the δάνειον, the property in the thing lent is ceded to the borrower; the relation of creditor and debtor is created between them, and the right which the creditor acquires to demand back an equivalent in exchange for the thing lent is the credit, or debt; or, as Ortolan says, the price of the thing lent. The reader must, therefore, observe that every loan of money whatever, no matter between what parties, public or private, is a mutuum, and is a sale, or an exchange, an act of commerce, and, therefore, an economic phenomenon.
THEOPHILUS ON THE MUTUUM, δάνειον OR δάνειϭμα, AND THE COMMODATUM, OR τό χρηϭάμενον.
This distinction is so important that we may cite a passage from the paraphrase of the Institutes of Justinian, by Theophilus, one of the professors of law who were charged with the compilation of the Institutes, because it is more full and distinct than the corresponding passage in the Institutes:
“A real obligation is contracted by an act, or by the manual delivery of something counted out, and this includes the mutuum, or the δάνειον. A thing is a mutuum where the property in it passes to the person who receives it; but he is bound to restore to us, not the identical thing delivered, but another of the same quality and quantity. I said so that the receiver becomes proprietor of it, that I might exclude the commodatum and the depositum; for in these latter the receiver acquires no property. But he must be bound to us to exclude the donation; for he who receives one acquires the property, but is not bound to us. I said he must restore not the identical things lent, but others of a similar quality and quantity, that I might not deprive him of the use of the mutuum. For a person takes a mutuum that he may use the things for his own purposes, and return others instead of them. For if he were obliged to give back the same things, it would be useless to borrow them. But all things are not taken as mutua, but only those which consist in weight, number, and measure. In weight, as gold, silver, lead, iron, wax, pitch, tin; in measure, such as oil, wine, and corn; in number, such as money, and in short, whatever we deliver with this intent, in number, weight, and measure, so as to bind the receiver to return to us, not the same things, but others of the same nature and quantity. Whence also it is called mutuum, because it is transferred by me to you with the intent that it should become your property (quod de meo tuum fit). But the real obligation includes commodatum, as if anyone were to ask me to lend him a book, and I lent it. * * * But the commodatum differs widely from the mutuum. For the mutuum transfers the property, but the commodatum does not transfer it; and, therefore, the borrower (commodatarius) is bound to restore the very thing lent.”
So it is said in Roman law:* “But it is called giving a mutuum, because from being my property it becomes yours (quod de meo tuum fit); and, therefore, if it does not become your property no obligation is created.” But on the contrary with respect to the commodatum:† “We retain the property and the possession of the thing lent (rei commodatæ). * * * No one by lending a thing (commodando) gives the property in it to him who borrows it.”
Thus the whole misconception which is so common among English writers has arisen from the English words “lend,” “loan,” and “borrow” being used to denote two operations of essentially distinct natures. The French language is equally faulty; the words louer, emprunter, and emprunt are equally applied to both kinds of loan. But the distinction is clearly pointed out both in Roman and Greek law; and the Latin and Greek languages have distinct words for each operation. In the Code Napoléon the commodatum is termed prêt à usage,* and the mutuum prêt de consommation.† All commercial loans are mutua, and not commodata; every loan of money is in reality a sale or an exchange, in which a new property is created, which is called a credit, or a debt. And when the loan is repaid it is another exchange, by which the new property is extinguished.
No one who had the simplest knowledge of the elementary principles of Roman and Greek law, or of mercantile law, would ever have committed the mistake of confounding the distinction between the loan of money and the loan of an ordinary chattel, such as a horse, or a book, or a watch. Hence, those things only can be the subject of a mutuum which consist in pondere, numero, et mensurâ; or which can be estimated generically in weight, number, and measure. Such things are termed in Roman law quantitates, because equal quantities of bread, wine, oil, coals, etc., are as good as another equal quantity of the same things of the same quality, or one sum of 100 sovereigns is equal to another sum of 100 sovereigns, or one postage stamp is always equal to another of the same denomination. But, also, the Digest says mutuâ vice funguntur—one quantity serves the same purpose as another quantity. From this expression mediæval jurists termed them res fungibiles, and in modern English law they are termed fungibles. In English law the former kind of loan, or the commodatum, is said to be returnable in specie, because the identical things lent are returned; the latter kind of loan, or the mutuum, is said to be returnable in genere, because only things of the same nature are returned.
It is much to be regretted that the English language has not two separate words to denote these two kinds of loan, like the Latin and the Greek, because the double meaning of lend, loan, and borrow has been the cause of great misconception among uninformed writers as to the nature of credit and banking.
ON THE ERRORS MADE BY SOME MATHEMATICIANS IN TERMING DEBTS NEGATIVE QUANTITIES.
The juridical theory of credit worked out by the Roman jurists is sufficient for all practical purposes. They explained how credits, rights of action, or debts, are created, how they may be transferred, and how they are extinguished. But this is not sufficient for the full scientific theory of the subject; because they treated these credits almost entirely from the creditor’s side. But in every obligation there are two parties—the creditor and the debtor. Now, when two persons are bound together by an obligation, such as that of debt, it is usual to term the creditor the active, or positive, agent, and the debtor the passive, or negative, agent. Hence, to complete the full scientific theory of credit it is necessary to develop it from the debtor’s, or negative, side, as well as from the creditor’s, or positive, side. Accordingly, for the last 150 years—from the days of Maclaurin, at least—mathematicians have been in the habit of giving debts as an example of negative quantities. But they have entirely failed in giving an explanation of the term negative as applied to debts, which can be received as suitable for economic science. The explanation usually given is this: A man’s property may be considered as positive, and his debts as negative. Subtract his debts from his property, and the remainder, if any, is his substance, or capital. And as the national capital is the aggregate capital of all the individuals in it, according to this doctrine, in order to find the quantity of capital in the country all the floating debts in it would have to be subtracted from all the money in it; and the remainder would be the national capital (in money). Now, as we shall show hereafter, it may be conjectured that the floating debts in the country are not less than £6,000,000,000, and no one estimates the specie in the country at more than £120,000,000, it would be rather a difficult matter to perceive how £6,000,000,000 of floating debts are to be subtracted from £120,000,000 of hard money. So Peacock and Tait, two very distinguished mathematicians, say: “If property possessed or due could be denoted by a number or symbol with a positive sign, a debt would be indicated by a number or symbol with a negative sign, or conversely. Such affections of property are correctly symbolized by the signs + and −, since they possess the inverse relations to each other which these signs require; for if to a person there be given a certain property or sum of money with, or added to, a debt of equal amount, his wealth, or property, remains the same as before.”
Now, in a certain sense these modes of statement have some semblance of truth; if a person were going to retire from business he would call in and discharge his debts, or liabilities, and the remainder, if any, would be his substance. But, then, this result could not be attained without an exchange, because his outstanding debts could not be extinguished without being brought to him to be exchanged for money. But such a mode of statement is quite unsuitable for economics. Economics is purely the science of exchanges, and has only to do with quantities while they exist; and all exchangeable quantities are economic quantities while they exist and are the subject of commerce. Debts, or credits, are a species of property of the most gigantic magnitude, and are the subject of the most colossal commerce of modern times. They exceed in magnitude every other species of property, except the land itself. And what are they to be subtracted from? The mode of statement by Peacock and Tait is entirely inapplicable to the business of banking.
The fact is, that mathematicians have completely mistaken the application of the signs + and − in economics, from a want of knowledge of mercantile law and practical business. Mathematicians are accustomed to treat of quantities and operations, and as these may each be of opposite or inverse natures, they apply the signs + and − to them. The error which mathematicians fall into in applying the signs + and − in economics is that they apply them to property, whereas they affect persons. Persons may stand in inverse, or opposite, relations to each other as well as quantities and operations; and persons who stand in these inverse, or opposite, relations may be indicated by the signs + and −, as well as quantities and operations. Every student of mercantile law will at once perceive Peacock’s error in the above extract, which is shared by other mathematicians, because credits, or debts, are not jura in re; they are jura in personam; and the passive, or negative, debt is not money owed by the debtor, but the abstract personal duty to pay money.
ERROR OF EULER IN TERMING DEBTS NEGATIVE QUANTITIES.
Euler says:* “The manner in which we calculate a person’s property is an apt illustration of what has just been said. We denote what a man really possesses by positive numbers, using or understanding the sign +; whereas his debts are represented by negative numbers, or by using the sign −. Thus it is said of anyone that he has 100 crowns, but owes fifty; this means that his real possessions amount to 100 − 50; that is to say, fifty crowns. As negative numbers may be considered as debts, because positive numbers represent real possessions, we may say that negative numbers are less than nothing. Thus, when a man has nothing in the world, and owes fifty crowns, it is certain that he has fifty crowns less than nothing; for if anyone were to make him a present of fifty crowns to pay his debts, he would still be at the point 0, though really richer than before.”
It will be seen that the statement in the first part commits exactly the error we have just pointed out. Suppose that the person has 100 crowns, and is bound to pay fifty crowns at the end of the year; then his property would, according to Euler, be stated as 100 crowns − 50 crowns. But it would be quite inaccurate to say that his property was only fifty crowns; because he has the 100 crowns, which are his absolute property, to dispose of, or trade with, exactly as he pleases in the meantime; and he is bound to have only fifty crowns at the end of the year to discharge his debt. Moreover, as we have shown, the debt is the abstract personal duty to pay, and it does not come into existence until the time for payment has come. Consequently, the person is not in debt at all until the end of the year; and, therefore, the debt, which does not exist, cannot be subtracted from his property. But the owner of the debt may put it into circulation, and it may be sold, transferred, or exchanged, and produce all the effects of money, any number of times, until it is paid off and extinguished. So that there may be the 100 crowns, and the right to demand the fifty crowns, circulating simultaneously in commerce. Moreover, as the 100 crowns are solid money, and the debt of fifty crowns is only the personal duty to pay money, it is quite evident that an abstract personal duty cannot be subtracted from a solid sum of hard cash.
Furthermore, by the law of continuity, if we diminish the period of payment gradually and continuously to 0, and the debt becomes payable on demand, that in no way alters the general principles of the subject. A duty to pay, though due on demand, cannot be subtracted from a material sum of money. The debtor’s money remains absolutely intact until he voluntarily buys up the right of action against himself of his own free will, giving fifty crowns in exchange for it. The expression is to be read in this way: He possesses 100 crowns, but coupled with the duty to pay fifty crowns at some given time.
In the other case, when the debtor possesses 0 crowns and owes fifty crowns, he is said to have fifty crowns less than nothing. This clearly means that he is under the duty to pay fifty crowns, and has 0 crowns to pay them with. Now, suppose that being in such a position, as Euler says, someone makes him a present of fifty crowns to pay his debt with. He pays the debt; he is fifty crowns richer than he was before, but his property is now 0. This is an example that + × + = +. Thus Euler is right as far as he goes, but he has stated only one half of the case; because there is another combination of algebraical signs which gives + —namely, − × −; and there is another method in commerce of arriving at the same practical result. As any person whatever may give the debtor fifty crowns to pay his debt with, let us suppose that the creditor does so. Then, having received the fifty crowns in a present from his creditor, the debtor hands them back to his creditor in payment of the debt, which is then extinguished. The debtor is now, as in the former case, richer by fifty crowns than he was before, and his property is now 0. The same result may be attained in another way. Suppose that the creditor simply releases his debtor from his debt; then, as in the former case, he would be fifty crowns richer than he was before; and his property would now be 0. Now, if crowns be +, and to give is also +, then a debt is −, and to cancel, or take away, is also −. Consequently, to give money is + × +; and to release, or cancel, a debt is − × −; and the position of the debtor will be exactly the same after each operation. This shows that the release of a debt is, in all circumstances, equivalent to a payment in money. Thus it is seen that in commerce, as in all algebra, + × + = − + −; an example of the permanence of equivalent forms, and a principle of the most momentous importance in modern commerce.
ERROR OF THORNTON AND CERNUSCHI ON CREDIT.
We have shown the error of distinguished algebraists in their interpretation of the negative sign as applied to debts; we have now to point out the error of a plausible view held by two distinguished bankers.
It has been asserted that credit adds nothing to the resources of the world, because it is neutralized by something else. Any person practically conversant with commerce, and seeing that the enormously greater portion of commercial operations are carried on by credit, would think it a strange doctrine that credit adds nothing to the resources of a nation, or of an individual. It is now universally agreed that the only true definition of wealth is “anything which has purchasing power.” The wealth of an individual or a nation is their “purchasing power.” And their purchasing power is their money, together with their credit; credit is, therefore, purchasing power over and above, and additional to, money, and hence it must be a resource cumulative to money. Some writers, however, have maintained the contrary doctrine in a very plausible way; which we have now to examine.
Henry Thornton, an able man, a distinguished banker, and one of the authors of the Bullion Report, says:* “Paper constitutes, it is true, an article on the credit side of the books of some men, but it forms an exactly equal item on the debit side of the books of others. It constitutes on the whole neither a debit nor a credit. * * * The use of paper does not, therefore, introduce any principle of delusion into that estimate of property which is made by individuals.” So another eminent banker, M. Cernuschi, says:† “The balance-sheet of every individual contains three accounts—existing goods, credits, and debts. But if we collected into one all the balance-sheets of everyone in the world, the debts and credits mutually neutralize each other; and there remains but a single account, existing goods. The totality of goods, therefore, forms the general inventory. There is the first matter of exchange. The debts and credits are subsidiary matters. Debts and credits are reciprocally transmitted as goods are transmitted; but however great or however small they may be, and through whatever hands they may pass—credits for some, debts for others—they add nothing to, and take nothing away from, the general inventory.”
The argument of Thornton and Cernuschi is simply this: Suppose A to have £100 in money, and also a three months bill of £50 on B. Suppose B to have £100 in money, and at the same time to have accepted a bill for £50 at three months to A. Then A’s property would be stated thus, £100 + £50; B’s property would be stated thus, £100 − £50. Now, the argument of these writers is this: the + £50 and the − £50 balance and neutralize each other, and the result is 0; which, according to them, is the same thing as saying that these quantities do not exist at all. This view might, perhaps, at first sight seem somewhat specious; but a very little reflection will show that it is quite erroneous. It alleges that if there are two equal and opposite quantities in existence at any moment, which may neutralize each other’s effects, and the result is 0, that that is the same thing as saying that these two quantities do not exist at all. Suppose that two equal and opposite forces act upon a particle at rest; they neutralize each other’s effects, and the result is 0; but it would be highly erroneous to say that, for that reason, they do not exist at all. Suppose that, on a division, the Government has 345 supporters and 300 opponents; the 300 members on each side neutralize each others’ effects; and the result is that the practical force of the Government is 45; but that does not imply that the 600 members do not exist at all. Hence, even if it were true that these equal and opposite quantities, credits and debts, neutralized each other’s effects, it would be quite erroneous to say that that is the same thing as saying that they do not exist at all. The error consists, as we have pointed out, in supposing that, in the case of obligations not yet due, the debt is an existing negative quantity neutralizing the effect of the credit. The credit, or the right of action of the creditor, is an existent quantity, which may be bought and sold like money, or any other chattel; the debt, or duty to pay, does not come into existence until the credit has expired and the day of payment has come; and consequently it cannot neutralize the credit. And even supposing that it is payable on demand like a bank credit, it is still an economic quantity until payment is demanded and it is extinguished; and the debtor’s property remains entire until he voluntarily gives some of it up to buy up the right of action against himself. These considerations are of supreme importance, as we shall see, in understanding the nature of banking. Personal credit is a person’s purchasing power over and above his money; hence credit is a resource and wealth cumulative to money; and the whole mass of circulating credits are economical quantities over and above, and additional to, money; and they are in their nature and effects in every respect equivalent to an equal quantity of money.
ON THE TRUE MEANING OF SAYING THAT DEBTS ARE NEGATIVE QUANTITIES.
Jurists term debts “negative” quantities; but they interpret the sign − in quite a different way to what mathematicians do, for they apply it to the person of the debtor. And then the meaning of the term becomes perfectly clear. A contract, or obligation, consists of two parts: 1. The creditor’s right to demand; 2. The debtor’s duty to pay. The two quantities are inverse, opposite, or contrary to each other; the first is active, or positive; and the second is passive, or negative. Hence, the creditor’s personal right of action is the positive quantity, and the debtor’s personal duty to pay is the negative quantity. Hence, if a person has £500 at his banker’s, and is also bound to pay £50 at some given future time, or even on demand, and therefore his property may be stated as £500 − £50, it is not to be read as if he had only £450 at his banker’s; but it is to be read in this way: He possesses £500 in absolute property, but coupled with the duty to pay £50 at a given time, or when demanded. And his property can only be reduced to £450 by giving up to him the right of action for £50. Hence, in economics, the symbol (+ £100) always denotes the right to money, or the right to demand money, such as bank notes, cheques, bills of exchange, or other securities; and the symbol (− £100) always denotes the personal duty to pay money. We now clearly see the meaning of saying that money is a positive quantity, and debt a negative quantity, because money denotes a right, and debt denotes a duty.
And this exactly corresponds with the usual, but not universal, algebraical doctrine that quantities passing through o change their sign. Because when a person has spent all his money, and, therefore, his property is o, and then incurs a debt, he has exhausted all his right to demand, and has incurred a duty to pay. So when a man’s property is said to be £100 less than nothing, it means that he is under the duty to pay £100, and has no money to pay them with. It is now seen how necessary it is to observe the double meaning of the word debt both in law and common usage. When a debt is termed “goods,” “chattels,” “merchandise,” “wealth,” it means the creditor’s right of action. When a debt is termed a “negative” quantity, it means the debtor’s duty to pay. And as the inverse, opposite, or contrary quantities in an obligation are created together, can only exist together, and vanish together, they are exactly analogous to polar forces.
IF MONEY BE TERMED POSITIVE CAPITAL, CREDIT MAY BE TERMED NEGATIVE CAPITAL.
A merchant’s wealth, or purchasing power, consists of his money, his rights to demand money (i. e., the bank notes, cheques, bills of exchange, or other securities he may possess), and his credit (i. e., his right to the future products of his industry). If he buys goods with his money and sells them with a profit, he first replaces the sum he has expended, and the surplus is his profit. If he buys goods with his credit, he creates a debt against himself; when he sells the goods, he first discharges the debt he has incurred, and the surplus is his profit. In either case, his profit consists in the excess of his property at the end of the operation above what it was at the beginning. Now, as Senior says: “Economists are agreed that whatever gives a profit is properly termed capital.” If he buys with money he makes capital of the realized profits of the past; if he buys with credit, he makes capital of the expected profits of the future. In each case, he makes a profit; hence, by the definition, money and credit are equally capital; but they are inverse, or opposite to each other; hence, if money be termed positive capital, credit may be termed negative capital.
Money is the property in gold already acquired, and credit is the property in gold which is to be acquired. Therefore, credit is inverse, or opposite, to money; but credit is in every way as real a value as gold. By using money the trader makes capital of the realized profits of the past; by using his credit he makes capital of the expected profits of the future; but money and credit are equally salable and valuable commodities. The fact is, that when we adopt exchangeability as the sole essence and principle of wealth, the whole difficulty vanishes; for money and credit are equally exchangeable quantities.
ON THE TRANSFER OF CREDITS, OR DEBTS.
Rights of action, credits, or debts, are now clearly shown to be the name of a certain species of merchandise, goods, chattels, or commodities; and they can be bought and sold exactly like any other merchandise, or commodities.
When it is seen that a bank note passes from hand to hand like money, it might perhaps be supposed that any other debts might be sold and transferred with equal facility. This, however, is a very great error. There is very considerable subtlety about the sale of debts; and it was only by very slow and gradual degrees that debts became freely salable. If it were asked what discovery has most deeply affected the fortunes of the human race, it might probably be said with truth, the discovery that debts are salable commodities. When Daniel Webster said that credit had done more, a thousand times, to enrich nations, than all the mines of all the world, he meant the discovery that debts are salable commodities, or merchandise; that they may be used as money; and that they produce all the effects of money.
[* ] Ortolan, Explication Historique des Instituts, § 1416.
[* ]Pro Roscio Comoedo.
[* ] Digest, 50, 16, 213.
[† ]Instit. Just., III., 15, 2.
[‡ ] Digest, 45, 1, 46.
[§ ] Digest, 50, 17, 213.
[* ] Law of Evidence, Vol. I.
[* ] Digest, 44, 7, 2.
[† ]Traité sur les Obligations.
[‡ ]De la Novation, p. 139.
[§ ] Law of Personal Property, p. 304.
[* ]Papa d’Amico, Titoli di Credito, p. 89.
[* ] Digest, XII., 1, 2, 2.
[† ] Digest, XIII., 6, 8, 9.
[* ]Code Civil., Liv. III., Tit. X., ch. i., sect. i., § 1875.
[† ] Ibid., ch. ii., sect. i., § 1892.
[* ] Algebra, p. 7.
[* ] An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain, p. 20.
[† ]Mecanique de l’Echange, p. 1.