Lombard Street : a description of the money market eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 277 pages of information about Lombard Street .
But no one in London ever dreams of questioning the credit of the Bank, and the Bank never dreams that its own credit is in danger.  Somehow everybody feels the Bank is sure to come right.  In 1797, when it had scarcely any money left, the Government said not only that it need not pay away what remained, but that it must not.  The ’effect of letters of licence’ to break Peel’s Act has confirmed the popular conviction that the Government is close behind the Bank, and will help it when wanted.  Neither the Bank nor the Banking Department have ever had an idea of being put ‘into liquidation;’ most men would think as soon of ‘winding up’ the English nation.

Since then the Bank of England, as a bank, is exempted from the perpetual apprehension that makes other bankers keep a large reserve the apprehension of discreditit would seem particularly necessary that its managers should be themselves specially interested in keeping that reserve, and specially competent to keep it.  But I need not say that the Bank directors have not their personal fortune at stake in the management of the Bank.  They are rich City merchants, and their stake in the Bank is trifling in comparison with the rest of their wealth.  If the Bank were wound up, most of them would hardly in their income feel the difference.  And what is more, the Bank directors are not trained bankers; they were not bred to the trade, and do not in general give the main power of their minds to it.  They are merchants, most of whose time and most of whose real mind are occupied in making money in their own business and for themselves.

It might be expected that as this great public duty was cast upon the Banking Department of the Bank, the principal statesmen (if not Parliament itself) would have enjoined on them to perform it.  But no distinct resolution of Parliament has ever enjoined it; scarcely any stray word of any influential statesman.  And, on the contrary, there is a whole catena of authorities, beginning with Sir Robert Peel and ending with Mr. Lowe, which say that the Banking Department of the Bank of England is only a Bank like any other banka Company like other companies; that in this capacity it has no peculiar position, and no public duties at all.  Nine-tenths of English statesmen, if they were asked as to the management of the Banking Department of the Bank of England, would reply that it was no business of theirs or of Parliament at all; that the Banking Department alone must look to it.

The result is that we have placed the exclusive custody of our entire banking reserve in the hands of a single board of directors not particularly trained for the duty—­who might be called ‘amateurs,’ who have no particular interest above other people in keeping it undiminished—­who acknowledge no obligation to keep it undiminished who have never been told by any great statesman or public authority that they are so to keep it or that they have anything to do with it who are named by and are agents for a proprietary which would have a greater income if it was diminished, who do not fear, and who need not fear, ruin, even if it were all gone and wasted.

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Lombard Street : a description of the money market from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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