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Table 15 French Interest Rates: Eighteenth Century
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savings of the peoples. In the nineteenth century a quieter Europe brought its industrial capitalism to a high state of productivity by the use of these same methods of channeling savings into investment by means of long-term marketable debt securities. While the eighteenth century concentrated a large part of its negotiable savings in national debt, the nineteenth century spread its funds among much more varied types of securities. DUTCH BACKGROUND During the seventeenth century the new Dutch Republic had developed a worldwide trading empire. It had achieved a near monopoly of European shipping and commerce. Defoe, in 1728, described the Dutch as
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the carriers of the world, the middle persons in trade, the factors and brokers of Europe. (404) The Dutch had fought successfully against Spain, France, and England. Amsterdam had become the financial center of Europe. Usury laws were unknown in Holland, but interest rates there were the lowest in Europe. A frugal, prosperous population saved enough to finance, not only its own wars and its own commerce, but also enough to finance foreign governments and foreign enterprise. As the seventeenth century ended, the Dutch stadtholder became King of England. Dutch finance was soon to be practiced by the English government. In the eighteenth century it was impossible for the Dutch Republic to maintain the commercial leadership of Europe. Larger countries developed their own shipping and ports. In their military partnerships with England, the Dutch inevitably became the junior partners; England was also a nation of seamen and of foreign traders. Therefore in the eighteenth century the Dutch turned gradually from trade to finance. Amsterdam remained active and usually prosperous, interest rates remained low, and Dutch banks and investors continued to be very important in international finance. However, there were recurrent crises of overspeculation, which eventually sapped confidence in Amsterdam. A larger, more stable money market was developing in London, which at the end of the century displaced the Amsterdam market. After the generally successful, but costly, War of the Spanish Succession, 1702 1713, when England was an ally against France, there was an economic decline in Holland. (405) After the War of the Austrian Succession, 1740 1748, when Holland was again an ally of England, another deterioration of the Dutch position became evident. In 1780 1784 during the War for American Independence, the Dutch went to war against England over the question of the right to search ships at sea and as a result lost a good part of their empire. Finally, the French Revolution foreshadowed the end of the Dutch Republic. In 1793 Holland was again an ally of England against France. In 1794 1795 the French captured the Dutch fleet while it was frozen in the ice and overran the country. The Batavian Republic, 1795 1806, modeled on the French revolutionary pattern, was an ally of France, and in consequence England seized the remaining Dutch colonies. Finally, a Kingdom of Holland was incorporated into Napoleon s empire. In spite of these political and economic vicissitudes, there is evidence that interest rates at Amsterdam remained relatively stable and apparently rose only moderately until very late in the eighteenth century. The Bank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609, had achieved a dominating position in the international bullion trade. At times its deposits even commanded a small premium over coined money. It made large loans to the Dutch East India Company at moderate rates and financed the municipality of Amsterdam; otherwise, it rarely loaned money. In the
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eighteenth century the bank maintained its position as a chief bullion market, although London was obtaining a large volume of Brazilian gold and was providing strong competition. (406) An active foreign exchange market was maintained at Amsterdam. Drafts on Amsterdam were used to finance the trade of many countries. The use of bank acceptances increased. Dutch private bankers financed not only foreign trade but foreign governments, such as those of Austria and Russia. They financed foreign producers and foreign consumers a century before English bankers became international bankers. Dutch capital was very important in the eighteenth-century London money market. (407) When the yield on safe investments in London rose well above the level in Amsterdam, Dutch capital flowed to London, and the rate of exchange moved in favor of London. Dutch capital in this way supported the exchange value of sterling in several crises. The peace of 1763 was followed by a crisis and panic in Amsterdam. There were many bankruptcies. Another crisis in 1773 brought rescue from the Bank of England. The Dutch speculated increasingly in English securities as well as in their own and the results were costly. In 1781 the Bank of Amsterdam could not meet its obligations. (408) The perpetual government annuities, which the Dutch had so successfully developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were used throughout the eighteenth century without important improvements. State credit was based on the established Dutch habit of making provision for their old age and for their families by buying these perpetual annuities. (409) Large groups lived on investment income. Although temporary floating debt was occasionally created by the government, it was soon funded and usually commanded the same low rates paid on the funded debt. But this funded debt was heterogeneous: nothing like a uniform interchangeable stock, such as the British consols, was created. There were obligations of the Dutch Republic, obligations of the individual provinces, obligations of the separate towns, of the special colleges, of the admiralties, and of the Dutch East India Company. These instruments were not even uniformly worded and hence were often difficult to sell. They included many kinds of annuities. Most were perpetual annuities, but there were also annuities on lives and for thirty or thirty-two years, and lottery loans. Few, however, were secured by specific revenues in the French and English manner. They were backed solely by confidence in the general credit of the issuing body. Confidence in the honesty of the financial administration remained unshaken until late in the eighteenth century, when the secrecy which surrounded public finance led to suspicion of corruption. (410) No one knew the extent of the debts of the country or of the provinces. It was the English who introduced uniformity and full disclosure into public finance. The Amsterdam Exchange in the early seventeenth century dealt
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