Sunday, March 12, 2017

War fighting with debt

From Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson, starting page 29.

The Seven Years War beginning in 1757 between the British and the French. It was perhaps the first world war in that it was fought on every inhabited continent and every ocean. Though primarily between the French and the British, European allies and local proxies around the world also partook.
It was a victory based on naval superiority. But this in turn was possible only because Britain had one crucial advantage over France: the ability to borrow money. More than a third of all Britain's war expenditure was financed by loans. The institutions copied from the Dutch in the time of William III had now come into their own, allowing Pitt's government to spread the cost of war by selling low-interest bonds to the investing public. The French, by contrast, were reduced to begging or stealing. As Bishop Berkeley put it, credit was 'the principal advantage which England hath over France'. The French economist Isaac de Pinto agreed: 'It was the failure of credit in time of need that did the mischief, and probably was the chief cause of the late disasters'. Behind every British naval victory stood the National Debt; its growth — from £74 million to £133 million during the Seven Years War — was the measure of Britain's financial might.

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