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Industrial Investments

Source: The Illustrated London News, May 11, 1850

A Committee, to devise some efficient and continuous mode of investing reproductively the Savings of the Middle and Working Classes, has just been appointed by the House of Commons, on the motion of Mr. Slaney.

According to the present Stamp Laws, a man may invest £5000 in land at 2 1/2 per cent. expense; he cannot invest £50 in the same security at a lees legal expense than 20 per cent. Freehold security for his savings is legally denied to the comparatively poor. He may invest them, or rather lend them, to a savings-bank, under the guarantee of Government, for a higher rate of interest than is given by ordinary bankers; but this guarantee is given at the cost of the nation, and the provident man is constantly tempted, on the other hand, to withdraw his savings from a slowly fructifying treasury.

The only present alternative is the Benefit Building Society—a useful class of institutions, certainly; but, until very lately, based upon most inaccurate data and most erroneous principles, and fruitful of consequent disaster and disappointment. Even under the improved system of permanence, the security, as respects the class of small investors—the security, namely, of house property—is subject to constant fluctuation and depreciation in value. The value of house property—we mean the market value—is contingent upon a variety of circumstances, including taste, opinion, fashion. To-day the regions of Bloomsbury yield, in estimation, to Belgravia; to-morrow, even the aristocratic Belgravia may succumb to the more recherche and more palatial districts of Hyde Park; and who knows but in the next generation the West End will be identical with the erst Ultima Thule of Bayswater.

While house property is thus inevitably doomed to the fate of depreciation, improvable land must constantly tend, to use a Yankee term of analogy, to "appreciate." Colonisation—the development of neglected waste lands, whether in these Islands or in the remotest regions of the British world—is, therefore, not merely a heroical work and a solemn mission delegated to the Anglo-Saxon, but it is the sure, most promising, and most profitable of investments. It has been estimated by Mr. Griffith, that millions of acres in Ireland, now not returning six shillings of produce per acre, might, by prudent and comprehensive investment, be made to render up as many pounds—increasing the aggregate produce from a few hundred thousand pounds to twenty millions sterling. What has not wise investment done for Chat Moss and the Lincolnshire Fens?

There are many moral as well as politico-economical reasons to deter the capitalist, large or small, from committing his savings, in the shape of share capital, into the hands of land speculators. But it is obviously open to the industrial portion of the community to combine their savings for this great and profitable purpose. It appears to us that the mode in which this might be accomplished is clearly enough indicated in a letter to Earl Grey, who, it seems, has intimated to the writer that, under the present régime, it is not in the power of the Government to facilitate the adoption of the principle in the manner suggested. This, then, leaves the question open. It is one of incalculable importance. The Committee referred to—"the Savings of the Middle and Working Classes Committee—"was nominated on Wednesday week, and consists of the following members :—Mr. Slaney, Mr. John Abel Smith, Mr. Labouchere, Mr. Cardwell, Mr. Greene, Mr. Ewart, Lord James Stuart, Mr. Jas. G. Marshall, Mr. Wilson Patten, Lord Nugent, Mr. Stafford, Sir Robert Ferguson, Mr. Littleton, Mr. John Ellis, and Mr. Frederick Peel.