суббота, 30 июня 2012 г.

THE BANK OF AMSTERDAM

DAVID HUME AND THE BANK OF AMSTERDAM
A sign of the enormous prestige of the Bank of Amsterdam among scholars and intellectuals, as well as merchants, is the express mention David Hume makes of it in his essay Of Money. This essay first appeared, with others, in a book called
Political Discourses, published in Edinburgh in 1752. In it David Hume voices his opposition to paper currency and argues that the only solvent financial policy is that which forces banks to maintain a 100-percent reserve ratio, in accordance with traditional legal principles governing the irregular deposit of money. David Hume concludes that to endeavour artificially to encrease such a credit, can never be the interest of any trading nation; but must lay them under disadvantages, by encreasing money beyond its natural proportion to labour and commodities, and thereby heightening their price to the merchant manufacturer. And in this view, it must be allowed, that no bank could be more advantageous, than such a one as locked up all the money it received, and never augmented the circulating coin, as is usual, by returning part of its treasure into commerce. A public bank, by this expedient, might cut off much of the dealings of private
bankers and money-jobbers; and though the state bore the charge of salaries to the directors and tellers of this bank (for, according to the preceding supposition, it would have no profit from its dealings), the national advantage, resulting from the low price of labour and the destruction of paper credit, would be a sufficient compensation.

Hume is not completely correct when he claims the bank would not earn a profit, since its safekeeping fees would be sufficient to cover operating costs, and it might even generate modest profits, as in fact the Bank of Amsterdam did. However his analysis is categorical and reveals that, in defending the creation of a public bank with these characteristics, he had in mind the success of the Bank of Amsterdam and the example it had already set for over one hundred years. Furthermore the third edition of his Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects,
published in four volumes in London and Edinburgh, 1753–1754, includes a note by Hume in reference to the phrase, “no bank could be more advantageous, than such a one as locked up all the money it received.” Footnote number four contains the following words: “This is the case with the Bank of Amsterdam.” It appears that Hume wrote this footnote with the intention of more clearly emphasizing his view that the Bank of Amsterdam was the ideal model for a bank.
Hume was not the very first to propose a 100-percent reserve requirement in banking. He was preceded by Jacob Vanderlint (1734) and especially by the director of the Royal mint, Joseph Harris, for whom banks were useful as long as they “issued no bills without an equivalent in real treasure.

SIR JAMES STEUART, ADAM SMITH, AND THE BANK OF AMSTERDAM
Sir James Steuart offers us an important contemporary study of the Bank of Amsterdam’s operation in his treatise published in 1767 entitled, An Enquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy: Being an Essay on the Science of Domestic
Policy in Free Nations. In chapter 39 of volume 2, Steuart presents an analysis of the “circulation of coin through the Bank of Amsterdam.” He maintains that “every shilling written in the books of the bank is actually locked up, in coin, in the bank repositories.” Still, he states, Although, by the regulations of the bank, no coin can be issued to any person who demands it in consequence of his
credit in bank; yet I have not the least doubt, but that both the credit written in the books of the bank, and the cash in the repositories which balances it, may suffer alternate augmentations and diminutions, according to the greater or less demand for bank money.
At any rate, Steuart indicates that the bank’s activities “are conducted with the greatest secrecy,” in keeping with the traditional lack of openness in banking and especially significant in the case of the Bank of Amsterdam, whose statutes and operation demanded the maintenance of a continuous 100-percent reserve ratio. If Steuart is correct and this ratio was at times violated, it is logical that at the time the Bank of Amsterdam tried to hide the fact at all costs.

Although there are signs that at the end of the 1770s the Bank of Amsterdam began to violate the principles upon which it had been founded, in 1776 Adam Smith still affirmed in his book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, that The Bank of Amsterdam professes to lend out no part of
what is deposited with it, but, for every guilder for which it gives credit in its books, to keep in its repositories the value of a guilder either in money or bullion. That it keeps in its repositories all the money or bullion for which there
are receipts in force, for which it is at all times liable to be called upon, and which, in reality, is continually going from it and returning to it again, cannot well be doubted. . . . At Amsterdam no point of faith is better established than that for every guilder, circulated as bank money, there is a correspondant guilder in gold or silver to be found in the treasure of the bank.

Adam Smith goes on to say that the city itself guaranteed the operation of the Bank of Amsterdam as described above and that it was under the direction of four burgomasters who changed each year. Each burgomaster visited the vaults, compared their content in cash with deposit entries in the books and with great solemnity declared under oath that the two coincided. Adam Smith remarks, tongue-in-cheek, that “in that sober and religious country oaths are not yet disregarded.” He ends his commentary by adding that all of these practices were sufficient to guarantee the absolute safety of deposits in the bank, a fact which was demonstrated in various Dutch political revolutions. No political party was
ever able to accuse the prior of disloyalty in the management of the bank. By way of example, Adam Smith mentions that even in 1672, when the king of France marched into Utrecht and Holland was in danger of being conquered by a foreign power, the Bank of Amsterdam satisfied every last request for repayment of demand deposits. As we stated before, this acted as an even more impressive reinforcement of the public’s confidence in the absolute solvency of the bank.
As additional evidence that the Bank of Amsterdam maintained a 100-percent reserve ratio, Adam Smith offers the anecdote that some coins removed from the bank appeared to have been damaged in the building fire that struck the bank
soon after its creation in 1609, which shows those coins had been kept in the bank for over one hundred fifty years. Finally, Adam Smith, in strict keeping with the true legal nature of the irregular-deposit contract, which requires that it be the depositors who pay the bank, indicates that the bank’s income stemmed from safekeeping fees:
The City of Amsterdam derives a considerable revenue from the bank, besides what may be called the warehouse-rent above mentioned, each person, upon first opening an account with the bank, pays a fee of ten guilders, and for every new account three guilders three stivers; for every transfer two stivers; and if the transfer is for less than three hundred guilders, six stivers, in order to discourage the multiplicity of small transactions.
In addition, Adam Smith refers to other sources of income we have already mentioned, such as the exchange of money and the sale of gold and silver bars.
Unfortunately, in the 1780s the Bank of Amsterdam began to systematically violate the legal principles on which it had been founded, and evidence shows that from the time of the fourth Anglo-Dutch war, the reserve ratio decreased drastically, because the city of Amsterdam demanded the bank loan it a large portion of its deposits to cover growing public expenditures. Hence, deposits at that time amounted to twenty million florins, while there were only four million florins’ worth of precious metals in the vaults; which indicates that, not only did
the bank violate the essential principle of safekeeping on which it had been founded and its existence based for over one hundred seventy years, but the reserve ratio had been cut from 100 percent to less than 25 percent. This meant the final loss of the Bank of Amsterdam’s long-standing reputation: deposits
began to gradually decrease at that point, and in 1820 they had dwindled to less than one hundred forty thousand florins.
The Bank of Amsterdam was the last bank in history to maintain a 100-percent reserve ratio, and its disappearance marked the end of the last attempts to found banks upon general legal principles. The financial predominance of Amsterdam was replaced by the financial system of the United Kingdom, a much less stable and less solvent system based on the expansion of credit, deposits and paper currency.

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