Thursday, March 19, 2009


Before the Moody's building downtown was demolished, this plaque graced its entrance:

"Credit: Man's Confidence in Man", begins the inscription, followed by:

Credit is the vital air of the system of modern commerce. It has done more, a thousand times, to enrich nations, than all the mines of all the world. It has excited labor, stimulated manufactures, pushed commerce over every sea, and brought every nation, every kingdom, and every small tribe, among the races of men, to be known to all the rest. It has raised armies, equipped navies, and, triumphing over the gross power of mere numbers, it has established national superiority on the foundation of intelligence, wealth, and well-directed industry...

...which is, in turn, an excerpt from a statement by Daniel Webster, which continues:

...Credit is to money what money is to articles of merchandise. As hard money represents property, so credit represents hard money; and it is capable of supplying the place of money so completely, that there are writers of distinction, especially of the Scotch school, who insist that no hard money is necessary for the interests of commerce. I am not of that opinion. I do not think any government can maintain an exclusive paper system, without running to excess, and thereby causing depreciation.

Moody's has come a long way since Mr. John Moody, a man of extraordinary character, launched the firm over 100 years ago. It has, as Mr. Webster might say, undergone a severe "depreciation." Perhaps it's no coincidence that the old Moody's building has been demolished, and the plaque no longer appears in public view (only a replica of it in the new corporate offices).

In the midst of a Financial District demolished by terrorists and the abuse of credit, one would think the words of Webster might be a helpful reminder of, among other things, the sorts of things that men think about in a time when it's reasonable to have confidence in them.

There's a bit of irony in the image, though: a Native American shaking hands with a Settler. What's this, the deal to sell Manhattan? Confidence, indeed, with the emphasis on "con." But that's legend. Less legendary is the telling omission of the very last line of Webster's wise words: I do not think any government can maintain an exclusive paper system, without running to excess, and thereby causing depreciation.*

* Senator DANIEL WEBSTER, remarks in the Senate in favor of continuing the charter of the Bank of the United States, March 18, 1834.


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