Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

Ocean

cal, if you like; but for that very reason it is well-considered, steadfast, trustworthy, while the impulses of popular emotion are capricious and short-sighted. To govern by reference to the passions, instead of the understanding, is something like steering an steamship by the thermometer instead of the compass.

The American side of the question is also better understood. Sir Henry S. Maine has written ;-and many candid readers of his able essays will hesitate before they decide that the English Constitution is impregnable, and that the American Constitution is all moonshine. As things now stand, some considerations occur which would seem to render appropriate to the present time a budget of suggestive notes on the subject of investment, provided they should make no attempt at exhaustive treatment of any thing, nor trespass unduly on the time and patience of a busy or pre-occupied investor.

However great and noble may be the advantages which are likely to accrue to the British Empire from the onward march of democracy, it must be admitted that the financial outlook, if not in the last degree depressing, is at least stormy and suggestive of grave uncertainties. Of course critical periods occur during which political talk, involving [e. 8.] the integrity of an empire, the rights of property, or the tenure of office by particular men, is exclusively in order. But, as there is a time for every thing which affects the problem of human welfare, occasions recur when finance of the humbler type and the economical investment of individual fortunes may deserve passing consideration. The material prosperity of those classes in the community, which by reason of thrift or inheritance possess accumulated wealth, must sooner or later claim a hearing. Even the Irish land question is thought by some observers to be tinged with the hue of gold, as well as of blood. Whatever solution of this urgent question may be desired by Mr. Gladstone, it is probable that property invested in Ireland under government pledges will be to some extent protected. It is a matter of deep regret that money when once released from Ireland will not generally seek reinvestment there. But, as a financial fact, it is improbable that it will do so, except under very special conditions and subject to somewhat narrow limits. From the investor's point of view, security of principal and peaceful collection of interest are at least as important as the prospect of liberal profits. As a matter of business, wholly apart from political or party considerations, prudent investors reasonably shrink from locking up their money in any country in which the law is not supreme, or in which the mechanism necessary for the enforcement of existing rights is substantially impaired or indefinitely suspended. A reasonably sound railroad bond may furnish, at most, four or five per cent. on invested capital. But, if at the end of each half-year the holder can collect his coupons peacefully and punctually, this result is on the whole fairly satisfactory. It is, at all events, a better investment than the purchase of land which the owner or mortgagee is afraid to occupy or visit, or the conduct of a business to which the system of boycotting may be any day applied. The economical prospects of Ireland practically divorced from England may be satisfactory to Mr. Gladstone, and yet far from reassuring to the casual investor in Irish securities. The point of view of the former is political, and turns on a large and popular confidence in “flesh and blood." The point of view of the latter is economical, and turns on a paltry and unpopular estimate of pounds shillings and pence. A political blunder might be lightly survived by Mr. Gladstone, but an economical mistake might be a serious calamity to an investor of moderate means. If the Nationalist party are disinclined to protect rights in land, and are not particularly cordial towards their best local industries, such as the linen manufacture, an intending investor naturally distrusts the lawabiding instincts of the new régime. Not even Mr. Gladstone's eloquence can persuade him that capricious legislation can make rich and strong a people endowed with a poor soil, if such legislation encourages thriftless habits or lawless instincts. The sources of national wealth lie deeper. The severance of the last link which binds Ireland to England is a good phrase, and has a fine free ring about it. No doubt it tickles the ear of the Nationalist, who has not been overthrifty in the past and would like to shirk work in the future. But the colder-blooded business man will note that, when this last link is severed, capital and credit will go down in the general crash. He will be apt to reflect that, while absolute independence is intrinsically a noble thing, its permanent beauty is largely dependent on environment. Of course freedom attended by prosperity commands the admiration of the civilized world. But freedom associated with famine makes at best a gloomy picture. A particular form of government is like the bubble on the champagne. It is the vintage that determines the bubble, and not the bubble the vintage. The governing body will represent, with some rough approximation to accuracy, the character and qualities of the constituencies which confer power. If constituencies exhibit characteristics which fail to inspire faith in their just, temperate, and law-abiding instincts,

the confidence of the investor will be proportionately discounted. “If,” he will ask,

“If," he will ask, “they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" He will regulate his investments accordingly.

Then, again, as regards the European outlook, it may well be that a firm foreign policy will eventually secure peace. But, if the past be any guide to the future, it is impossible to dismiss all apprehension under this head. It is enough for the present purpose to indicate that a European war is, in the last degree, unfavourable to confident and liberal investment in European securities, outside the British Empire.

As regards English land and the industries directly appurtenant thereto, it would of course be absurd to dogmatize. But it is still worth noting that-next to serious calamities involving wholesale destruction of material assets-nothing tends so directly to depress property, and to chill legitimate investment in its development, as uncertainty affecting existing rights. England's well-wishers cordially hope that English land may recover its prestige and profit. But would any prudent lawyer, in the face of State socialism and foreign competition, recommend his clients as landowners to expend their means lavishly on the development of their freeholds ? Would he not rather advise them to invest their capital in more remunerative and more readily convertible securities, and to become tenants of whatever land they require ? If there be any truth in this view, it is probable that, in the course of the next few years, we shall see large accumulations of unemployed money seeking such investment as may combine reasonable security with fairly remunerative interest. The question arises, where is a suitable sphere of investment to be found ?

The feasibility of judicious investment in America has of late been the subject of warm discussion in European circles; and grave issues have been raised by the partisans of incompatible theories. There are many who think that, whenever Europe invests capital in America, it will of necessity follow that America will make the profit, and that Europe will have to be content with the experience. There are others who think that the existing Constitution of America affords a substantial security for vested interests. They hold that written provisions, which [amongst other things] forbid the impairment of a contract and are subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court of the United States, are more trustworthy safeguards to vested interests, than the personal discretion of any advanced reformer. They would rather risk their money on provisions, which cannot be repealed except by a very deliberate verdict of a whole nation, than on impulses referable to the personal career of any individual statesman, who may have acquired the power of over-riding—but does not, in the last resort, adequately represent—the convictions of educated people. They consider that, as it is in times of internal peace that prosperity goes forward " by leaps and bounds," invested money has, on the whole, a better prospect in America than elsewhere. It is not the purpose of these notes to determine the comparative merits of such conflicting views. Their purpose is simply to submit some conclusions gathered from many years of residence in the Country, and many years of intimate acquaintance with the inside history and conditions of current, and especially railroad, investment. By persons well informed on this subject such notes may rightly be regarded as ancient history expressed in an unattractive form. But all are not experts in foreign

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »