In many ways, in many instances, wrong impressions about finance have
been given to the public, sometimes from ignorance, sometimes with
malice aforethought, sometimes for political purposes.
The fact is that the men in charge of our financial affairs are, and to
be successful, must be every whit as honorable, as patriotic, as right
thinking, as anxious for the good opinions of their fellowmen as those
in other walks of life.
In every time of crisis or difficulty in the nation's history, from the
War of Independence to the present European War, financiers have given
striking proof of their devotion of the public weal, and they may be
depended upon to do so whenever and howsoever called upon.
American finance has rendered immense services to the country, and its
record--considering especially the gross faultiness of the laws under
which it had to work before the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, and
in some respects still has to work--compares by no means unfavorably
with that of finance in Europe.
There has been no gambling frenzy in the financial markets of America
within the memory of this generation equalling the recklessness and
magnitude of England's South African mining craze with its record of
questionable episodes, some of them involving great names; no scandal
comparable to the Panama scandal, the copper collapse, the Cronier
failure, and similar events in France; no bank failure as disgraceful
and ruinous as that of the Leipziger Bank and two or three others within
the last dozen years in Germany. No combination exists in this country
remotely approaching the monopolistic control exercised by several of
the so-called cartels and syndicates of Europe.
One of the reasons why finance so frequently has been the target for
popular attack is that it deals with the tangible expression of wealth,
and in the popular mind pre-eminently personifies wealth, and is widely
looked upon as an easy way to acquire wealth without adequate service.
Yet it is a fact that there are very few financial houses of great
wealth. All of the very greatest fortunes of the country, and in fact
most of the great fortunes, have been made, not in finance, but in
trade, industries and inventions.
A similar exaggerated view prevails as to the power of finance.
It is true there have been men in finance from time to time, though very
rarely indeed, who did exercise exceedingly great power, such as, in our
generation, the late J. P. Morgan and E. H. Harriman.
But the power of those men rested not in their being financiers, but in
the compelling force of their unique personalities. They were born
leaders of men and they would have been acknowledged leaders and
exercised the power of such leadership in whatever walk of life they
might have selected as theirs.
As I have said before, the capacity of the financier is dependent upon
the confidence of the financial community and the investing public, just
as the capacity of the banks is dependent upon the confidence of the
depositing public. Take away confidence and what remains is only that
limited degree of power or influence which mere wealth may give.
Confidence cannot be compelled; it cannot be bequeathed--or, at most,
only to a very limited extent. It is and always is bound to be voluntary
I know of no other centre where the label counts for less, where the
shine and potency of a great name is more quickly rubbed off if the
bearer does not prove his worth, than in the great mart of finance.
Mere wealth indeed can be bequeathed, but the power of mere wealth--to
paraphrase a famous dictum--has decreased, is decreasing and ought to
be, and will be, further diminished.