Any real improvement to be achieved in the system by which we have hitherto supplied other nations with capital will ultimately have to be brought about by a keener appreciation, both by issuing houses and investors, of the kind of business that is truly legitimate and profitable. It does not pay in the long run to supply young communities with opportunities for outrunning the constable, and it is possible that when this wholesome platitude is more clearly grasped by the public, no issuing house will be found to bring out a loan that is not going to be used for some definite reproductive purpose, or to float a company, even of the semi-speculative kind, the prospects of which have not been so well tested that the shareholders are at least bound to have a fair chance of success. The ideals of the issuing houses have so far advanced since the days of the Honduras scandal, that in the time of the late war in the Balkans none could be found to father any financial operation in London on behalf of any of the warring peoples. It only remains for the education of the investor to continue the progress that it has lately made, for the waste of capital by bad investment to be greatly curtailed. Probably there will always, as long as the present financial basis of society lasts, be outbursts of speculation in which a greedy public will rush madly after certain classes of stocks and shares, with the result that a few cool-headed or lucky gamblers will be able to live happily ever after as country gentlemen, and transmit comfortable fortunes to their descendants for all time. This is the debt that society pays for its occasional lapses in finance, just as its lapses in matters of taste are paid for by the enriching of those who provide it with rubbishy stuff to read, or rubbishy shows in picture palaces. The education of the individual in the matter of spending or investing his or her money is one of the most pressing needs of the future, and only by its progress can the evils which are usually laid to the door of finance be cured by being attacked in their real home. In the meantime much might be done by more candid publicity and clearer statements in prospectuses of the objects for which money lent is to be used and of the terms on which loan issues have been arranged. Any reasonable attempts that may be made to improve the working of International Finance are certain to have the support of the best elements in the City.
At the same time we may hope that as economic progress goes slowly ahead over the stepping stones of uncomfortable experience, borrowing countries will see that it really pays them to pay their yearly bills out of yearly taxes, and that they are only hurting themselves when they mortgage their future revenue for loans, the spending of which is not going to help them to produce more goods and so raise more revenue without effort. War is the only possible excuse for asking foreign nations to find money for other than reproductive purposes. In time of war it can be justified, even as an individual can be justified for drawing on his capital in order to pay for an operation that will save his life. But in both cases it leaves both the nation and the individual permanently poorer and with a continuous burden to meet in the shape of interest and sinking fund, until the loan has been redeemed. Loans raised at home have an essentially different effect. The interest on them is raised from the taxpayers and paid back to the taxpayers, and the nation, as a whole, is none the poorer. But when one nation borrows from another it takes the loan in the form of goods or services, and unless these goods and services are used in such a way as to enrich it and help it to produce goods and services itself, it is bound to be a loser by the bargain; because it has to pay interest on the loan in goods and services and to redeem the loan by the same process, and if the loan has not been used to increase its power of turning out goods and services, it is inevitably in the same position as a spendthrift individual who has pledged his income for an advance and spent it on riotous living.