Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

A 19th century banking utopia: Prosper Enfantin's "intellectual credit" project


In 1862, Prosper Enfantin, the former "supreme father" of the Saint Simonian family, envisages, with the support of several former Saint Simonians (such as the Pereiras) the creation of an 'intellectual credit', similar to the 'Crédit Foncier' and 'Crédit Immobilier'. He aims at showing the "moral value" of money while proposing the creation of a 'central lending bank' associated with five specialized sub-counters (music and visual arts, literature, higher education, applied sciences, liberal professions). The new type of bank should therefore "sponsor the intelligence of young people poor people, ...lend on their ability to students graduating from the state's top schools.... "in order to to avoid forcing them to "beg for an order or prostitute their genius" (p.7). Despite the support from several celebrities, including G. Sand, and after several evaluation sessions in 1863, thuis project could not succeed. The major weakness relied on the interest rate level. The later should have been set as the same level as the one required for "big sea adventure loan" (p. 28). The present paper thoroughly specifies the content of this type of banking utopia ('the credit moralizes"), and the context of its failure at the time. In particular, it provides the framework of the relationship between the definition of "intelligence workers," "powers spiritual" or "intangible products" (Sismondi is quoted by Enfantin). The link between the intellectual and intangible property, the value of related assets, patents on the one hand, and bank credit (free credit and literary majorats such in Proudhon...), on the other hand will also be discussed. It also shows to what extent this utopia anticipates current achievements of a ambivalent, typical of saint-simonisms: financialization and securitization of activity with valuation of so-called intangible assets, socialization, merchandising of intangible products, but also non-market socialization of services and products intellectual, common and attempted boundaries between charity (foundations and credit),public policy and the market.


Keywords: St Simonians- Intellectual credit-Banking