To understand our world, we have to go back to classics of understanding such as Lombard Street [Project Gutenberg ebook] which gives one a vivid sense of London’s rise as world’s banker, already in 1873.
Our current world was certainly shaped by these long-term historical trends.
…But very few persons are aware how much greater the ready balance—the floating loan-fund which can be lent to any one or for any purpose—is in England than it is anywhere else in the world. A very few figures will show how large the London loan-fund is, and how much greater it is than any other. The known deposits—the deposits of banks which publish their accounts—are, in
London (31st December, 1872). . . . . . . . £120,000,000 Paris (27th February, 1873) . . . . . . . . . . 13,000,000 New York (February, 1873) . . . . . . . . . . 40,000,000 German Empire (31st January, 1873) . . . 8,000,000
And the unknown deposits—the deposits in banks which do not publish their accounts—are in London much greater than those in any other of these cities. The bankers’ deposits of London are many times greater than those of any other city—those of Great Britain many times greater than those of any other country.
Of course the deposits of bankers are not a strictly accurate measure of the resources of a Money Market. On the contrary, much more cash exists out of banks in France and Germany, and in all non-banking countries, than could be found in England or Scotland, where banking is developed. But that cash is not, so to speak, “Money-Market money”: it is not attainable. Nothing but their immense misfortunes, nothing but a vast loan in their own securities, could have extracted the hoards of France from the custody of the French people. The offer of no other securities would have tempted them, for they had confidence in no other securities. For all other purposes the money hoarded was useless and might as well not have been hoarded. But the English money is “borrowable” money. Our people are bolder in dealing with their money than any continental nation, and even if they were not bolder, the mere fact that their money is deposited in a bank makes it far more obtainable. A million in the hands of a single banker is a great power; he can at once lend it where he will, and borrowers can come to him, because they know or believe that he has it. But the same sum scattered in tens and fifties through a whole nation is no power at all: no one knows where to find it or whom to ask for it. Concentration of money in banks, though not the sole cause, is the principal cause which has made the Money Market of England so exceedingly rich, so much beyond that of other countries.
…I believe that our system, though curious and peculiar, may be worked safely; but if we wish so to work it, we must study it. We must not think we have an easy task when we have a difficult task, or that we are living in a natural state when we are really living in an artificial one. Money will not manage itself, and Lombard Street has a great deal of money to manage.