As to Berlin, the only other possible rival to London in Europe, very little need be said. The German authority quoted above has already shown some of the difficulties with which Berlin has to struggle. He spoke of the narrow-mindedness of German finance, of the “petty quibbling” which often disturbs the relations between buyer and seller, of the “dubious practices of many kinds, infringements of payment stipulations, unjustifiable deductions,” etc., and the “ruthless” action of the cartels. He acknowledges that though Germany had a gold standard “too much anxiety used to be shown when the gold export point was reached,” and that “it was also feared that to export gold would incur the wrath of the Reichsbank.”
With these disadvantages to struggle against, quoted from the mouth of a German observer, Germany has also succeeded by her ruthless policy during the war in earning the deep hostility of the greater part of mankind. Sentiment probably enters into business relations a good deal more than most business men admit, and for any country to set out to gain the leadership in trade and finance by outraging the feelings of most of its possible customers is an extraordinary piece of stupidity.
It seems, then, that apart from the relative weakening of London as compared with New York, there is very little need for us to fear any serious change in England’s financial position after the war as long as the Government’s faulty finance is not allowed too seriously to endanger the position of our gold standard. It is true that we shall not benefit, as much as we undoubtedly have in the past, from the “help of Germans” in developing our finance. But indirectly the Germans will still be helping us by the great stimulus that the war will have given us towards efficiency and hard work.
What we have to do in order to secure London’s position after the war is to restore as soon as we can the system that had established it in the century before the war. We have to show the world that, far from any intention to abandon Free Trade, we mean to take a long step forward along the line of international activity which has been the source of our greatness in the past. We want, as soon as possible, to get back that freedom from Government control which has given us such elasticity and adaptability to our money market, our Stock Exchange and our Insurance business. A certain amount of Government control will inevitably have to continue for a time after the war, but the sooner we rid ourselves of it the sooner we shall restore to the London money market those qualities which, after the reputation that it has for honesty, soundness and straight dealing, were most helpful in building up its eminence.
Above all, we have to work hard both in finance and industry and commerce. Finance, which is the machinery for handling claims for goods and services, can only be active and effective if industry and commerce are active and effective behind it, turning out the goods and services to meet the claims that finance creates. A great industrial and commercial output, with severe restriction of unnecessary consumption so that a great margin may go into capital equipment, will soon repair the ravages of war, bring down the price of credit and of capital and make London once more the place in which these things are most cheaply and freely to be bought.