The Banque de France during the War
At various points in the foregoing chapters reference has been made to the part played by the Banque de France in the financial drama of the war. It may be well at this point, however, to summarize some of these points and to deal with the matter somewhat systematically.
The Banque de France has played a great and heroic rôle. Such criticisms as may be justly made of its policy are also criticisms of the state and of long standing French financial tradition. The Banque has been both prudent and courageous. It has been above all patriotic. It has been statesmanlike, conceiving its task to be to lead in the financial and industrial readjustment which France has had to make. It has been obliged to carry an unexpected burden because of the weakness and timidity of the great private banks of France and because of the inability of the state to put through a taxing policy of sufficient vigor. But it has borne this burden and it continues to be a strong and solvent institution capable of bearing even heavier burdens if need be.
The gold policy of the Banque has been one which from the standpoint of English banking traditions is not courageous. Before the war the Banque had accumulated an enormous reserve, amounting on July 30, 1914, to 4,767,000,000 francs. Of this 700,000,000 was in legal tender silver and the rest, 4,067, 000,000, was in gold. One wonders for what purpose this huge accumulation, amounting to more than half the total assets of the Banque and amounting to a very high percentage of its chief liability, its circulating notes, was made, if not to be used for keeping its notes convertible in an emergency. The Bank of England with very much less gold has conceived it to be its duty to go to the limit in meeting its gold obligations and although