Book III. Chapter XX. Section 2
Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy
Book III, Chapter XIX
Of Money, Considered as an Imported Commodity
§1. The degree of progress which we have now made in the theory of Foreign Trade, puts it in our power to supply what was previously deficient in our view of the theory of Money; and this, when completed, will in its turn enable us to conclude the subject of Foreign Trade.
Money, or the material of which it is composed, is, in Great Britain, and in most other countries, a foreign commodity. Its value and distribution must therefore be regulated, not by the law of value which obtains in adjacent places, but by that which is applicable to imported commodities—the law of International Values.
In the discussion into which we are now about to enter, I shall use the terms Money and the Precious Metals indiscriminately. This may be done without leading to any error; it having been shown that the value of money, when it consists of the precious metals, or of a paper currency convertible into them on demand, is entirely governed by the value of the metals themselves: from which it never permanently differs, except by the expense of coinage when this is paid by the individual and not by the state.
Money is brought into a country in two different ways. It is imported (chiefly in the form of bullion) like any other merchandize, as being an advantageous article of commerce. It is also imported in its other character of a medium of exchange, to pay some debt due to the country, either for goods exported or on any other account. There are other ways in which it may be introduced casually; these are the two in which it is received in the ordinary course of business, and which determine its value. The existence of these two distinct modes in which money flows into a country, while other commodities are habitually introduced only in the first of these modes, occasions somewhat more of complexity and obscurity than exists in the case of other commodities, and for this reason only is any special and minute exposition necessary.
§2. In so far as the precious metals are imported in the ordinary way of commerce, their value must depend on the same causes, and conform to the same laws, as the value of any other foreign production. It is in this mode chiefly that gold and silver diffuse themselves from the mining countries into all other parts of the commercial world. They are the staple commodities of those countries, or at least are among their great articles of regular export; and are shipped on speculation, in the same manner as other exportable commodities. The quantity, therefore, which a country (say England) will give of its own produce, for a certain quantity of bullion, will depend, if we suppose only two countries and two commodities, upon the demand in England for bullion, compared with the demand in the mining country (which we will call Brazil) for what England has to give. They must exchange in such proportions as will leave no unsatisfied demand on either side, to alter values by its competition. The bullion required by England must exactly pay for the cottons or other English commodities required by Brazil. If, however, we substitute for this simplicity the degree of complication which really exists, the equation of international demand must be established not between the bullion wanted in England and the cottons or broadcloth wanted in Brazil, but between the whole of the imports of England and the whole of her exports. The demand in foreign countries for English products must be brought into equilibrium with the demand in England for the products of foreign countries; and all foreign commodities, billion among the rest, must be exchanged against English products in such proportions as will, by the effect they produce on the demand, establish this equilibrium.
There is nothing in the peculiar nature or uses of the precious metals, which should make them an exception to the general principles of demand. So far as they are wanted for purposes of luxury or the arts, the demand increases with the cheapness, in the same irregular way as the demand for any other commodity. So far as they are required for money, the demand increases with the cheapness in a perfectly regular way, the quantity needed being always in inverse proportion to the value. This is the only real difference, in respect to demand, between money and other things; and for the present purpose it is a difference altogether immaterial.
Money, then, if imported solely as a merchandize, will, like other imported commodities, be of lowest value in the countries for whose exports there is the greatest foreign demand, and which have themselves the least demand for foreign commodities. To these two circumstances it is however necessary to add two others, which produce their effect through cost of carriage. The cost of obtaining bullion is compounded of two elements; the goods given to purchase it, and the expense of transport: of which last, the bullion countries will bear a part, (though an uncertain part,) in the adjustment of international values. The expense of transport is partly that of carrying the goods to the bullion countries, and partly that of bringing back the bullion: both these items are influenced by the distance from the mines; and the former is also much affected by the bulkiness of the goods. Countries whose exportable produce consists of the finer manufactures, obtain bullion, as well as all other foreign articles, cæteris paribus, at less expense than countries which export nothing but bulky raw produce.
To be quite accurate, therefore, we must say—The countries whose exportable productions are most in demand abroad, and contain greatest value in smallest bulk, which are nearest to the mines, and which have least demand for foreign productions, are those in which money will be of lowest value, or, in other words, in which prices will habitually range the highest. If we are speaking not of the value of money, but of its cost, (that is, the quantity of the country's labour which must be expended to obtain it,) we must add to these four conditions of cheapness a fifth condition, namely, "whose productive industry is the most efficient." This last, however, does not at all affect the value of money, estimated in commodities: it affects the general abundance and facility with which all things, money and commodities together, can be obtained.
Although, therefore, Mr. Senior is right in pointing out the great efficiency of English labour as the chief cause why the precious metals are obtained at less cost by England than by most other countries, I cannot admit that it at all accounts for their being of less value; for their going less far in the purchase of commodities. This, in so far as it is a fact, and not an illusion, must be occasioned by the great demand in foreign countries for the staple commodities of England, and the generally unbulky character of those commodities, compared with the corn, wine, timber, sugar, wool, hides, tallow, hemp, flax, tobacco, raw cotton, &c., which form the exports of other commercial countries. These two causes will account for a somewhat higher range of general prices in England than elsewhere, notwithstanding the counteracting influence of her own great demand for foreign commodities. I am, however, strongly of opinion that the high prices of commodities, and low purchasing power of money in England, are more apparent than real. Food, indeed, is somewhat dearer; and food composes so large a portion of the expenditure when the income is small and the family large, that to such families England is a dear country. Services, also, of most descriptions, are dearer than in the other countries of Europe, from the less costly mode of living of the poorer classes on the Continent. But manufactured commodities (except most of those in which good taste is required) are decidedly cheaper; or would be so if buyers would be content with the same quality of material and of workmanship. What is called the dearness of living in England, is mainly an affair not of necessity but of foolish custom; it being thought imperative by all classes in England above the condition of a day-labourer that the things they consume should either be of the same quality with those used by much richer people, or at least should be as nearly as possible undistinguishable from them in outward appearance.
§3. From the preceding considerations, it appears that those are greatly in error who contend*58 that the value of money, in countries where it is an imported commodity, must be entirely regulated by its value in the countries which produce it; and cannot be raised or lowered in any permanent manner unless some change has taken place in the cost of production at the mines. On the contrary, any circumstance which disturbs the equation of international demand with respect to a particular country, not only may, but must, affect the value of money in that country—its value at the mines remaining the same. The opening of a new branch of export trade from England; an increase in the foreign demand for English products, either by the natural course of events, or by the abrogation of duties; a check to the demand in England for foreign commodities, by the laying on of import duties in England or of export duties elsewhere; these and all other events of similar tendency, would make the imports of England (bullion and other things taken together) no longer an equivalent for the exports; and the countries which take her exports would be obliged to offer their commodities, and bullion among the rest, on cheaper terms, in order to re-establish the equation of demand: and thus England would obtain money cheaper, and would acquire a generally higher range of prices. Incidents the reverse of these would produce effects the reverse—would reduce prices; or, in other words, raise the value of the precious metals. It must be observed, however, that money would be thus raised in value only with respect to home commodities, in relation to all imported articles it would remain as before, since their values would be affected in the same way and in the same degree with its own. A country which, from any of the causes mentioned, gets money cheaper, obtains all its other imports cheaper likewise.
It is by no means necessary that the increased demand for English commodities: which enables England to supply herself with bullion at a cheaper rate, should be a demand in the mining countries. England might export nothing whatever to those countries, and yet might be the country which obtained bullion from them on the lowest terms, provided there were a sufficient intensity of demand in other foreign countries for English goods, which would be paid for circuitously with gold and silver from the mining countries. The whole of its exports are what a country exchanges against the whole of its imports, and not its exports and imports to and from any one country; and the general foreign demand for its productions will determine what equivalent it must give for imported goods, in order to establish an equilibrium between its sales and purchases generally; without regard to the maintenance of a similar equilibrium between it and any country singly.
Notes for this chapter
[In the 1st and 2nd editions here followed: "(as has been done in the controversies called forth by the recent publications of Colonel Torrens)."]
Book III. Chapter XX. Section 2
End of Notes
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