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Some Defects In Our Investment Banking Machinery








A comparison of our investment banking machinery with that of European
countries, especially Germany, reveals important differences. Among
these the most notable are the wide use there and the almost complete
absence here of the following: (a) the resort to cooperation as a
means of revealing and making available the basis for credit of large
numbers of people who lack capital but could use it to the advantage
of themselves and of the nation; (b) the long-period mortgage loan
repayable on the annuity plan and the mortgage bond as a means of
accumulating capital for such loans; and (c) the cooperation of the
state and other public bodies and of capitalists and philanthropically
disposed persons in developing the credit possibilities of the masses
and in directing the flow of proper portions of the stream of capital
in their direction.

In the development of investment banking institutions in this country,
individual initiative prompted by self-interest has been the chief,
and except in the case of savings banks, the sole motive force. The
result is that most of them have been organized in the interests of
lenders rather than borrowers and serve best the purposes of big
business and of persons already possessed of large credit by virtue of
their wealth or their business reputations. Under these conditions,
while enormous amounts of capital in the aggregate have been invested
in agriculture and urban real estate, the former has suffered
relatively in comparison with transportation, manufacturing, and
speculation.

Contributory causes in the development of this situation have been the
great need for capital for the development of our transportation
system, the stimulation of manufactures by high protective duties, and
the enormous area of our public domain which was given or sold to
settlers on very easy terms. Inasmuch as our transportation system and
our manufacturing industries have now attained a high degree of
development, our public domain has been nearly exhausted, and land
values and the cost of living are rapidly rising, the needs of
agriculture are pushing themselves into the foreground, and we are
beginning to look to European experience for suggestions regarding the
best methods of diverting to that industry a larger part of our
rapidly accumulating capital resources.

There are obvious difficulties in the way of the application of
cooperation to the solution of the problem of agricultural credit in
this country. In spite of the fact that immigration is constantly
bringing to us people from the very foreign countries in which
cooperative credit associations flourish, our agricultural population
is still dominated by the spirit of individualism which has been and
is one of our dominant national traits. Our farmers are also more
widely scattered than is the case in Europe, and consequently less
closely knit together in social units. Their holdings are also
larger, their capital needs greater, and their business instincts more
highly developed.

There seems to be no good reason, however, why the joint-stock
mortgage bank should not flourish here as well as in Europe. It is a
purely private business enterprise of the kind with which we are
perfectly familiar. The mortgage bond ought to appeal to our
investors, many of whom have exhibited a strong predilection for
mortgage security and real estate investments, and long-period
mortgage loans, repayable on the annuity plan, would meet the needs of
many land purchasers and of people who need to invest considerable
sums in drainage, irrigation works, etc., better than our present
methods. In most, if not all, of our states, trust companies could
develop these new lines of finance without prejudice to the other
branches of their business.

The use of state, county, and municipal subsidies or credit in
enterprises of this kind is rendered difficult, if not impossible, in
this country, by strong prejudice against the use of public funds in
private enterprises, and in some states by constitutional
prohibitions. This prejudice is based upon unfortunate experiences,
and is at least partially justified by the laxness of our
administrative methods and the prevalence of graft, which expose us
to the danger of the improper use of public funds devoted to
enterprises of this kind. There is no reason, however, why our states
should not take the initiative in the improvement of our investment
banking machinery and why private capitalists and philanthropists
should not turn some of their energy into this channel.

Suggestion and leadership are needed in this field quite as much as
legislation tending to restrict and regulate the operations of
existing institutions.





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