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BY SPECIAL PERMISSION,
THIS WORK IS DEDICATED TO
S. HERMAN DE ZOETE, Esq., Chairman,
S. UNDERHILL, Esq., Deputy-Chairman,
THE COMMITTEE FOR GENERAL PURPOSES OF THE
STOCK EXCHANGE, LONDON;
BAKER, LAWRENCE J., Esq. PEARCE, CHARLES, Esq. Bristowe, Thomas L., Esq. PELLY, PERCY L., Esq. CAMPION, FREDERICK, Esq. PEMBER, John E., Esq. CAPEL, JAMES BURY, Esq. PRICE, HALL ROKEBY, Esq. DANIELL, JOHN H., Esq. SCOTT, JAMES N., Esq. Fenn, THOMAS, Esq.
SCOTT, SEPTIMUS R., Esq. FLOWER, MATTHEW, Esq. SCRUTTON, ALEX. JAMES, Esq. GIBBES, GEORGE D., Esq. Selous, Angiolo R., Esq. HARRISON, FREDERICK, Esq. SPURLING, Percival, Esq. HARTRIDGE, CHARLES H., Esq. Thomas, WILLIAM A., Esq. HILL, CHARLES, Esq.
VILE, THOMAS, Esq. Love, Horatio N., Esq. WALEY, SIMON WALEY, Esq. PAIXE, HAMMON, Esu.
WEDD, George, Esq. PAYNE, John N., Esq.
WILKINSON, NORMAN, Esq.
By their obliged Servant,
11, Royal Exchange,
A PAITHFUL record of national indebtedness, which it is the purpose of “Fenn on the Funds" to supply, should not rank as the smallest chapter in the history of our time. The historian of a century back might well have passed it over, because, a century ago, national debt and investments in a marketable form were almost unknown. The whole system is virtually the creation of the present century; and, as years pass, this novel method of civilization strides on with increasing momentum. Even when the last introduction to “ Fenn on the Funds” was written, less than eight years ago, the debts and the investments of the world were very much less than now; and of the one broad fact that debt and investment rapidly increase, and yet increase ever more rapidly, there can be no doubt. The question is naturally suggested as to the limits they may attain, and as to the effect upon the wealth, the progress, and the civilization of the earth, which should be their common object. A glance at the following pages will show that Great Britain owed little by comparison even at the commencement of the present century; that other nations owed very little indeed; that there were no railway investments, scarcely any canals, no gas or water companies, no steamships, telegraphs, or, indeed, scarcely anything in the form of what is now designated “investments.” Now, for the year 1873, we have been enabled to make the following estimate of the marketable investments of the universe.
£784,000,000 Corporation and other Local Debts
63,000,000 British Colonial Debts
188,000,000 Invested in British Railways and Canals, say 600,000,000 Joint-Stock Banks, say
Telegraph, and other Joint-Stock
Total British Debts of Foreign States .
In this estimate all foreign railway capital is omitted, for the reasons that it is upascertainable with any degree of precision, and that much of the foreign debt already enumerated is applied to railways; but the European and the American systems of railways alone (extending to over 120,000 miles) can scarcely have cost less than £8000 per mile, after allowing for State subventions, or an aggregate of £1,000,000,000, which are not represented above, and the aggregate of debt and investment is thus raised to £6,800,000,000 sterling.
And this is the creation, it may be said, of one half century. If in the next half century we are to create £6,000,000,000 or £7,000,000,000 more, what is to be the issue ? But, judging from the rapidity with which national debt and investments have accumulated during the latter part of this eventful half century, it is almost more than an open question whether, in the coming half century, the addition to this indebtedness and investment
will not be more rapid still; and whether, even at the close of this nineteenth century, our debts and our investments in a marketable form may not attain two or threefold the existing volume. What is to be the issue then ? Judging from the past, there is nothing in this accumulation of debt which should give us cause for apprehension for the future. It is very clear that, concomitantly with its debt, the world has grown rich; and there is this striking feature between the debt now currently contracted and that at the commencement of the present century—that, instead of being applied exclusively to war, and to the pressing exigencies of needy States, it is largely employed in the construction of railways, steamships, telegraphs, improvements of all kinds, at home, in our colonies, and in foreign lands, and that it now assumes, in part, although by no means wholly, that reproductive character which promises well for the borrowers as for the lenders. But it will be instructive to count over a few of the items of progress in the course of debt which have occurred even within the past ten years, and thereby to form some sort of estimate of the rate of progress in debt which we have at length attained. Since 1862 our own home debt has declined nearly £35,000,000 sterling; which has, however, been more than balanced by the increased debts of our colonies to the mother country. But when we turn to the foreign list, we find almost without exception that the whole world has in this brief interval increased its debt prodigiously. In 1862, Egypt owed the world next to nothing, and Turkey very little; Italy and Spain were, by contrast, very small debtors; France was less in debt by £500,000,000 sterling; and perhaps, above all, the United States raised their sum of indebtedness, in the short space of four years, by the then almost incredible proportions of £550,000,000 sterling. Altogether, from the following details, it will be seen that, possibly imperfect as our facts are, the world's national debt has increased in the past ten years little less than £2,000,000,000