A Treatise on Political Economy
BOOK I, CHAPTER XXI
OF THE NATURE AND USES OF MONEY.
In a society ever so little advanced in civilization, no single individual produces all that is necessary to satisfy his own wants; and it is rarely that an individual, by his single exertion, creates even any single product; but even if he does, his wants are not limited to that single article; they are numerous and various, and he must, therefore, procure all other objects of his personal consumption, by exchanging the overplus of the single product he himself creates beyond his own wants, for such other products as he stands in need of. And, by the way, it is observable, that, since individual producers, in every line, keep for their own use but a very small part of their own products; the gardener, of the vegetables he raises, the baker of the bread he bakes, the shoemaker, of the shoes he makes, and so of all others; the great bulk, nay, almost the whole of the products of every community, arrive at consumption by the medium of exchange.
This is the reason, why it has been erroneously concluded, that exchange and transfer are the basis and origin of the production of wealth, and of commerce in particular; whereas they are only secondary and accessory circumstances; inasmuch as, were each family to raise the whole of the objects of its own consumption, as we see practised in some instances in the back settlements of the United States, society might continue to exist, without a single act of exchange or transfer. I make this remark, merely with a view to correctness of first principles, without any design to detract from the importance of exchange and transfer to the progressive advancement of production; indeed, I set out with the position, that they are indispensable in an advanced stage of civilization.
Admitting, then, the necessity of interchange, let us pause a moment, and consider, what infinite confusion and difficulty must arise to all the different component members of society, who are for the most part producers of but a single article, or two or three at the utmost, but of whom even the poorest is a consumer of a vast number of different products; I say, what difficulty must ensue, were every one obliged to exchange his own products specifically for those he may want; and were the whole of this process carried on by a barter in kind. The hungry cutler must offer the baker his knives for bread; perhaps, the baker has knives enough, but wants a coat; he is willing to purchase one of the tailor with his bread, but the tailor wants not bread, but butcher's meat; and so on to infinity.
By way of getting over this difficulty, the cutler, finding he cannot persuade the baker to take an article he does not want, will use his best endeavours to have a commodity to offer, which the baker will be able readily to exchange again for whatever he may happen to need. If there exist in the society any specific commodity that is in general request, not merely on account of its inherent utility, but likewise on account of the readiness with which it is received in exchange for the necessary articles of consumption, and the facility of proportionate subdivision, that commodity is precisely what the cutler will try to barter his knives for; because he has learnt from experience, that its possession will procure him without any difficulty, by a second act of exchange, bread or any other article he may wish for.
Now, money is precisely that commodity.
The two qualities, that give a general preference of value, in the shape of the current money of the country, to the same amount of value in any other shape, are:—
1. The aptitude, in the character of an intermedial object of exchange, to help all who have any exchange or any purchase to make, that is to say, every member of the community, towards the specific object of desire. The general confidence, that money is a commodity acceptable to every body, inspires the assurance of being able, by one act of exchange only, to procure the immediate object of desire, whatever it may be; whereas, the possessor of any other commodity can never be sure that it will be acceptable to the possessor of that particular object of desire.
2. The capability of subdivision and precise apportionment to the amount of the intended purchase; which capability is a recommendation to all who have purchases to make; in other words, to every member of the community. Every one is, therefore, anxious to barter for money the product whereof he holds a superfluity, and which is commonly that he himself produces; because, in addition to the other quality above stated, he feels sure of being able to buy with its value in that shape as small or as large a portion of corresponding value, as he may require; and because he may buy, whenever, and wherever he pleases, such objects as he may desire to have in lieu of the product he has sold originally.
In a very advanced stage of civilization, when individual wants have become various and numerous, and productive operations very much subdivided, exchanges become a matter of more urgent necessity, as well as much more frequent and more complicated; and personal consumption and barter in kind becomes less practicable. For instance, if a man makes not the whole knife, but the handle of it only, as in fact is the case in towns where cutlery is conducted on a large scale, he does not produce any thing that he can turn to account; for what could he do with the handle without the blade? He can not himself consume the smallest part of his own product, but must unavoidably exchange the whole of it for the necessaries or conveniences of life, for bread, meat, linen, &c. But neither baker, butcher, nor weaver, can ever stand in need of an article, that is fit for nobody but the finishing cutler, who can not himself give either bread or meat in exchange; because he produces neither; and who must, therefore, give some one commodity, that, by the custom of the country, may be expected to pass currently in exchange for most others.
Thus, money is the more requisite, the more civilized a nation is, and the further it has carried the division of labour.*28 Yet history contains precedents of considerable states, in which the use of any specific article, as money, was utterly unknown; as we are told it was among the Mexicans at the time of the discovery. We are informed, that, just about the period of their conquest by the Spanish adventurers, they were beginning to employ grains of cacao as money, in the smaller transactions of commerce.*29
I have referred to custom, and not to the authority of government, the choice of the particular article that is to act as money in preference to every other: for though a government may coin what it pleases to call crowns, it does not oblige the subject to give his goods in exchange for these crowns, at least not where property is at all respected. Nor is it the mere impression, that makes people consent to take this coin in exchange for other products. Money passes current like any other commodity; and people may at liberty barter one article for another in kind, or for gold in bars, or silver bullion. The sole reason why a man elects to receive the coin in preference to every other article, is, because he has learnt from experience, that it is preferred by those whose products he has occasion to purchase. Crown pieces derive their circulation as money from no other authority than this spontaneous preference: and if there were the least ground for supposing, that any other commodity, as wheat, for instance, would pass more currently in exchange for what they calculate upon wanting themselves, people would not give their goods for crown pieces, but would demand wheat, which would then be invested with all the properties of money. And this has occurred occasionally in practice, where the authorized or government money has consisted of paper destitute of credit or public confidence.
Custom, therefore, and not the mandate of authority, designates the specific product that shall pass exclusively as money, whether crown pieces or any other commodity whatever.*30
The more frequent recurrence of the exchange of every individual product for the commodity, money, than for any other product, has attached particular names to this transaction; thus, to receive money in exchange is called, selling, and to give it, buying.
In this way originated the use of money. These positions are by no means purely speculative; for on them must all arguments, and laws, and regulations, on the subject of money, be grounded. A system built upon any other foundation can possess neither beauty nor solidity, and must fail to fulfil the object of its construction.
With the view of throwing the utmost possible light upon the essential properties of money, and the principal contingencies it is subject to, I shall treat of these particulars in separate sections, and endeavour to enable such as may give me their attention, to follow with ease the chain of connexion, notwithstanding that classification; and themselves to arrange in one comprehensive view the whole play of the mechanism, and the causes of that derangement, which human folly or misfortune may occasionally effect.
Of the Material of Money.
If, as it would appear by the reasoning in the preceding section, money be employed as a mere intermedial object of exchange between an object in possession and the object of desire, the choice of its material is of no great importance. Money is not desired as an object of food, of household use, or of personal covering, but for the purpose of re-sale, as it were, and re-exchange for some object of utility, after having been originally received in exchange for one such already. Money is, therefore, not an object of consumption; it passes through the hands without sensible diminution or injury; and may perform its office equally well, whether its material be gold or silver, leather or paper.
Yet, to enable it to execute its functions, it must of necessity be possessed of inherent and positive value; for no man will be content to resign an object possessed of value, in exchange for another of less value, or of none at all.
There are some other less essential requisites, which add to its efficiency. A material, wherein these are not combined, is unfit for the purpose, and cannot hope to engross its functions either generally or permanently.
We are told by Homer, that the armour of Diomede had cost nine oxen. A warrior, that wished to arm himself at half the price, must have been puzzled to pay four oxen and a half. Wherefore, the article employed as money must be capable of being readily and without injury apportioned to the different objects of desire, and subdivided in such manner, as to admit of exchanges of the exact amount required.
Again, we read, that in Abyssinia, they make use of salt for money. If the same custom prevailed in France, a man must take a mountain of salt to market to pay for his weekly provisions. Wherefore, the commodity employed as money must not be so abundant, as to make it necessary to transfer a large quantity, on each recurring act of exchange.
At Newfoundland, it is said, that dried cod performs the office of money, and Smith makes mention of a village in Scotland, where nails are made use of for that purpose.*31 Besides many other inconveniences, that substances of this nature are subject to, there is this grand objection, that the quantity may be enlarged almost at pleasure, and in a very short space of time, and thereby a vast fluctuation effected in their relative value. But who would readily accept in exchange an article, that might, perhaps, in a few moments, lose the half or three-fourths of its value? Wherefore, the commodity employed as money must be of such difficult acquisition, as to ensure those who take it, from the danger of sudden depreciation.
In the Maldive islands, and in some parts of India and Africa, shells, called cowries, are employed as money, although they have no intrinsic value, except that they serve for ornament to some rude tribes. This kind of money would never do for nations that carry on trade with many parts of the globe; a medium of exchange of such very limited circulation would offer insuperable objections. It is natural for people to receive most willingly in exchange that article, which is the most universally received in like manner by other people in their turn.
We need not, then, be surprised, that almost all the commercial nations of the world should have selected metal to perform the office of money; when once the more industrious and commercial communities had declared their choice, all the rest had an evident inducement to follow their example.
At times, when the metals now most abundantly produced were yet rare, people were content to make use of them for the purpose. The legal currency of Lacedæmon was of iron; that of the early Romans, of copper. In proportion as those metals were extracted from the earth in greater quantity, they became liable to the objection above stated in respect to all products of too little comparative*32 value; and it is long since the precious metals, that is to say, gold and silver, have been almost universally adopted. To this use they are particularly applicable:
1. As being divisible into extremely minute portions, and capable of re-union, without any sensible loss of weight or value; so that the quantity may be easily apportioned to the value of the article of purchase.
2. The precious metals have a sameness of quality all over the world. One grain of pure gold is exactly similar to another, whether it came from the mines of Europe or America, or from the sands of Africa. Time, weather, and damp, have no power to alter the quality: the relative weight of any specific portion, therefore, determines at once its relative quality and value to every other portion: two grains of gold are worth exactly twice as much as one.
3. Gold and silver, especially with the mixture of alloy, that they admit of, are hard enough to resist very considerable friction, and are therefore fitted for rapid circulation, though, indeed, in this respect, they are inferior to many kinds of precious stones.
4. Their rarity and consequent dearness are not so great that the quantity of gold or of silver, equivalent to the generality of goods, is too minute for ordinary perception; nor, on the other hand, are they so abundant and cheap, as to make a large value amount to a great weight. It is possible, that in progress of time, they may become liable to objection on this score; especially if new and rich veins of ore should be discovered: and then mankind must have recourse to platina, or some other yet unknown metal, for the purpose of currency.
Lastly, gold and silver are capable of receiving a stamp or impression, certifying the weight of the piece, and the degree of its purity.
Although the precious metals used for money have generally some mixture of baser metal, generally of copper, by way of alloy, the value of the baser metal, thus incorporated, is reckoned for nothing. Not that the alloy is itself destitute of value; but because the operation of disuniting it from the purer metal would cost more than it would be worth, after it was extracted. For this reason a piece of coined gold or silver, mixed with alloy, is estimated by the quantity of precious metal only contained in it.*33
Of the Accession of Value a Commodity receives by being Vested with the Character of Money.
From the foregoing sections it will appear, that money is indebted for its currency, not to the authority of the government, but to its being a commodity bearing a peculiar and intrinsic value. But its preference, as an object of exchange, to all other commodities of equivalent value, is owing to its characteristic properties as money; and to the peculiar advantage it derives from its employment in that character; namely, the advantage of being in universal use and request. The whole population, from the lowest degree of poverty to the highest of wealth, must effect exchanges, must buy the objects of want; must be consumers of money; or, in other words, must obtain possession of the commodity, that acts as the medium of exchange, the commodity generally admitted to be best suited, and most frequently employed for that purpose. A man that has any other commodity, jewels, for instance, to offer in exchange for the necessaries or luxuries he may have occasion for, cannot get those necessaries or luxuries by the process of exchange, until he has found a consumer for his jewels; nor can he even then be sure, that such a consumer will be able to give him, in return, the very identical article he may want: whereas, a man, with money in his pocket, is quite certain, that it will be acceptable to the person, of whom he would buy any thing; because that person will, in turn, be himself obliged to become a purchaser in like manner.*34 With the commodity, money, he can obtain all he wants by a single act of exchange only, called a purchase; whereas, with all others two acts at least are necessary; a sale and a purchase. This is the sum total of its advantages in the character of money: but it must be obvious to every body, that the preference, thus shown it as money, is a consequence of its actual use as such.
I must here observe, that the adoption of any specific commodity to serve as money, considerably augments its intrinsic value, or value as an article of commerce. A new use being discovered for the commodity, it unavoidably becomes more in request; the employment of a great part, the half or perhaps three-fourths of the whole stock of it on hand, in this new way cannot fail to render the whole more scarce and dear.*35
Were the actually existing stock of silver and gold applied to no other use than the fabrication of plate or ornament, the quantity would be abundant and much cheaper than it is at present; that is to say, whenever they were exchanged for other commodities, more of them would be given or received in proportion to the value obtained in exchange. But a large portion of these metals being destined to act as money, and exclusively occupied in that way, there is less remaining to be manufactured into jewellery and plate, and the scarcity of course adds to the value. On the other hand, if they were never used in plate or jewellery, there would be more of them applicable to the purpose of money, and money would grow cheaper, that is to say, more of it would be necessary to purchase an equal quantity of goods. The employment of the precious metals in manufacture makes them scarcer and dearer as money; in like manner as their employment as money makes them scarcer and dearer in manufacture.*36
Hence it naturally follows, that these metals being, by reason of their employment as money, raised to such a price, as precludes their so general use in the form of plate and jewellery, it is in consequence found less convenient to use them in that form. The luxury costs more than it is worth. Thus, massive gold plate has gone completely out of fashion, particularly in those countries, where the activity of commerce, and the rapid progress of wealth, make gold in great demand for the purposes of money. The richest individuals content themselves with gilt plate, that is to say, plate covered with a very thin coat of gold; solid gold is used only in smaller articles of manufacture, and those in which the value of the workmanship exceeds that of the metal. In England, plate is made very light, and people of affluence often content themselves with silver-plated goods. The ostentation of displaying a large service of that metal costs the interest of a considerable capital.
The increase of the value of metals is, generally speaking, attended with some disadvantages; inasmuch as it places many articles of comfort and convenience, silver dishes, spoons, &c., beyond the reach of most private families; but there is no disadvantage in such increased value of the metal in its character of money; on the contrary, there is a greater convenience in the transfer of a less bulky commodity, on every change of residence, and every act of exchange.
The selection of any commodity, to act as money in but one part of the world, increases its value everywhere else. There is no doubt, that, if silver should cease to be current as money in Asia, the value of that metal in Europe would be affected, and more of it would be given in exchange for all other commodities; for one use of silver in Europe is, the possibility of exporting it to Asia.
The employment of the precious metals as money by no means renders their value stationary; they remain subject to local as well as temporary fluctuations of value, like every other object of commerce. In China, half an ounce of silver will purchase as many objects of use or pleasure as an ounce in France; and an ounce of silver in France will generally go much farther in the purchase of commodities, than it will in America. Silver is more valuable in China than in France, and in France than in America.
Thus money, or specie, as some people call it, is a commodity, whose value is determined by the same general laws, as that of all other commodities; that is to say, rises and falls in proportion to the relative demand and supply. And so intense is that demand, as to have sometimes been sufficient to make paper, employed as money, equal in value to gold of the same denomination; of which the money of Great Britain is a present example.
It must not be imagined, that the paper money of that country derives its value from the promise of payment in specie, which it purports to convey. That promise has been held out ever since the suspension of cash payments by the bank in 1797, without any attempt at performance, which many people consider impossible.*37 Gold is only procurable piecemeal, and by payment of an agio or per centage; in other words, by giving a larger amount in paper for a smaller amount in gold. Yet the paper, though depreciated, is invested with value far exceeding that of its flimsy material. Whence, then, is that value derived? From the urgent want, in a very advanced stage of society and of industry, of some agent or medium of exchange. England, in its actual state, requires, for the effectuation of its sales and purchases, an agent or medium equal in value, say to 1,284,000 lbs. weight of gold; or, what is the same thing, to 1,200,000,000 lbs. weight of sugar; or, what is still the same thing, to 60,000,000l. sterling of paper, taking the Bank of England paper at 30 millions, and the paper of the country banks at as much more.*38 This is the reason, why the 60 millions of paper, though destitute of intrinsic value, are, by the mere want of a medium of exchange, made equal in value to 1,284,000 lbs. weight of gold, or 1,200,000,000 lbs. weight of sugar.
As a proof that this paper has a peculiar and inherent value, when its credit was the same as at present, and its volume or nominal amount was enlarged, its value fell in proportion to the enlargement, just like that of any other commodity. And, as all other commodities rose in price, in proportion to the depreciation of the paper, its total value never exceeded the same amount of 1,284,000 lbs. weight of gold, or, 1,200,000,000 lbs. weight of sugar. Why? Because the business of circulating all the values of England required no larger value. No government has the power of increasing the total national money otherwise than nominally. The increased quantity of the whole reduces the value of every part; and vice versâ.*39
Since the national money, whatever be its material, must have a peculiar and inherent value, originating in its employment in that character, it forms an item of national wealth, in the same manner as sugar, indigo, wheat, and all the other commodities that the nation may happen to possess.*40 It fluctuates in value like other commodities; and like them, too, is consumed, though less rapidly than most of them. Wherefore, it would be wrong to subscribe to the opinion of Garnier,*41 who lays it down as a maxim, that, "so long as silver remains in the shape of money, it is not an item of actual wealth in the strict sense of the word; for it does not directly and immediately satisfy a want or procure an enjoyment." There are abundance of values incapable of satisfying a want, or procuring an enjoyment, in their present existing shape. A merchant may have his warehouse full of indigo, which is of no use in its actual state, either as food or as clothing; yet it is nevertheless an item of wealth, and one that can be converted, at will, into another value fit for immediate use. Silver, in the shape of crown pieces, is, therefore, equally an article of wealth with indigo in chests. Besides, is not the utility of money an object of desire in civilized society?
Indeed, the same writer elsewhere admits that, "specie in the coffers of an individual is real wealth, an integral part of his substance, which he may immediately devote to his personal enjoyment; although, in the eye of political economy, this same coin is a mere instrument of exchange, essentially differing from the wealth it helps to circulate."*42 I hope what I have said is quite sufficient to show the complete analogy of specie to all other items of wealth. Whatever is wealth to an individual, is wealth to the nation, which is but an aggregate of many individuals; and is wealth also in the eye of political economy, which must not be misled by the notion of imaginary value, or regard as value any thing, but what all the members of the community, individually, as well as jointly, treat as value, not nominal, but actual. And this is one proof more, that there are not two kinds of truth in this, more than in any other science. What is true in relation to an individual, is true in relation to the government, and to the community. Truth is uniform; in the application only can there be any variety.
Of the Utility of Coinage, and of the Charge of its Execution.
No mention has hitherto been made of the value that money derives from the impression and coinage. I have merely pointed out the various utility of gold and silver as articles of commerce, wherein originates their value; and considered their fitness to act as money, as part of that utility.
Wherever gold and silver act as money, they must of course be constantly passing from hand to hand. Most people buy or sell several times a day; judge, then, what inconvenience must ensue, were it necessary to be always provided with scales to weigh the money paid or received; and what infinite blunders and disputes must arise from awkwardness or defective implements. Nor is this all; gold and silver can be compounded with other metals without any visible alteration. The degree of purity can not be exactly ascertained, without a delicate and complex chemical process. The transactions of exchange are wonderfully facilitated, when the weight and standard of each piece of money are denoted by an impression, that nobody can mistake.
Metals are reduced to an established standard, and divided into pieces of an established weight, by the art of coining.
The government of each state usually reserves to itself the exclusive exercise of this branch of manufacture; whether with a view of gaining somewhat more by the monopoly, than it could, if every body were at liberty to practise it, or to hold out to the subjects a more solid security, than any private manufacturer could offer, which is more frequently the motive. In fact, though governments have too often broken faith in this particular, their guarantee is still preferred by the people to that of individuals, both for the sake of uniformity in the coin, and because there would probably be more difficulty in detecting the frauds of private issuers.
The coinage unquestionably adds a value to the metal coined; that is to say, a lump of silver, wrought into a dollar, is better than an equal weight of bullion of like standard; and for a very simple reason. The fashion given to the metal saves the person, that takes it in course of exchange, all the charges of weighing and assaying, among which the loss of time and labour must be reckoned; just in the same manner as a coat ready made is worth more than the materials it is to be made of. Even if the business of coining were open to all the world, and government confined itself to fixing the standard, the weight, and the impression, that each piece should possess, still the holders of bullion would find it answer to pay a premium to the coiner, for coining their bullion into money; otherwise, they would have some difficulty in effecting an exchange, and would, perhaps, lose more on the exchange, than it would cost to have the bullion converted into coin.
But the additional value, thus communicated to the precious metals by the coinage, must not be confounded with that, which bullion, as an article of trade, receives from the circumstance of its employment as money. The latter value attaches to the whole stock of gold and silver in existence; a silver tankard is of greater value, because that metal is employed as money, whereas, the additional value accruing from the coinage is peculiar to the specific portion coined, exactly as its fashion is peculiar to the goblet; and is wholly independent of the value, that the commodity, silver, derives from its various utility.
In England, the whole expense of coinage is defrayed by the government; the same weight of guineas is delivered at the mint in return for a like weight of bullion of the legal standard. The nation, in quality of consumer of money, is gratuitously presented with the charges of coining, which are levied by taxation upon them in their other character of payers of taxes. Yet gold, in the shape of guineas, has an evident advantage over bullion; not that of being ready weighed, for people are often at the pains of re-weighing, but that of being ready assayed. Consequently, it has happened sometimes, that bullion has been carried to the mint, not to be converted into coin, but merely to have the standard ascertained, and certified to the foreign or domestic purchaser.*43 For guineas are a better article of export than bullion, inasmuch as bullion, bearing the certificate of assay, is preferable to bullion without any such certificate. On the contrary, for the purposes of importation into England, gold bullion answers every purpose of guineas ready coined, and is of just the same value, weight and standard being alike; for the mint makes no charge for converting the bullion into coin. Foreigners have, in fact, an object in keeping back the guineas, which have already received the certificate of assay, and remitting bullion to England to obtain a like gratuitous certificate. This system, therefore, makes it an object to export the coined metal, but holds out no encouragement to its reimportation.*44
The mischief is somewhat palliated by an accidental circumstance, which never entered into the calculation of the legislature. There is no other mint in England, but that of the metropolis, which is so completely overloaded with business, that it can not re-deliver the metal coined till many weeks, and often months, after it is brought for coinage.*45 The consequence is, that the owner, who leaves his bullion to be coined, loses the interest of its value during the whole time it remains in the mint. This operates as a small tax on coinage, and raises the value of the coin somewhat above that of bullion. For it is manifest, that the value would be exactly the same, if bullion and guineas were taken without distinction, weight for weight.
So much for the effect of the English regulations on this head.
All the other governments of Europe, if I mistake not, derive from the coinage a revenue more than equal to the charges of the process.*46 The exclusive privilege of issuing money which they have most properly engrossed, together with the severe penalties denounced against private coiners, would enable them to raise the profit of the business very high by the limitation of their issues; for the value of money, like that of every thing else, is always in the direct ratio to the demand, and in the inverse ratio to the supply.
In fact when silver in the shape of coin is so rare and dear, that 18 dollars in coin will purchase the weight of 20 dollars of equal fineness in the shape of bullion, it is an indication that the public attaches the same value to 15 oz. 12 dwt. of coined, as to 17 oz. 6 dwt. 16 grs. of uncoined metal. Wherefore, the government can, by its coinage, in such case, give to 9 dollars, the value of 10 dollars, and make a profit of 10 per cent. But, if the coin become more abundant, and more of it be necessary in exchange for bullion, it may perhaps be necessary to give 95 dollars in coin for the weight of 100 dollars in bullion: in which latter case, the government can make a profit of no more than 5 per cent. upon the purchase and conversion of bullion into coin.
If, in the latter case, the government, with a view to increase the ratio of its profit, instead of purchasing bullion itself, were simply to charge a seignorage, say of 10 per cent. upon the bullion brought to the mint for coinage, none at all would be brought for that purpose by individuals, who would have to pay 10 per cent. for an operation, which added 5 per cent. only to the value of the metal. Thus the mint would have nothing to coin either on public or private account; and the government would find a high ratio of profit incompatible with an extended amount of coinage.
Whence it may be concluded, that the duty or seignorage upon coinage, which has been so frequently discussed, is an absolute nullity; for that governments can not fix their own ratio of profit upon the execution of the coinage, but that it must depend upon the state of the bullion market, which again is regulated by the relative supplies of coined and uncoined metal, and the demand for them at the time being.
It is to be observed, that, to the public at large, in its capacity of consumer of coined bullion, it is a matter of perfect indifference, whether the coin be dear or cheap; for, so long as its value is not subject to sudden fluctuations, it will pass current for as much as it has been taken for.
When the coinage of money is not executed gratuitously, and especially when it is paid for at a monopoly-price, it is a matter of perfect indifference to the state, whether or not its coin be melted down or exported, for it can neither be melted down or exported, without having first paid the coinage in full, which is all that is lost by melting or exportation.*47 On the contrary, the export of such coin is quite as advantageous as that of any other manufactured commodity whatever. It is a branch of the bullion trade; and unquestionably, a coin, so well executed as to be difficult to counterfeit, accurate in the weight and assay, and charged with a moderate duty on the coinage, may acquire a currency in different parts of the world, and yield the government, that issues it, a profit of no contemptible amount.
Witness the gold ducats of Holland, which are in request throughout all the north of Europe, at a higher rate than their intrinsic value as bullion; and the dollars of Spain, which are all coined at Lima and Mexico, and have been executed with so much regularity and integrity, as to pass current as money not only all over Spanish America, but likewise in the United States and in several parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia.*48
The Spanish dollar is a remarkable instance of the value attached to the metal by the process of coinage. When the Americans of the Union determined on a national coinage of dollars, they contented themselves with simply re-stamping those of the Spanish mint, without varying their weight or standard. But the piece thus restamped would not pass current with the Chinese, and other Asiatics, at the same rate; 100 dollars of the United States would not purchase so much of other commodities as 100 dollars of Spain. The American Executive, nevertheless, continued to deteriorate the coin by giving it a handsome impression, apparently wishing to avail itself of this method of checking the export of specie to Asia. For this purpose it was directed, that all exports of specie should be made in dollars of its own coinage, hoping in this way to make the exporters give a preference to the domestic products of its own territory. Thus, after wantonly depreciating the Spanish dollar, without prejudice, it is true, to the specie remaining current within the territory of the Union, it went on further to enjoin its use in the least profitable way, viz. in the commercial intercourse with those nations that set the least value on it. The natural course would have been, to suffer the value exported to go out of the country in the form that might offer the prospect of the largest returns. Self-interest might have been safely relied on in this particular.*49
But what are we to think of the wisdom of the Spanish government, which was enabled by the confidence in its good faith in the execution of its coinage, to export dollars with a profit, and sell them abroad at an advance upon their intrinsic value; and yet thought fit to prohibit so advantageous a traffic, which would have furnished a vent to a product of the national soil, worked up by domestic industry for an ample recompense?
Though a government be the exclusive coiner of money, and is by no means bound to coin gratuitously, it can not with justice deduct the expense of coinage from its payments, in discharge of its own contracts. If it has engaged to pay a million, say for supplies advanced, it can not honestly say to the contractor: "We bargained to pay a million, but, we pay you in specie just coined; and therefore shall deduct 20,000 dollars, more or less, for the charges of coinage." In fact, all pecuniary engagements, contracted by government or individuals, virtually imply a promise to pay a given sum, not in bullion but in coin. The act of exchange, wherein the bargain originated, is effected with the implied condition, on behalf of one of the contracting parties, to give a commodity somewhat more valuable than silver bullion; namely, silver in crown pieces, or coin of some denomination or other. The virtual contract of a government is to pay in coined money; and, in consequence of that implied condition, it obtains a greater quantity of goods, than it will, if the bargain be to pay in bullion. In this instance, it offers the charge of coinage into the bargain at the time of concluding the contract, and thereby obtains better terms, than if it is in the habit of paying in bullion.
The charges of coinage should be deducted from the metal brought to the mint to be coined, at the time of its re-delivery in a coined state.
These considerations lead us to the necessary conclusions,—that the manufacture of bullion into coin increases the value of the metal, in the ratio of the additional convenience resulting to the community, from the circumstance of coinage, and not an item further, whatever charges or duties the state may attempt to saddle it with;*50 that a government, by monopolising the business of coining, may make a profit to the whole extent of this accession of value; that it can not possibly advance this profit any further, in its discharge of engagements, fairly and freely entered into; and that it can not do so with regard to prior engagements, without committing an act of partial bankruptcy.
Moreover, it is evident that, in all dealings between individuals, the public authority has still less power, by means of the impression of its die, to make the commodity, acting as money, pass for more than its intrinsic value, plus the value added by the fashion it receives. Vain will be any enactment, that the stamp impressed shall give to an ounce of silver a specific or determinate value; it will never buy more goods than an ounce of silver, bearing that impression, is worth at the time being.
Of Alterations of the Standard Money.
The first thing to be observed under this head is, that the public authority has generally taken upon itself to fix arbitrarily the commodity, that shall serve as money. This assumption, on its part, has little inconvenience in itself; for the interests of the nation and of the ruling power happen to be exactly the same. Should a government attempt to force an ill-adapted medium into circulation, it would sustain a loss itself on every bargain, and the people would, by degrees, adopt some other medium. Thus, the first issue of coined money among the Romans was by their King Numa, and his coinage was of copper, which at that time of day was the properest metal for the purpose; for, before the time of Numa, the Romans knew no other money but copper in bars. On the same principle, modern governments have made choice of gold and silver, which would undoubtedly have been selected by the general accord of individuals without the interference of their rulers.
But the sovereign power, being firmly persuaded that its mandate was necessary and competent to invest any commodity whatever with the currency of money, succeeded in impressing its subjects with the same notion during the darker ages, and that too at the very time that individuals, with a view to personal interest, were acting upon principles diametrically opposite; for, whoever was dissatisfied with the authorised money, either abstained from selling altogether, or disposed of his goods in some other way.
This error led to another of much more serious mischief, that has overset all order whatever.
The public authority persuaded itself, that it could raise or depress the value of money at pleasure; and that on every exchange of goods for money, the value of the goods adjusted itself to the imaginary value, which it pleased authority to affix to it, and not to the value naturally attached to the agent of exchange, money, by the conflicting influence of demand and supply.
Thus, when Philip I. of France, adulterated the livre of Charlemagne, containing 12 oz. of fine silver,*51 and mixed with it a third part alloy, but still continued to call it a livre, though containing but 8 oz. of fine silver, he was nevertheless fully persuaded, that his adulterated livre was worth quite as much as the livre of his predecessors. Yet it was really worth 1-3 less than the livre of Charlemagne. A livre in coin would purchase but 2-3 of what it had done before. However, the creditors of the monarch, and of individuals, got paid but 2-3 of their just claims; land-owners received from their tenants but 2-3 of their former revenue, till the renewal of leases placed matters on a more equitable footing. Abundance of injustice was committed and authorised: but after all it was impossible to make 8 oz. of fine silver equal to 12.*52
In the year 1113, the livre, as it was still called, contained no more than 6 oz. of fine silver. At the commencement of the reign of Louis VII. it had been reduced to 4 oz. St. Louis gave the name of livre to a quantity of silver weighing but 2 oz. or 6 gros. 6 grains.*53 At the era of the French revolution, the money bearing that name weighed only the 1-6 of an oz.; so that it had been reduced to 1.72 of its original standard of weight or quality in the days of Charlemagne.
I take no notice, at present, of the great fall experienced in the relative value of fine silver to commodities at large, which has been reduced so low as 1-4 of its former amount; but this is foreign to the subject of the present section, and I shall take occasion to speak of it hereafter.
Thus the term, livre tournois, has at different times been applied to very different quantities of fine silver. The alteration has been effected, sometimes by reducing the size and weight of the coin bearing that denomination, sometimes by deteriorating the standard of quality, that is to say, mixing up a larger portion of alloy, and a smaller one of pure metal; and, sometimes, by raising the denomination of a specific coin; making, for instance, what was before a 2 fr. piece pass under the name of one of 3 fr. As no account is ever taken of any thing but the pure silver, which is the only valuable substance in silver coin, all these expedients have had a similar effect; for this reason; that they all, in fact, reduced the quantity of silver contained in what was called a livre tournois. And this is what all French writers, in compliment to the royal ordinances, have dignified by the term, raising the standard; on the ground, that the nominal value of the coin is raised by these operations; which might, with much more propriety, be said to lower the standard, since the metal, which alone constitutes the money, is thereby reduced in quantity.
Though the quantity of metal in the livre has been continually decreasing from the days of Charlemagne till the present period, many of our monarchs have, at different times, adopted a contrary course, and advanced the weight and standard of quality, particularly since the reign of St. Louis. The motives for deterioration are evident enough: it is extremely convenient to pay one's debts with less money than one borrowed. But kings are not only debtors; they are frequently creditors too. In the matter of taxation, they stand precisely in the same relative position to the subject, as landlords to their tenants. Now, if every body be enabled by law to pay their debts and discharge their contracts with a less amount of silver than bargained for, the subject, of course, can pay his taxes, and the tenant his rent, with a smaller quantity of that metal. And, although the king received less silver, yet he continued to spend as much as before; for the nominal price of commodities rose, in proportion to the diminution of metal in the coin. When what was before 3 fr. was declared by law to be 4 fr. the government was obliged to pay 4 fr. where it before paid but 3 fr.; so that it was necessary, either to increase the old, or to impose new taxes; in other words, the government, to obtain the same quantity of fine silver, was obliged to demand a greater number of livres from the subject. This course, however, was always odious, even when it really made no difference in the real pressure of taxation, and was often quite impracticable. Recourse was, therefore, had to the restoration of the coin to the higher standard. The livre being made to contain a greater weight of silver, the nation really paid more silver in paying the same number of livres.*54 Thus we find, that the ameliorations of the coin commence nearly about the same period as the establishment of permanent taxation. Before that innovation, the monarch had no personal motive for increasing the intrinsic value of the coin he issued.
It would be a great mistake to suppose that the frequent variations of standard alluded to, were effected in the same clear and intelligible manner which I have adopted to explain them. Sometimes the alteration, instead of being openly avowed, was kept secret as long as possible;*55 and this attempt at concealment gave occasion to the barbarous technical jargon used in this branch of manufacture. At other times, one denomination of coin was altered, while the rest were left untouched; so that, at a given period, a livre, paid in one denomination, contained more silver than if paid in another. Finally, to throw the matter in still greater obscurity, the subject was commonly forced to reckon up his accounts, sometimes in livres and sous, sometimes in crowns, and to pay in coin representing neither livre, sol, nor crown, but either fractions or multiples of these several denominations. Princes, that resort to such pettifogging expedients, can be viewed in no other light, than as counterfeiters armed with public authority.
The injurious effect of such measures upon credit, commercial integrity, industry, and all the sources of prosperity, may be easily conceived; indeed, it was so serious, that, at several periods of our history, the monetary operations of the state suspended all commerce whatever. Philip le Bel drove all foreigners out of the fairs of France, by compelling them to receive his discredited coin in payment, and prohibiting the making of bargains in a coin of better credit.*56 Philip de Valois did the same thing with respect to the gold coin, and with precisely the same result. A contemporary chronicler*57 informs us, that almost all foreign merchants discontinued their dealings with France; that the French traders themselves, ruined by the frequent alterations of the coin, and the consequent uncertainty of values, withdrew to other countries; and that the rest of the king's subjects, both noble and bourgeois, were equally impoverished with the merchants; for which reason, the annalist adds simply enough, the king was not at all beloved.
The examples I have cited are taken from the monetary system of France; but similar expedients have been practised in almost every nation, ancient or modern. Popular forms of government have been equally culpable with those of a despotic character. The Romans, during the most glorious periods of the republic, effected a national bankruptcy more than once, by deteriorating the intrinsic value of their coin. In the course of the first Punic war, the as, which was originally 12 oz. of copper, was reduced to 2 oz.; and, in the second Punic war, was again lowered to 1 oz.*58
In the year 1722, the State of Pennsylvania, which acted, in this particular, as an independent government, even before the American war, passed a law, enacting, that 1l. sterling should pass for 1l. 5s.;*59 and the United States, and France also, after declaring themselves republics, have both gone still further.
"It would require a separate treatise," says Stewart, "to investigate all the artifices which have been contrived to make mankind lose sight of the principles of money, in order to palliate and make this power in the sovereign to change the value of the coin appear reasonable."*60 He might have added, that such a volume would be of little practical service, and by no means prevent the speedy adoption of some new device of the same kind. The only effectual preventive would be, the exposure of the corrupt system, that engenders such abuses; were that system rendered simple and intelligible, every abuse would be detected and extinguished in the outset.
And let no government imagine, that, to strip them of the power of defrauding their subjects, is to deprive them of a valuable privilege. A system of swindling can never be long-lived, and must infallibly in the end produce much more loss than profit. The feeling of personal interest is that which soonest awakens the intellectual faculties of mankind, and sharpens the dullest apprehensions. Wherefore, in matters affecting personal interest, a government has the least chance of outwitting its subjects. Individuals are not easily duped by measures tending to procure supplies to the state in an under-hand manner: and although they cannot guard against direct outrage, or breach of public faith, yet it can never long escape their penetration, however artfully disguised and concealed. The government will acquire a character for cunning as well as faithlessness, and will lose entirely the powerful engine of credit, which will operate with infinitely more efficacy, than the mere trifle that fraud can procure. Yet, even that trifle will often be wholly engrossed by the agents of government, who are sure to turn every act of injustice towards the subject, to their own private advantage. Thus, while the government loses its credit, its agents get all the profit; and the public authority is disgraced, for no other purpose, than to enrich its menials.
The real interest of a government is, to look not to fictitious, disgraceful, and destructive resources, but to such as are really prolific and inexhaustible; and one can render it no better service, than to expose and render abortive those of the former kind, and point out to it those of the latter.
The immediate consequence of a deterioration of the coin is, a proportionate reduction of all debts and obligations payable in money; of all perpetual or redeemable rent-charges, whether upon the state or upon individuals; of all salaries, pensions, and rack-rents; in short, of all values previously expressed in money; by which reduction, the debtor gains what the creditor loses. It is a legal authorization of a partial bankruptcy, or compromise, by every money-debtor with his creditor, for a sum less than his fair claim, in the ratio of the diminution of precious metal in the same denomination of coin.
Thus, whatever government has recourse to this expedient, is not content with giving itself an illegitimate advantage, but urges all other debtors to do so likewise.
The kings of France, however, have not always allowed their subjects to reap the same advantage in their private concerns, which the monarch proposed to himself by the operation of increasing or diminishing the quantity of metal contained in a particular denomination of coin. Their personal motive was, on all such occasions, to pay less, or receive more silver or gold themselves, than in honesty they ought; but they sometimes compelled individuals, notwithstanding the alteration, to pay and receive in the old coin, or, if in the new, at the current rate of exchange between the two.*61 This was a close copy of a Roman precedent. When that republic, in the second Punic war, reduced the as of copper from two oz. to one, the republic paid its creditors 1 as instead of two, that is to say, 50 per cent. on their claims. But private accounts were kept in denarii; and the denarius, which till then was worth 10 asses, was, by law, made to pass for 16 asses; so that individuals paid 16 asses or oz. of copper only for every denarius, instead of paying 20 as they should have done to fulfil their engagements: that is to say, 10 asses of 2 oz. or 20 of 1 oz. each, for every denarius. Thus, the republic paid a dividend of 50 per cent. only, but compelled private persons to pay one of 80 per cent.
A bankruptcy, effected by deterioration of the coin, has been sometimes considered in the light of a plain and simple bankruptcy, or mere reduction of the public debt. It has been thought less injurious to the public creditor to pay him in adulterated coin, that he again may pay over at the same rate as he receives it, than to curtail his claim by ¼, ½, or in any other proportion. Let us see how the two methods differ.
In either case, the creditor is equally a loser in all his purchases posterior to the bankruptcy. Whether his income be abridged by one-half, or whether he find himself obliged to pay for every thing twice as dear as before, is to him precisely the same thing.
As to all his own existing debts, he may undoubtedly get rid of them on the same terms as the public has discharged his own claim; but what ground is there for supposing, that the public creditors are always in arrear in their private accounts with the rest of the community? They stand in the same relation to society as all other classes; and there is every reason to believe that the public creditors have as much owing to them by one set of individuals as they owe themselves to another; in short, that the accounts will square. Thus, the injustice they do to their private claimants is balanced by the injury they receive; and a bankruptcy, in the shape of a deterioration of the coin, is to them full as bad, as in any other shape.
But it is attended with other serious evils, destructive of national welfare and prosperity.
It occasions a violent dislocation of the money-prices of commodities, operating in a thousand different ways, according to the particular circumstances of each respectively, and thereby disconcerting the best planned and most useful speculations, and destroying all confidence between lender and borrower. Nobody will willingly lend when he runs the risk of receiving a less sum than he has advanced; nor will any one be in a hurry to borrow, if he is in danger of paying more than he gets. Capital is, consequently, diverted from productive investment, and the blow given to production by deterioration of the coin, is commonly followed up by the still more fatal ones of taxation upon commodities, and the establishment of a maximum of price.
Nor is the effect less serious in respect to national morality. People's ideas of value are kept in a state of confusion for a length of time, during which knavery has an advantage over honest simplicity, in the conduct of pecuniary matters. Moreover, robbery and spoliation are sanctioned by public practice and example; personal interest is set in opposition to integrity; and the voice of the law to the impulse of conscience.
Of the reason why Money is neither a Sign nor a Measure.
Money would be a mere sign or representative, had it no intrinsic value of its own; but, on the contrary, whenever it is employed in sale or purchase, its intrinsic value alone is considered. When an article is sold for a dollar piece, it is not the impression or the name that is given or taken in exchange, but the quantity of silver that is known to be contained in it. As a proof of the truth of this position, if the government were to issue crown pieces made of tin or pewter, they would not be worth so much as those of silver. Though declared by law to be of equal value, a great many more of them would be required in purchase of the same commodities; which would not happen if they were nothing but a mere sign.
Violence, ingenuity, or extraordinary political circumstances have sometimes kept up the current value of a money, after a reduction of its intrinsic value; but not for any length of time. Personal interest very soon finds out whether more value is paid than is received, and contrives some expedient to avoid the loss of an unequal and unfair exchange. Even when the absolute necessity of finding some medium of circulation of value obliges a government to invest with value an agent destitute either of intrinsic value or substantial guarantee, the value attached to the sign by this demand for a medium, is actual value, originating in utility, and makes it a substantive object of traffic. A Bank of England note, during the suspension of cash payments, was of no value whatever as a representative; for it then really represented nothing, and was a mere promise without security, given by the bank, which had advanced it to the government without any security; yet this note, by its mere utility, was possessed of positive value in England, as a piece of gold or silver.
But a bank-note, payable on demand, is the representative, the sign,*62 of the silver or specie, which may be had whenever it is wanted, on presenting the note. The money or specie, which the bank gives for it is not the representative, but the thing represented.
When a man sells any commodity, he exchanges it, not for a sign or representative, but for another commodity called money, which he supposes to possess a value equal to the value sold. When he buys, he does so, not with a sign or representative, but with a commodity of real, substantial value, equivalent to the value received.
A radical error, in this particular, has given rise to another of very general prevalence. Money having been pronounced to be the sign of all values whatever, it was boldly inferred, that, in every country, the total value of the money, bank and other notes, and credit paper, is equal to the total value of all other commodities. A position that derives some show of plausibility, from the circumstance, that the relative value of money declines when its quantity is increased, and advances when that quantity is diminished.
It is obvious, however, that the same fluctuation affects all other commodities whatever. If the vintage be twice as productive one year as it is another year, the price of wine falls to half what it was the year preceding. In like manner, one may readily concede, that, should the aggregate of circulating specie be doubled, the prices of all goods would be doubled also; in other words, twice the quantity of specie would go to the purchase of the same articles. But this consequence by no means proves, that the total value of the circulating medium is always equal to the sum total of all the other items of wealth, any more, than that the sum total of the produce of the vintage is equal to the totality of other values. The casual fluctuation in the value of silver and of wine, in the cases supposed, is the effect of a difference in quantity of these respective commodities at two different times, and has nothing to do with the quantity of other commodities.
It has been already remarked, that the total value of the money of any country, even with the addition to the value of all the precious metals contained in the nation under any other shape, is but an atom, compared with the gross amount of other values. Wherefore, the thing represented would exceed in value the representative; and the latter could not command the presence or possession of the former.*63
Nor is the position of Montesquieu, that money-price depends upon the relative quantity of the total commodities to that of the total money of the nation*64 at all better founded. What do sellers and buyers know of the existence of any other commodities, but those that are the objects of their dealing? And what difference could such knowledge make in the demand and supply in respect to those particular commodities? These opinions have originated in the ignorance at once of fact and of principle.
Money or specie has with more plausibility, but in reality with no better ground of truth, been pronounced to be a measure of value. Value may be estimated in the way of price; but it can not be measured, that is to say, compared with a known and invariable measure of intensity, for no such measure has yet been discovered.
Authority, however absolute, can never succeed in fixing the general ratio of value. It may enact, that John, the owner of a sack of wheat, shall give it to Richard for 4 dollars; and so it may that John shall give his sack of wheat for nothing. This enactment will probably rob John to benefit Richard; but it can no more make 4 dollars the exact measure of the value of a sack of wheat, than it can make a sack of wheat worth nothing, by ordering it to be given for nothing.
A yard or a foot is a real measure of length; it always presents to the mind the idea of the self-same degree of length. No matter in what part of the world a man may be, he is quite sure, that a man of 6 feet high in one place is as tall as a man 6 feet high in another. When I am told that the great pyramid of Ghaize is 656 feet square at the base, I can measure a space of 656 feet square at Paris, or elsewhere, and form an exact notion of the space the pyramid will cover; but when I am told that a camel is at Cairo worth 50 sequins, that is to say, about 90 ounces of silver, or 100 dollars in coin, I can form no precise notion of the value of the camel; because, although I may have every reason to believe that 100 dollars are worth less at Paris than at Cairo, I can not tell what may be the difference of value.
The utmost, therefore, that can be done is, merely to estimate or reckon the relative value of commodities; in other words, to declare, that at a given time and place, one commodity is worth more or less than another; their positive value it is impossible to determine. A house may be said to be worth 4000 dollars; but what idea does that sum present to the mind? The idea of whatever I can purchase with it; which is, in fact, as much as to say, the idea of value equivalent to the house, and not of value of any fixed degree of intensity, or independent of comparison between one commodity and another.
When two objects of unequal value are both compared to different portions of one specific product, still it is a mere estimate of relative value. One house is said to be worth 4000 dollars, another 2000 dollars; which is simply saying, the former is worth two of the latter. It is true, that, when both are compared to a product capable of separation into equal portions, as money is, a more accurate idea can be formed of the relative value of one to the other; for the mind has no difficulty in conceiving the relation of 2 integers to 1, or 4000 to 2000. But any attempt to form an abstract notion of the value of one of these integers must be abortive.
If this be all that is meant by the term, measure of value, I admit that money is such a measure; but so, it should be observed, is every other divisible commodity, though not employed in the character of money. The ratio of the one house to the other will be equally intelligible, if one be said to be worth 1000, and the other only 500, quarters of wheat.
Nor will this measure of relative value, if we may so call it, convey an accurate idea of the ratio of two commodities one to the other, at any considerable distance of time or place. The 1000 quarters of wheat, or 4000 dollars, will not be of any use in the comparison of a house in former, with a house in the present times, for the value of silver coin and of wheat have both varied in the interim. A house at Paris, worth 10,000 crowns in the days of Henry IV., would now be worth a great deal more, than another of that value now-a-days. So, likewise, one in Lower Britany, worth 4000 dollars, is of much more value than one of that price at Paris; for the same reason that an income of 2000 dollars is a much larger one in Britany than at Paris.
Wherefore it is impossible to succeed in comparing the wealth of different eras or different nations. This, in political economy, like squaring the circle in mathematics, is impracticable, for want of a common mean or measure to go by.
Silver, and coin too, whatever be its material, is a commodity, whose value is arbitrary and variable, like that of commodities in general, and is regulated in every bargain by the mutual accord of the buyer and seller. Silver is more valuable when it will purchase a large quantity of commodities, than when it will purchase a smaller quantity. It can not, therefore, serve as a measure, the first requisite of which is invariability. Thus, in the assertion of Montesquieu, when speaking of money, that "what is the common measure of all things, should of all things be the least subject to change,"*65 there are no less than three errors in two lines. For, in the first place, it has never been pretended, that money is the measure of all things, but merely that it is the measure of values; secondly, it is not even the measure of values; and lastly, its value can not be made invariable. If it was the object of Montesquieu to deter governments from altering the standard of their coin, he should have laboured to enforce those sound arguments, which the question would fairly have supplied him with, instead of dealing in brilliant expressions, which serve to mislead and give currency to error.
It would, however, often be a matter of curiosity, and sometimes even of utility, to be able to compare two values at an interval of time or place; as, for instance, when there is occasion to stipulate for a payment at a distant place, or a rent for a long prospective term.
Smith recommends the value of labour as a less variable, and, consequently, more appropriate, measure of absent or distant value; he reasons thus upon the matter; "Equal quantities of labour, at all times and places, may be said to be of equal value to the labourer. In his ordinary state of health, strength, and spirits, in the ordinary degree of his skill and dexterity, he must always lay down the same portion of his ease, his liberty, and his happiness. The price, which he pays, must always be the same, whatever may be the quantity of goods which he receives in return for it. Of them, indeed, it may sometimes purchase a greater and sometimes a smaller quantity; but it is their value which varies, not that of the labour which purchases them. At all times and places, that is dear, which it is difficult to come at, or which it costs much labour to acquire; and that cheap, which is to be had easily, or with very little labour. Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard, by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared."*66
With great deference to so able a writer, it by no means follows, that, because labour in the same degree is always to the labourer himself of the same value, therefore it must always bear the same value as an object of exchange. Labour, like commodities, may vary in the supply and demand; and its value, like value in general, is determined by the mutual accord of the adverse interests of buyer and seller, and fluctuates accordingly.
The value of labour is affected materially by its quality. The labour of a strong and intelligent person is worth much more than that of a weak and ignorant one. Again, labour is more valuable in a thriving community, where there is a lively demand for it, than in a country overloaded with population. In the United States, the daily wages of an artificer amount in silver to three times as much as in France.*67 Are we to infer, that silver has then but 1/3 of its value in France? The artificer is there better fed, better clothed, and better lodged; which is a convincing proof, that he is really better paid. Labour is probably one of the most fluctuating of values, because at times it is in great request, and at others is offered with that distressing importunity occasionally witnessed in cities where industry is on the decline.
Its value has, therefore, no better title to act as a measure of two values at great distances of time or place, than that of any other commodity. There is, in fact, no such thing as a measure of value, because there is nothing possessed of the indispensable requisite, invariability of value.
In the absence of an exact measure, we must be content to approximate to accuracy; and, to this end, many commodities of well known value will serve to give a notion, more or less correct, of the value of any specific product. At the same point of time and place, there is little difficulty in the approximation: the value of any given article may be readily measured by almost all others. To ascertain pretty nearly the value of an article amongst the ancients, we must find out some article which there is reason to think has subsequently undergone little change of value, and then compare the quantity of that article given by the ancients and moderns respectively, in exchange for the article in question. Wherefore, silk would be a bad object of comparison; because it was, in the time of Cæsar, procurable from China only, at a most extravagant expense, and, being then nowhere produced in Europe, must of course have been much dearer than at present. Is there any commodity that has varied less in the intervening period? and, if there be any such, how much of it was then given for an ounce of silk? These are the two points we must inquire into. If any one article can be discovered, that was produced with equal ease and perfection at the two periods, and the consumption of which had a natural tendency to keep pace with its abundance, this article would probably have varied little in value and may be taken as a tolerable measure of other values.
Ever since the earliest times recorded in history, wheat has been the staple food of the great mass of the population, in all the principal nations of Europe; consequently, their relative population must have been influenced by the abundance or scarcity of this article of food, more than of any other: the ratio of the demand to the supply must have been, therefore, at all times nearly the same. There is, besides, no product which I know of, that has undergone less alteration in the course of production. The agricultural skill of the ancients was in most respects equal, and in some, perhaps, superior to our own. Capital, indeed, was dearer amongst them; but that difference was little felt; for, in ancient times, the proprietor was commonly both farmer and capitalist; and the capital embarked in agriculture yielded less return than other investments; because, as more honour was attached to this, than to the other branches of industry, commerce and manufacture, the influx of capital, as well as of labour, into that channel, was greater than into the other two. And, during the middle ages, in spite of the general declension of all the arts, the tillage of arable land was prosecuted with a skill little inferior to that of the present day.
Whence I infer, that the same quantity of wheat must have borne nearly the same value among the ancients, during the middle ages and at the present time. But, as there has all along been a vast difference in the produce of the harvest in one year and another, grain being sometimes so abundant, as to sell extremely low, and at other times so scarce, as to occasion famine, the value of grain must be taken on an average of years, whenever it is made the basis of any calculation.
So much for the estimation of values at distant periods of time.
There is equal difficulty in the estimation at great distances of place. The staple articles of national food, which, as such, maintain the greatest uniformity in the ratio of the demand and supply, are very different in different climates. In Europe, wheat is the staple; in Asia, it is rice: the relative value of neither the one nor the other in Asia and Europe is tolerably steady; nor has the value of rice in Asia any relation to the value of wheat in Europe. Rice is beyond question less valuable in India, than wheat is in this part of the world; for, besides that the cultivation is less expensive, it yields two crops in the year. This is one reason, why labour is so cheap in India and China.
The article of food in most general use is, therefore, but a bad measure of value at great distances of place. Nor are the precious metals by any means a correct one: their value is indubitably not so great in North America and the West Indies, as in Europe, and much greater in every part of Asia, as the constant efflux of specie thither sufficiently proves. Yet the frequency of communication between these different parts of the world, and the facility of transport, give us reason to suppose them the least liable to fluctuation of value on their passage from one climate to another.
There is happily no necessity, for the purposes of commerce, to compare the relative value of goods and of metals in two distant parts of the world; it is quite enough to know their relation to other commodities in each country. When a merchant remits to China half an ounce of silver, it is of little importance to him, whether it has more relative value in China than in Europe. All he wants to know is, whether he can buy with it at Canton a pound of tea of a certain quality, which he can re-sell in Europe, say for two ounces of silver. With these data, and in expectation of receiving, at the close of the speculation, a gross profit of an ounce and a half of silver, he calculates whether that profit will leave him a sufficient net profit, after covering the charges and risk out and home; and this is all he cares about. If, instead of bullion, he remit goods, it is enough for him to know; 1. The relation between the value of these goods and silver in Europe; that is to say, how much they will cost; 2. The relation between their value and that of Chinese products at Canton; that is to say, what he can get in exchange for them; and, lastly, the relation between these latter and silver in Europe; that is to say, what they will be worth when imported. It is evident that every repetition of this operation brings into question nothing more than the relative value of two or more articles at the same time, and at the same place.
For the common purposes of life, or, in other words, when nothing more is requisite, than to compare the value of two objects, at no great distance of time or place, most commodities possessed of any value at all may serve as a measure; and if, in describing the value of an object, even where there is no question of either buying or selling, the estimation is more generally made in the precious metals, or in money, than in any other commodity; it is simply, because its value is more generally known, than that of other commodities.*68 But, in all bargains for a long prospective period, as for the reservation of a perpetual rent, it is more advisable to reckon in wheat: for the discovery of a single mine might perhaps greatly reduce the present value of silver; whereas the tillage of all North America could not sensibly alter the value of wheat in Europe: for the number of mouths to be fed in America, would increase almost in the ratio of the improved cultivation. But long prospective stipulations regarding value must unavoidably, under any circumstances, be very precarious, and can never give any certain notion of the value that is likely to be received. Perhaps the most improvident course of all is, to stipulate for a particular denomination of money; for the same denomination may be fixed to any variation of weight or quality whatever; and the contracting party may find he has bargained for a name, rather than a value, and that he runs the risk of paying, or being paid, in mere words.
I have dwelt thus long upon the refutation of incorrect expressions, because they appear to have acquired too general a circulation,*69 and because they often confirm people in false notions and ideas which ideas sometimes serve as the basis of erroneous systems, that in their turn give birth to conduct equally erroneous.
Of a Peculiarity that should be attended to, in estimating the Sums mentioned in History.
In reducing the money of former ages into money of the present day, the best informed historians have contented themselves with converting the actual quantity of gold and silver, designated by the term made use of by the authority cited, into the current money of their own times. But this is not enough: the actual sum, the real amount of the metal, can give no correct notion of its then value, which is the very point we want to arrive at. It is, therefore, necessary to reckon, besides, the fluctuations of value that the metal itself has undergone.
A few examples will best explain my meaning:
Voltaire tells us, in his Essay on Universal History,*70 that Charles V. enacted, that the sons of France should have an annual revenue settled on them of 12,000 livres: and, as he reckons this sum to be equal to 100,000 livres of the present day, he naturally enough observes, that this was no great provision for the sons of the monarch. But let us examine the grounds for this calculation of Voltaire. First, he reckons that the mark of fine silver was, in the time of Charles V., worth about 6 livres; at this rate, 12,000 livres will make 2000 marks of silver, which, at their relative value at the date of Voltaire's writing, would in fact amount to 100,000 livres, or thereabouts. But 2000 marks of fine silver were worth in the reign of Charles V. much more than in the reign of Louis XV. Of this we shall be convinced, by a comparison of the relative average at the two different periods, of pure silver to wheat, which we will take as one of the least variable.
Dupre of St. Maur, whose book*71 is an ample repository of learned information upon the value of commodities, gives it as his opinion, that, from the reign of Philip Augustus, who died A. D. 1223, until about the year 1520, the setier of wheat (Paris measure) was worth, on the average, as much as 1-9 of a mark of fine silver; i. e. about 512 grains weight.
About the year 1536, when the mark of silver was of the value of 13 livres tournois, or rather passed under the denomination of 13 livres tournois, the ordinary price of a setier of wheat was about 3 livres tournois, i. e. 3-13 of a mark of fine silver, amounting to 1063 grains weight of that metal.
In 1602, under the reign of Henry IV., the mark of fine silver being at that time equal to 22 livres, the average price of the setier of wheat was 9 liv. 16s. 9d.; i. e. 2060 grains of fine silver.*72
Since that period, the setier of wheat has, one year with another, been constantly worth about the same weight of silver. In 1789, when the mark was equivalent to 54 liv. 19 s. the average price of wheat was, according to Lavoisier, 24liv. the setier, i. e. 2012 grains of fine silver. I have not reckoned the fractions of grains, for in these matters it is enough to approximate to accuracy; indeed the price of the setier, taken at the average of Paris and the environs, is itself but loosely calculated.
The result of this comparative statement is, that the setier of wheat, whose relative value to other commodities has varied little from 1520 down to the present time, has undergone great fluctuations, being worth,
which shows that the value of pure silver must have varied considerably since the first of these dates; inasmuch as on every act of exchange, four times as much of it must now be given for the same quantity of commodities, as was given three centuries ago. We shall see by-and-by,*73 why the discovery of the American mines, and the influx into the market of about ten times as much silver as before, has operated to reduce its value only in the ratio of 4 to 1.
Now to the application of this information to the royal stipend in question: if pure silver was worth in the time of Charles V. four times as much as in the age of Voltaire, the settlement of 2000 marks upon the sons of France was equivalent to 8000 marks at the present, that is to say, more than 400,000 fr. of our present currency, or about 75,000 dollars; which makes the observations of Voltaire upon the inadequacy of the provision much less applicable.
Raynal, though he wrote avowedly upon commercial matters, has committed a similar error, in estimating the public revenue in the reign of Louis XII. at 36 millions of our present money (francs) on the ground, that it amounted to 7,650,000 liv. of 11 liv. to the mark of silver. The sum, indeed, was equal to 695,454 marks of silver: but it would not be enough merely to reduce the mark into livres of the present day; for the same quantity of silver was then worth four times as much as it is now; so that, before reducing them into modern money, they should be multiplied by four, which will swell the public revenue under Louis XII. to a sum of 144 millions of francs of present currency, or nearly 27 millions of dollars.
Again, we read in Suetonius, that Cæsar made Servilius a present of a pearl worth 6 millions of sestertii, which his translators, La Harpe and Levesque, estimate to be equal to 1,200,000 fr. present money. But a little lower down, we find, that Cæsar, on his return to Italy, disposed of the gold bullion, accruing from the plunder of Gaul, for coin, at the rate of 3000 sestertii to the pound of gold; which shows the pearl of Servilius to have been much under-rated. The Roman pound, according to Le Blanc, weighed 10 2/3 of our ounces; and 10 2/3 oz. of gold in Cæsar's time, were worth as much as 32 ounces of that metal at the present day, for it may reasonably be reckoned, that the value of gold has fallen in the ratio of 3 to 1.*74 Now 32 oz. of gold are worth nearly 3036 fr. which may therefore be looked upon as about the real value of 3000 sestertii; at which rate the pearl in question must have been worth 6,072,000 fr. (1,129,392 dollars,) and the Roman sestertius, somewhat more than a franc of our money; which is greatly beyond the ordinary estimate.*75
When Cæsar laid hands upon the public treasures of Rome, in spite of the opposition of the tribune Metellus, he is stated to have found them to consist of 4130 lbs. of gold, and 80,000 lbs. of silver; which Vertot estimates to have amounted to 2,911,100 liv. tourn.; but upon what grounds I am at a loss to imagine. To form a tolerably correct notion of the treasure seized by Cæsar upon his usurpation, the 4130 lbs. of gold should be reduced into oz. of the French standard, at the rate of 10 2/3 oz. to the Roman lb.*76 which makes 44,052 oz. But, as the same weight of gold was then worth three times as much as at present, the value will appear to have been 132,156 oz. or 12,530,346 fr. (2,330,644 dollars,) supposing the standard of quality in the gold to have been the same as at present. The 80,000 lbs. weight of silver also were then worth as much as 320,000 lbs. at the present period, i.e. 20,915,735 fr., (3,890,327 dollars,) reckoning the Roman lb. at 10 2/3 oz. and taking the standard of quality to have been the same. Wherefore, the sum appropriated by the usurper amounted to 33,446,081 fr. (6,232,971 dollars,) of our money; which is greatly above Vertot's estimate of about 3 millions only.
From this specimen we may judge, how little reliance can be placed on the calculations of other historians, of less information and accuracy than those I have been quoting. Rollin, in his Ancient, and Fleury, in his Ecclesiastical History, have reckoned the talentum, mina and sestertius, according to the scale made out by some learned persons, under the administration of Colbert. This scale is liable to many objections: 1. It establishes upon very questionable data, the respective quantities of the precious metals contained in the coins of the ancients, which is a primary source of error: 2. The value of the precious metals has considerably varied, between the period of antiquity in question and the ministry of Colbert, which is another source of error: 3. The scale of reduction, drawn up under the direction of that minister, was calculated at the rate of 26 liv. 10 sous, to the mark of silver, being the then mint price of silver bullion; but this rate was altered before the days of Rollin; which is a third source of error. Lastly, since the date of his publication, that rate has been still further altered, and a livres tournois, conveys to us the idea of a smaller quantity of silver, than it did in his time; and this is a fourth source of error. Thus, whoever now takes up that work, relying on the calculations therein contained, will entertain a most erroneous idea of the income and expenditure of the states of antiquity, as well as of their commerce, their resources, and every part of their system and organization.
Not that I would be understood to say, that a writer of history can ever have sufficient data, to give his readers, in all cases, a correct notion of values in general; but, for the sake of a closer approximation to accuracy, than has hitherto been effected, in reducing the sums of ancient times, and even of the middle ages, into modern money, I would recommend, what indeed is generally done, first, to inquire from those learned in antiquity, the actual weight of precious metal contained in the coin in question: secondly, as far back as the Emperor Charles V., that is to say, about the year 1520, that quantity, if gold, must be multiplied by 3 only, and if silver, by 4:*77 because the discovery of the American mines has occasioned a fall in nearly that proportion: and lastly, to reduce that quantity of gold or silver into the current money of the period, at which he may happen to be writing.
From the year 1520 downwards, the value of silver progressively declined until the latter end of the reign of Henry IV., that is to say, towards the beginning of the seventeenth century. We may judge of the depression of its value by the increasing price of any given commodity, in the manner explained in the preceding section. To acquire a correct notion of the value of the mark of silver during this period, it will be necessary to allow for a diminution in the ratio of the increased real, that is, metal, and not nominal or coin, price of commodities in general, or of any one, as wheat, for instance, in particular.
From the beginning of the seventeenth century, there will be no occasion for any further allowance, after having reduced the money of the time being into marks of silver; for there does not appear to have been any further sensible decline in the value of silver, since most commodities have been procurable for the same metal-price. It will be sufficient, therefore, to reduce them into the money current for the time being, according to the then current value of the mark of fine silver.*78
By way of illustration, let us take the statement we find in the Memoirs de Sully, viz. that this minister accumulated, in the vaults of the Bastile, a sum of 36 millions of livres tournois, to further the designs of his master against the house of Austria. If we wish to know the actual value of that hoard, we must, in the first place, examine what weight of fine silver it amounted to. The mark of fine silver was then represented by 22 livres tournois; consequently 36 millions of livres make 1,636,363 marks, 5 oz. of silver. There has been no sensible variation in the value of that metal since the period in question; for the same quantity of metal would then buy the same quantity of wheat as at present. Now, at the present time, 1,636,363 marks 5 oz., or, in other terms, 399,588,018, 5 grammes of fine silver, coined into money, will make exactly 88,797,315 fr. or 16,516,300 dollars. A sum, indeed, that would go no great way in modern warfare; but it must be considered, that war is now conducted on a very different principle, and has become infinitely more wasteful, in reality as well as in name.
Of the Absence of any fixed ratio of Value between one Metal and another.
The same error, which led public functionaries to believe, that they could fix the relative value of any metal to commodities, has also induced them to determine by act of law the relative value of the metals employed as money, one to the other. Thus, it has been arbitrarily enacted, that a given quantity of silver shall be worth 24 liv., and that a given quantity of gold shall likewise be worth 24 liv. In this manner, the ratio of the nominal value of gold to that of silver came to be legally established.
The pretension of authority was in both cases equally vain and impotent; and what has been the consequence? The relative value of the two metals to other commodities has, in fact, been constantly fluctuating, as well as the relative value of the metals themselves, when exchanged one for the other. Before the re-coinage of gold, in pursuance of the arret of 13th October, 1785, the louis d'or was commonly sold for 25 liv. and some sous of the silver coin. Consequently, people took good care not to pay in gold coin the sums bargained for in silver; otherwise they would really have paid 25 liv. and 8 or 10 sous, for every 24 liv. of the sums stipulated.
Since the re-coinage in 1785, when the quantity of gold in the louis d'or was reduced by one-sixth, its value has nearly kept pace with that of 24 liv. in silver; so that gold and silver have been paid indifferently. However, it has still continued most customary to pay in silver, partly from long habit, and partly because the gold coin, being more liable to be clipped or counterfeited, was received with more caution and liable to more frequent cavils about the weight and quality.
In England a different arrangement has produced an effect directly contrary. In the year 1728, the natural course of exchange fixed the relative value of gold to silver as 15 9/124 to 1; say 15 1/14 to 1, for the sake of simplicity; 1 oz. of gold was sold for 15 1/14 oz. of silver and vice versâ. Accordingly that ratio was established by law 1 oz. of gold being coined into the nominal sum of 3l. 17s. 10 ½d. and 15 1/14 oz. of silver into the same sum. Thus, the government attempted permanently to fix a ratio, that is, in the nature of things, perpetually varying. The demand for silver gradually increased ; its use for plate and other domestic purposes became more general; the India trade received an additional stimulus and took off silver in preference to gold, for this reason, that the relative value of silver to gold is higher in the East than in Europe; so that, by the end of the last century, the ratio of these metals one to the other in England became about 14 ½ to 1 only; and the same quantity of silver, that was coined into 3l. 17s. 10 ½d., would then sell in the market for 4l. in gold. There was thus a profit on melting down the silver, and a loss on payments in that metal; for which reason, thenceforward, until the parliamentary suspension of specie payments by the Bank of England in 1797, payments of course were commonly made in gold.
Since 1797, all payments have been made in paper. But, if England shall return to a metallic currency, framed upon the former monetary principles and regulations, it is probable that payments will be made in silver instead of gold, as before the suspension; for gold has risen in relative price to silver in the English market, probably in consequence of the large export of specie for commercial purposes, and greater difficulty of prevention in gold than in silver. Gold bullion in the English market is now to silver bullion in the ratio of about 1 to 15 ½, although the mint ratio is still 1 to 15 1/14. A payment in gold instead of silver would therefore be a gratuitous sacrifice of the difference between 15 1/14 and 15 ½.
Hence may be drawn this conclusion; that it is impossible in practice to assign any fixed ratio of exchangeable value to commodities whose ratio is for ever fluctuating, and, therefore, that gold and silver must be left to find their own mutual level, in the transactions in which mankind may think proper to employ them.*79
The above remarks upon the relative value of gold and silver are equally applicable to silver and copper, as well as to all other metals whatever. There is no more propriety in declaring, that the copper contained in twenty sous shall be worth the silver contained in a livre tournois, than in enacting, that the silver contained in 24 liv. tournois, shall be worth the gold in a louis d'or. However, little mischief has been occasioned by fixing the ratio of copper to the precious metals, because the law does not authorize the payment of sums stipulated in livres tournois and francs in either copper or the precious metals indifferently; so that, in reality, the only metal money recognised by law as legal tender, for sums above the value of the lowest denomination of silver coin, is silver or gold.
Of Money as it ought to be.
From all that has been said in the preceding sections may be inferred my opinion of what money ought to be.
The precious metals are so well adapted for the purposes of money, as to have gained a preference almost universal; and, as no other material has so many recommendations, no change in this particular is desirable.
So also of their division into equal and portable particles. They may very properly be coined into pieces of equal weight and quality as has heretofore been the practice among most civilized nations.
Nor can there be any better contrivance, than the giving them such an impression, as shall certify the weight and quality; or than the exclusive reservation to government of the right of impressing such certificate, and, consequently, of coining money; for the certificate of a number of coiners, all working together and in competition one with the other, could never give an equal security.
Thus far, then, and no further, should the public authority intermeddle with the business of money.
The value of a piece of silver is arbitrary, and is established by a kind of mutual accord on every act of dealing between one individual and another, or between the government and an individual. Why, therefore, attempt to fix its value beforehand? since, after all, the fixation must be imaginary, and can never answer any practical purpose, in the money transactions of mankind. Why give a denomination to this fixed, imaginary value, which money can never possess? For what is a dollar, a ducat, a florin, a pound sterling, or a franc; what, but a certain weight of gold or silver of a certain established standard of quality? And, if this be all, why give these respective portions of bullion any other name, than the natural one of their weight and quality?
Five grammes of silver, says the law, shall be equivalent to a franc: which is just as much as to say, 5 grammes of silver is equivalent to 5 grammes of silver. For the only idea presented to the mind by the word franc, is that of the 5 grammes of silver it contains. Do wheat, chocolate or wax, change their name by the mere act of apportioning their weight? A pound weight of bread, chocolate, or of wax candles, is still called a pound weight of bread, chocolate, or wax candles. Why, then, should not a piece of silver, weighing 5 grammes, go by its natural appellation? Why not call it simply 5 grammes of silver?
This slight alteration, verbal, critical, and nugatory as it may seem, is of immense practical consequence. Were it once admitted, it would be no longer possible to stipulate in nominal value; every bargain would be a barter of one substantial commodity for another, of a given quantity of silver for a given quantity of grain, or butcher's meat, of cloth, &c. &c. Whenever a contract for a long prospective period was entered into, its violation could not escape detection: a person taking an obligation to pay a given quantity of fine silver, at a day certain, would know precisely how much silver he would have to receive at the period assigned, provided his debtor continued solvent.
The whole monetary system would thenceforth fall to the ground; a system replete with fraud, injustice, and robbery, and moreover so complicated, as rarely to be thoroughly understood, even by those who make it their profession. It would ever after be impossible to effect an adulteration of the coin, except by issuing counterfeit money; or to compound with creditors, without an open, avowed bankruptcy. The coinage of money would become a matter of perfect simplicity, a mere branch of metallurgy.
The denominations of weight, in common use before the introduction into France of the metrical system, that is to say, the once, gros, grain, had the advantage of conveying the notion of portions of weight, that had remained stationary for many ages, and were applicable to all commodities whatever, without distinction: so that the once could not be altered for the precious metals, without altering it at the same time for sugar, honey, and all commodities sold by the weight: but, in this particular, the new metrical system is infinitely preferable. It is founded upon a basis provided by nature, which must remain invariable as long as our world shall last. The gramme is the weight of a cubic centimetre of water: the centimetre is the hundredth part of a metre, and the metre is 1/10,000,000 part of the arc formed by the circumference of the earth, from the pole to the equator. The term gramme may be changed, but no human power can change that portion of weight actually designated by the term gramme; and whoever shall contract to pay at a future date a quantity of silver, equal to 100 grammes weight, can never pay a less quantity of silver, without a manifest breach of faith, whatever arbitrary measures of power may intervene.
The power of a government to facilitate the transactions of exchange and contract, wherein the commodity, money, is employed, consists in dividing the metal into different pieces of one or more grammes or centigrammes, in such a manner, as to admit of instant calculation of the number of grammes a given payment will require.
It has been ascertained by the experiments of the Academy of Sciences, that gold and silver resist friction better with a slight mixture of alloy, than in a pure state. People versed in these matters say, besides, that this complete purity cannot be obtained, without a very expensive chemical process, that would add greatly to the expense of coinage. There is no sort of objection to mixing alloy, provided the proportion be signified by the impression, which should be nothing more than a mere certificate of the weight and quality of the metal.
I make no mention of the terms franc, decime, centime, because those names should never have been given to the coin, being, in fact, names indicative of nothing whatever. The laws of France, instead of enacting that pieces called francs, shall be coined, having the weight of 5 grammes of silver, should have simply ordered a coinage of pieces of 5 grammes. In which case, a letter of credit or bill of exchange, instead of being drawn for, say 400 fr., would be for 2000 grammes of silver of the standard of 9/10 silver to 1/10 alloy; or if preferred, for 130 grammes of gold of the same degree of purity; and the payment would be the most simple imaginable; for the pieces of coin, gold and silver, would be all fractions or multiples of the gramme of metal of that standard.
However, it would still be necessary to enact, that no sum stipulated in grammes of silver or gold should be payable otherwise than in coin, unless under a special proviso; else, the debtor might discharge all claims in bullion of somewhat less value than coin. This is obviously matter of practical arrangement; the principle requiring nothing, but that the obligation, after mentioning the metal and standard, should specify on the face of it, whether payable in national coin or bullion. The only object of such a law would be, to save the continual necessity of enumerating many particulars that would thenceforward be implied.
A government should never coin the bullion of private persons, without charging the profit, as well as the cost, of the operation. The monopoly of coinage will enable it to make this profit somewhat high: but it should be varied according to the state of metallurgic science, and the demand for circulation. Whenever the state has little to coin on its own account, it had better lower its charges, than let its machinery and workmen remain idle; and, on the other hand, raise its charges, when the influx of bullion is rapid and super-abundant. And in this, it would but imitate other manufacturers. As to the bullion bought and coined by government on its own account, the coin issued would reimburse the charges; and yield a profit by its superior value in exchange; as I have endeavoured to prove above, in Section IV.
To the marks indicative of weight and quality, should of course be superadded every device to prevent counterfeits.
I have not occupied my reader's time with any observations on the relative proportion of gold to silver; nor was there any occasion to do so. Having avoided any specification of their value under any particular denomination, I shall pay no more attention to the alternating variations of that value, than to the fluctuations of the relative value of both to all other commodities. This must be left to regulate itself; for any attempt to fix it would be vain. With regard to obligations, they would be dischargeable in the terms of contract: an undertaking to pay 100 grammes of silver would be discharged by the transfer of 100 grammes of silver; unless, at the time of payment, by mutual consent of the contracting parties, any other metal, or goods at a rate agreed on, should be substituted in preference.
It would be difficult to calculate the advantage, that would accrue to industry in all its branches, from so simple an arrangement; but some notion of it may be obtained, by considering the mischiefs that have resulted from a contrary system. Not only has the relative pecuniary position of individuals been repeatedly overset, and the best planned and most beneficial productive enterprises altogether thwarted and rendered abortive; but the interests of the public, as well as of private persons, are, almost everywhere, subject to daily and hourly aggression.
A medium, composed entirely of either silver or gold, bearing a certificate, pretending to none but its real intrinsic value, and, consequently exempt from the caprice of legislation, would hold out such advantages to every department of commerce, and to every class of society, that it could not fail to obtain currency even in foreign countries. Thus, the nation, that should issue it, would become a general manufacturer of money for foreign consumption, and might derive from that branch of manufacture no inconsiderable revenue. We read in Le Blanc,*80 that a particular coin issued by St. Louis, and called agnels d'or, from the figure of a lamb impressed upon them, was in great request even among foreigners, and a favourite money in commercial dealings, for the sole reason that it invariably contained the same quantity of gold, from the reign of St. Louis to that of Charles VI.
Should France be so fortunate as to make this experiment, I hope none of those who do me the honour to read this work, will feel any regret at the drain of its money, to use the expression of certain persons, who neither know nor choose to learn any thing of the matter. It is quite clear, that neither silver nor gold coin will go out of the kingdom, without leaving behind a value fully equivalent to the metal and the fashion it bears. The trade and manufacture of jewellery for export are considered lucrative to the nation; yet they occasion an outgoing of the precious metals. The beauty of the form and pattern adds, to be sure, greatly to the price of the metal thus exported; but the accuracy of assay and weight, and, above all things, the maintenance of the coin at an invariable standard of weight and quality, would be an equal recommendation, and would undoubtedly be just as well paid for.
Should it be objected, that the same system was adopted by Charlemagne, when he called a pound of silver a livre, and that notwithstanding the coin has been since repeatedly deteriorated, until, at last, what was called a livre, contained, in fact, but 96 gr., I answer:
1. That, neither in the time of Charlemagne, nor at any subsequent period, has there ever been a coin containing a pound of silver; that the livre has always been a money of account, an ideal measure. The silver coin of Charlemagne and his successors, consisted of sols of silver, the sol being a fractional part of the pound weight.
2. None of the coin has ever borne on the face of it the indication of the weight of metal it contained. There are extant in the collections of medals many pieces coined in the reign of Charlemagne. The impression was nothing more than the name of the monarch, with the occasional addition of the name of the town where the coin was struck, executed in very rude characters; which, indeed, is not to be wondered at, considering that the monarch, though an avowed patron of literature, was himself unable to write.
3. The coin was yet further from bearing any thing indicative of the standard quality of the metal, and this was the thing first encroached upon; for the sol in the reign of Philip I. still contained the same fractional weight of the livre as originally; but it was made up of 8 parts of silver to 4 copper, instead of containing, as under the second race of monarchs, 12 oz. of fine silver, which was the then weight of the livre.
The very singular state of the actual money of England, and the extraordinary circumstances, that have occurred in respect to it since the first editions of this work appeared, have given a decisive proof, that the mere want of an agent of circulation, or, of the commodity, money, is sufficient to support a paper-money absolutely destitute of security for its convertibility at a high rate of value, or even at a par with metal, provided it be limited in amount to the actual demand of circulation.*81 Whence some English writers of great intelligence in this branch of science have been led to conclude, that, since the purposes of money call into action none of the physical and metallic properties of its material, some substance less costly than the precious metals, paper, for instance, may be employed in them with good effect, if due attention be paid to keep the amount of the paper within the demands of circulation. The celebrated Ricardo, has, with this object, proposed an ingenious plan, making the Bank or corporate body, invested with the privilege of issuing the paper-money, liable to pay in bullion for its notes on demand. A note, actually convertible on demand into so much gold or silver bullion, cannot fall in value below the value of the bullion it purports to represent; and, on the other hand, so long as the issues of the paper do not exceed the wants of circulation, the holder will have no inducement to present it for conversion, because the bullion, when obtained, would not answer the purposes of circulation. If a casual interruption of confidence in the paper should bring it for conversion in too large quantity, the paper remaining in circulation must rise in value, in the absence of any other circulating medium, and there would be an inducement to bring bullion to the bank to be converted into paper.*82
Of a Copper and Base Metal*83 Coinage.
The copper coin and that of base metal, are not, strictly speaking, money; for debts cannot be legally tendered in this coin, except such fractional sums, as are too minute to be paid in gold or silver. Gold and silver are the only metal-money of almost all commercial nations. Copper coin is a kind of transferable security, a sign or representative of a quantity of silver too diminutive to be worth the coinage; and, as such, the government, that issues it, should always exchange it on demand for silver, when tendered to an amount equal to the smallest piece of silver coin. Otherwise, there is no security against the issue of an excess beyond the demand of circulation.
Whenever there is such an excess, the holders, finding the base metal less advantageous than the gold and silver it represents but does not equal in value, would strive to get rid of it in every way; whether by selling to a loss, or by employing it in preference to pay for low-priced articles, which would consequently rise in nominal price; or by proffering it to their creditors in larger quantity, than enough to make up the fractional part of sums in account. The government, having an interest in preventing its being at a discount, because that would reduce the profit upon all future issues, generally authorizes the latter expedient.
Before 1808, for instance, it was a legal tender at Paris to the extent of 1/40 of every sum due; which had exactly the same effect, as a partial debasement of the national currency. Every body knew, when a bargain was concluded, that he was liable to be paid in proportion of 1/40 copper or brass metal, to 39/40 silver, and made his calculation accordingly, on terms proportionably higher, than if no such regulation had existed. It is with this particular, precisely as with the weight and standard of the silver coin; sellers do not stop to weigh and assay every piece they receive, but the dealers in gold and silver, and those connected with the trade, are perpetually on the watch to compare the intrinsic, with the current, value of the coin; and, whenever their values differ, they have an opportunity of gain; their operations to obtain which, have a constant tendency to put the current value of the coin on a level with its real value.
The obligation to receive copper in any considerable proportion, has, in like manner, an influence upon the exchange with foreigners. There is no question, that a letter of exchange on Paris payable in francs is sold cheaper at Amsterdam, in consequence of the liability to receive part payment in copper or base metal; just as it would be, if the franc were made to contain less of silver and more of alloy.
Yet, it is to be observed, that, on the whole, the value of money is not so much affected by this circumstance, as by the mixture of alloy; for the alloy has positively no value whatever, for the reasons above stated;*84 whereas, the copper money, payable in the ratio of 1/40, had a small intrinsic value, though inferior to the sum in silver, it was made to pass for: had it been of equal value, there would have been no occasion for an express law to give it currency.
As long as a government gives silver on demand for the copper and base metal regularly presented, it can with little inconvenience give them very trifling intrinsic value; the demand for circulation will always absorb a very large quantity, and they will maintain their value as fully, as if really worth the fractional silver represented; on exactly the same principle, as a bank-note passes current, and that too for years together, without any intrinsic value, just as well as if really worth the sum it purports on the face of it to contain. In this manner, such a coinage can be made more profitable to the government than by any compulsion to receive it in part payment; and the value of the legal coin will suffer no depreciation. The only danger is that of counterfeits, which there is the strongest stimulus for avarice to fabricate, in proportion as the difference between the intrinsic, and the current value, grows wider.
The last King of Sardinia's predecessor, in attempting to withdraw from circulation a base currency, issued by his father in a period of calamity, had more than thrice the quantity originally issued by the government thrown upon his hands. The same thing happened to the king of Prussia, when, under the assumed name of the Jew Ephraim, he withdrew the base coin he had compelled the Saxons to receive, during his distresses in the seven years' war;*85 and for exactly the same reason. Counterfeits of the coin are usually executed beyond the national frontier. In England it was attempted to remedy this evil in the year 1799, by a coinage of half-pence with a very fine impression, and executed with an attention and perfection, that counterfeiters can rarely bestow.
Of the preferable Form of Coined Money.
The wear of the coin by friction is proportionate to the extent of its surface. Of two pieces of coin of equal weight and quality, that will suffer least from continual use, which offers the least surface to the friction.
The spherical or globular form is, consequently, preferable in this respect, as least liable to wear; but it has been rejected on account of its inconvenience.
Next to this form, the cylinder, of equal depth and breadth, is that, which exposes the smallest surface; but this is fully as inconvenient as the other; the form of a very flat cylinder has, consequently, been very generally adopted. However, from what has been already said, it will appear, that the less it is flattened the better; and that the coin should rather be made thick than broad.
With regard to the impression, the chief requisites are, 1. That it specify the weight and quality of the piece; 2. That it be very distinct, and intelligible to the meanest capacity; 3. That the die oppose all possible difficulties to the defacing or reducing of the coin; that is to say, that it be so contrived, that neither the ordinary wear nor fraudulent practices should be able to reduce the weight without destroying the impression. The last coined English half-pence have a cord, not projecting, but indented in the thickness of the circumference, and occupying the central part of the circumference only, so as to make it liable neither to clipping nor wear. This mode might be adopted in the silver and gold coinage with certainty and success; and it is of much more consequence to prevent their deterioration.
When the impression is in basso relievo, it should project but little, for the convenience of piling the pieces one upon another, as well as to reduce the friction. On the same account a projecting impression should not be too sharp on the surface, or it would wear away too rapidly. With a view to prevent this, experiments have been made of dies executed in alto relievo; but it was found that the coin was thereby too much weakened, and liable to be bent or broken. This plan, however, might possibly be practised with advantage, if the pieces were secured by greater thickness.
The same motive of giving to the coin the least possible surface, should induce the government to issue as large pieces as convenience will admit; for the more pieces there are, the greater is the surface exposed to friction. No more small pieces of coin should be issued, than just enough to transact exchanges of small amount, and to pay fractional sums. All large sums should be paid in large pieces of coin.
Of the Party, on whom the Loss of the Coin by Wear should properly fall
It has been a question, who ought to defray the loss, consequent upon the friction or wear of the coin? In strict justice, the person who had made use of it, in like manner as the wearer of any other commodity. A man, that re-sells a coat after having worn it, sells it for less than he gave for it when new. So a man, that sells a crown-piece for some other commodity, should sell it for less than he gave; that is to say, should receive a smaller quantity of goods than he obtained it with.
But the portion of a specific coin, consumed in its passage through the hands of any one honest person, is less than almost any assignable value. It may circulate for many years together, without any sensible diminution of its weight; and, when the diminution is discovered, it may be impossible to tell, by which of the innumerable holders it was effected. I am aware, that each of them has imperceptibly shared the depreciation of its exchangeable value, occasioned by the wear; that the quantity of goods it would purchase has declined by an insensible gradation; that, although the depreciation has been imperceptibly progressive, it becomes at last very manifest; and that worn money will not be taken at par with new coin. Consequently, I think, that, if an entire class of coin were gradually so reduced as to make a re-coinage necessary, its holders could not in reason expect that their reduced coin should be exchanged for new at par, piece for piece. Their money should be received, even by the government, at no more than its real value; the silver it contains is less in quantity than at the first issue; and it has been received by the holders at a lower rate of value; they have given for it less goods than they would have done in the outset.
In fact this is the course that rigid justice would prescribe; but there are two reasons, why it should not be strictly enforced.
1. Each individual piece of coin is not, if I may be allowed the expression, a substantive article of commerce. Its exchangeable value is calculated, not according to the weight and quality of the identical piece in question, but according to the average weight and quality of the coin in large quantities, as ascertained by common experience. A crown piece of an earlier date, and more worn, is yet freely received in exchange for one more new and perfect; the difference is sunk in the average. The mint issues new pieces every year of the full weight and standard, which prevents the coin from declining sensibly in value, in consequence of the friction, even for many years after its issue.
This circumstance is illustrated by the fact, of the French pieces of 12 and 24 sous passing current at par with the crown-pieces of 6 livres without any difficulty; although the same nominal sum, in the shape of the worn pieces of 12 and 24s., contained in reality about ¼ less silver than the crown-piece.
The subsequent law, which prohibited their being taken by the public receivers or private persons at more than 10 and 20 sous, rated them at their full intrinsic value, but below the rate, at which the then holders had taken them. For their value had been previously kept up to 12 and 24 sous in spite of the wear, by reason of their passing current at par with the crown-piece. Thus, the last holder was saddled with the entire loss of a friction, to which the innumerable hands they had passed through had all contributed.
2. The impression is equally effectual in giving currency at the last as at the first, although it becomes in course of time scarcely, if at all visible; witness the shillings of England. The coin derives, as above explained, a certain degree of value from the mere impression, which value has been admitted and recognised throughout, until it reaches the ultimate holder, who has in consequence received it at a higher rate, than he would a piece of blank bullion of equal weight. To saddle him with the difference, would be to make him lose the whole value of the impression, although it has been equally serviceable to perhaps a million of others.
On these grounds, I am inclined to think, the loss by wear, and that of the impression, should be borne by the community at large; that is to say, by the public purse: for the whole society derives the benefit of the money; and it is impossible to tax each individual, in the precise proportion of the use he has made of it.
To conclude: every individual, that carries bullion to the mint to be coined may be fairly charged the expenses of the process, and, if thought advisable, the full monopoly-profit. Thus far there is no harm done; his bullion is increased in value to the full amount of what he has been charged by the mint; otherwise, he would never have carried it thither. At the same time, I am of opinion, that the mint should always give a new piece in exchange for an old one on demand: which need nowise interfere with the utmost possible precautions against the clipping and debasing of the coin. The mint should refuse such pieces as have lost certain parts of the impression, which are not liable to fair and unavoidable wear; and the loss in that case should fall on the individual, careless enough to take a piece thus palpably deficient. The promptitude, with which the public would take care to carry injured or suspicious pieces to the mint, would greatly facilitate the detection of fraudulent practices.
With diligence on the part of the executive, the loss arising from this source might be reduced to a mere trifle, and the system of national money would be materially improved, as well as the foreign exchange.
Notes for this chapter
The utility of money is intense, in the compound ratio of the division of labour and the variety of individual consumption. A sugar colony in the West Indies, though highly productive in proportion to its population, requires little money to facilitate the transfer of the produce; because the bulk of the population, the negroes, have very little variety of consumption: they are fed, clothed, &c. in the wholesale, and in the plainest and most uniform manner. Yet, possibly, the division both of agricultural and manufacturing labour on each plantation may be carried to considerable length. Translator.
Raynal, Hist. phil. et pol. lib. vi.
When the intercourse between the Europeans and the negroes of the river Gambia first commenced, the commodity most in request with them was iron, for the purposes of war and of tillage. Iron, therefore, became the standard of comparison of value. In a little time, it became a mere nominal standard in their mercantile dealings; and a bar of tobacco consisting of 20 or 30 leaves of that herb, was given for a bar of rum consisting of four or five pints, according to the abundance or scarcity of the article. In such a state of society, each product successively performs the functions of money in reference to all other products; which leaves the community subject to all the inconveniences of barter in kind, the chief of which is, the inability to offer any one article in general request and acceptation, and capable of ready apportionment in amount to other commodities at large. Vide Travels of Mungo Park, vol. i. c. 2.
Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 4.
The money of Lacedæmon is a proof of the position, that public authority is incompetent of itself to give currency to its money. The laws of Lycurgus directed the money to be made of iron, purposely to prevent its being easily hoarded, or transferred in large quantities; but they were inoperative, because they went to defeat these, the principal purposes of money. Yet no legislator was ever more rigidly obeyed than Lycurgus.
The present silver coin of France contains one part copper to nine parts fine silver; the relative value of copper to silver being as 1 to 60, or thereabouts. So that the copper contained in the whole silver coinage, amounts to about 1/600 of the total value of the silver coin, or 1 cent in 6 fr. Supposing it were attempted to disengage the copper, it would not pay the expenses of the process of separation; to say nothing of the value of the impression that must be destroyed. Wherefore, it is reckoned for nothing in the valuation of the coin. A piece of 5 fr. presents the idea of the 22½ grammes of fine silver contained in it, though actually weighing 25 gr. inclusive of the alloy.*
In the silver coins of the United States, no change has been made, since the act of 1792, which regulated their value. The dollar, by that act, is made the unit, of the same value as the Spanish milled dollar then current. The dollar of the United States contains 371.25 grains of pure silver and 416 grains of standard silver; the half dollar 185.625 grains of pure silver and 208 grains of standard silver; the quarter dollar 92.8125 grains of pure silver and 104 grains of standard silver; the dime 37.125 grains of pure silver and 41.6 grains of standard silver; and the half dime 18.5625 grains of pure silver and 20.8 grains of standard silver. The standard of silver is 1485 parts of fine to 179 parts alloy; accordingly, 1485 parts in 1664 parts of the entire weight of the silver coins are of pure silver, and the remaining 179 parts of alloy. The alloy of standard silver is wholly composed of copper.
The copper coins of the United States are the cent and the half cent; the weight of which, since the act of 1792, has been twice reduced. By the act of 1792, the cent contained 264 grains, and the half cent 132 grains, of copper, and the cent was fixed at the value of the hundredth part of the dollar, or unit. By an act of the 14th of January, 1793, the cent was reduced to 208 grains, and the half cent to 104 grains, of copper; and by an act of the 3d of March, 1795, the President was authorized by proclamation, and accordingly, on the 26th of January, 1796, reduced the cent to 168 grains, and the half cent to 84 grains of copper, their present weight. The proportional mint value of gold to silver, by the act of 1792, was as 1 of pure gold to 15 of pure silver; and by the act of the present year the proportional mint value of gold to silver is as 1 of pure gold to 16.002112+ of pure silver. American Editor.
The other property of money, the capability of subdivision, and apportionment of the value parted with, must not be lost sight of: by it the jeweller is enabled to exchange a minute portion of his precious commodity for the smallest item of his household expenditure.
This point has been well observed upon by Turgot. Refl. sur la Form. et Distrib. des Rich. Translator.
Ricardo and some other writers maintain, that the charges of obtaining the metal wholly determine its price or relative value in exchange for all other commodities. According to their notions, therefore, the want or demand nowise influences that price; a position in direct contradiction to daily and indisputable experience, which leads us invariably to the conclusion, that value is increased by increase of demand. Supposing that, by the discovery of new mines, silver were to become as common as copper, it would be subject to all the disqualifications of copper for the purposes of money, and gold would be more generally employed. The consequent increase of the demand for gold would increase the intensity of its value; and mines would be worked, that are now abandoned, because they do not defray the expense. It is true that the ore would then be obtained at a heavier rate; but will any one deny, that the increased value of the metal would be owing to the increased demand for it? It is the increased intensity of that demand, that determines the miner to incur the increased charge of production.
Before the Bank of England can pay off its notes in cash, the government, its principal debtor, must discharge its debts in specie; which it can not do unless it purchase the specie, either with its savings, or with the proceeds of further taxation. In doing so, it would, in effect, substitute a new and very costly engine of circulation, which must be purchased by the state, for the present one, which, although much out of order, and altogether destitute of intrinsic value, is yet made to do the business well enough.*
By an act of parliament, passed in July 1819, generally known as Mr. Peel's Act, the Bank of England was required, from the 1st of May, 1823, to pay its notes on demand, in the legal coins of the realm. The final resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England took place, however, at a still earlier period; for, finding itself in possession of sufficient gold to make payments in cash sooner than this law prescribed, the bank obtained the passage of another act, which made it imperative upon the institution to pay all demands in the legal coin of the realm on the 1st of May, 1822, since which time it has never ceased to "discharge its debts in specie" when required. American Editor.
It must not be supposed, that our author is ignorant of the wide difference between Bank of England and country bank paper, viz: that the one is paper-money, the principal; the other, its convertible representative. This position is perfectly correct. The credit, embodied, as it were, in the provincial paper, is equally an agent of circulation with the inconvertible principal, the paper-money; which, but for its presence and rivalry, would be required in double the quantity, to maintain the same scale of money-prices. Great confusion has hitherto prevailed on this subject for want of a clear conception of the concurrent operation of coin and its rival, credit. Translator.
For the consequence of an excessive issue of paper-money, vide infrà, Chap. XXII. sect. 4. where the subject of paper-money is discussed.
The multiplication of paper-money, and its consequent depreciation, effects no augmentation of the wealth of the community, although it makes necessary a more liberal use of figures in the estimation; just in the same way as its valuation in wheat instead of silver would do. The total of national wealth might be 20,000,000,000 kilogr. of wheat, and but 25,000,000 kilogr. of silver, and yet the value precisely the same. If the value of the money be less intense, it will require more of it to express the same degree of value.
Garnier de Saintes, translator of the Wealth of Nations. Translator.
Abregé des Principes d'Economie Publique, 1re partie, c. 4, and the advertisement prefixed.
That is to say, to receive the certificate of coinage, for use, not in the character of money, but as an article of commerce. The assay is charged for at the English mint, upon bullion re-delivered without coinage. And, before the export of coin was made free, the risk was probably equal to the value of the certificate conferred by coinage. These remarks apply to the coinage of gold only, silver being now subject to a seignorage of 4s. in 66s. But silver is no longer the material of the metallic money, except for minute and fractional exchanges. Translator.
It is hardly necessary to repeat, that the specie exported is not so much value lost to the community; for nobody will feel inclined to make a present of it to the foreigner. Its value is transmitted, for the purpose of obtaining a corresponding value in return; but the nation loses the value of the coinage in this operation. When guineas are exported from England, she receives in exchange the value of the metal only, and nothing for the impression it bears.*
Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 5.
One of my German translators, the learned Professor Morstadt, of Heidelberg, has observed upon this passage, that since 1810, the Russian government has made no charge for the coinage. It might with equal reason execute gratuitously the business of letter-carriage, instead of charging for it to the individuals.
I am perhaps incorrect in saying, that most governments make a profit over and above the expense of execution. The French government charges a seignorage, equal at most to defray the expense of the mere process. But the interest and wear and tear of the capital vested in buildings, machinery, &c. and the charge of administration, &c. are so much dead loss to the government; and probably many other governments are in the same predicament.
The value of the coinage, or fashion of the metal, is not always lost in the export. The impression is, to a certain degree, a recommendation beyond the limits of the authority which executes it, and raises the value somewhat higher than that of bullion in bars.
The 5 fr. pieces of France, have, by their invariable uniformity of weight and standard since their first issue, acquired a similar currency in many parts of the world.
This paragraph contains three errors in relation to the coinage of dollars by the United States, and the exportation of specie, which it is of importance to point out: 1st. Spanish dollars are not, and never have been, simply restamped at our mint, without varying their weight or standard: 2d. A pound, troy, of Spanish dollars, contains 10 oz. 15 dwts. of fine silver: a pound, troy, of American dollars contain 10 oz. 14 dwts. 5 grains of fine silver: 3d. No law has ever been enacted by Congress, directing the exportation of specie to be made in dollars of our own coinage; nor has the executive the power to regulate, or in any manner interfere with the exportation of specie from the United States. American Editor.
In Spanish America, a higher duty is charged, amounting, according to Humboldt, to 11½ per cent. on silver, and 3 per cent. on gold, over and above the actual charges of coinage; for the government allows no bullion to be exported in an uncoined state. So that, in fact, this is not a seignorage, but a duty on exportation, exacted at the time of converting the bullion into coin.
The measure of weight called a livre contained 12 oz. in the time of Charlemagne.
According to the principles established suprà, sect. 3 of this chapter, there is reason to believe, that the value of the adulterated livre of 8 oz. of fine silver might have been kept up to that of the old livre of 12 oz., if the volume of the coin had not been augmented. But the rise of money prices, consequent upon the adulteration of the coin, is a ground of presumption, that the government, with a view to profit by this momentary operation, ordered a recoinage, and made 12 pieces out of 8, by the addition of alloy, so as to increase the total quantity proportionately to the reduction of the standard of quality.
We find in the Prolégomènes of Le Blanc, 25, that the silver sol of St. Louis weighed 1 gros. 7½ grains, which, multiplied by 20, makes 2 oz. 6 gros 6 grains, the livre.
The same expedient was resorted to by that monster of prodigality, the Roman emperor Heliogabalus. The taxes of the empire were payable in specific gold coin, called aurei, and not in gold by the tale: and the emperor, to enlarge his receipts, made a new issue of aurei, weighing as much as 24 oz. each. The virtuous Alexander Severus, actuated by an opposite motive, made a considerable reduction of the weight.
Philip de Valois, in his official instructions to the officers of the mint, A. D. 1350, enjoins the utmost secrecy on the subject of the purposed adulteration, even with the sanction of an oath, for the express purpose of taking in the commercial classes; directing them "to put a good face upon the matter of the course of exchange of the mark of gold, so that the intended adulteration might not be discovered." Many similar instances are to be met with in the reign of King John. Le Blanc, Traité Hist. des Monnaies, p. 251.
Le Blanc, Traité Hist. des Monnaies, p. 27.
Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, liv. xxii. c. 11.
Smith's Wealth of Nations, book ii. c. 2.
Stewart's Inquiry into the Princ. Pol. Econ. 8vo. 1805, vol. ii. p. 306.
Vide the several ordinances of Philip le Bel in 1303; of Philip de Valois in 1329 and 1343; of John in 1354; and of Charles VI. in 1421.
The term, "representative," or "sign," of silver or specie, as applied to bank-notes, has no precise or definite meaning. A bank-note, with no sort of accuracy can be said to be "the representative of money;" and as such loose metaphorical expressions have given occasion to most of the vague and mystical notions respecting paper-money which have been too long current, and only serve to involve the subject in obscurity and confusion, they cannot too soon be discarded.
We have already seen, that coins are neither more nor less than commodities, which are bought and sold for their value, like other commodities. Bank-notes are not, any more than bills of exchange, or other transferable engagements for the payment of money, the representatives or symbols of these commodities, but are actual obligations for the payment, on demand, or at a stated time, of the quantity of the coins expressed on the face of them, and are themselves received in payment as readily as specie itself, only when it is perfectly understood, that the specie can be obtained for them, or when it is generally known, that they will be as readily received in the market as the coins which they specify. American Editor.
If credit-paper be thrown into the scale, it will not help us over this difficulty. The agent of circulation, whether in form of specie or of paper, can never exceed in amount the total utility vested in it. The expansion of the volume of a national money, whether of metal or of paper, is sure to be followed by a proportionate dilution of its value, which disables the whole from being equal to the purchase of a greater portion of commodities at large: and the value, devoted to the business of circulation, is always a trifle, compared with the value it is employed to circulate. Vide infrà, under the head of Bank-notes.
Esprit des Lois, liv. xxii. c. 7.
Esprit des Lois, liv. xxii. c. 3.
Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 5. On this point, Smith observes, that "labour was the first price, the original purchase-money, that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased." I think I have succeeded in proving that he is mistaken. Nature executes an essential part of the production of values; and her agency is in most cases paid for, and forms a portion of the value of the product. The profit of land, which is called rent, is paid to the proprietor, who does nothing himself, and stands in place of the original occupant; and it affects the value of the product, raised by the joint agency of nature and industry; the portion of value contributed by nature is not the product of human labour. Capital also, which is, for the most part, the accumulated product of labour, concurs, like nature, in the business of production, and receives in recompense a portion of the product; but the gains, accruing to the capitalist, are quite distinct from the accumulated labour vested in the capital itself, which can be expended or consumed in toto, by one set of persons; while its share in the product, in other words, the interest paid for its use, may be consumed by another.
Humboldt reckons it at from 3 fr. 50 cents to 4 fr. of our money. Essai Pol. sur la Nouvelle Espagne, tom. iii. p. 105. oct. ed.
The difference of value in different objects has, throughout this work, been noted in money-price or what they will fetch in money; extreme correctness not being necessary for illustration. Even in the exact science of geometry, the figures are given merely to make the demonstrations more intelligible; strict accuracy is necessary in the reasoning and conclusions only.
After the appearance of three editions of this work, Sismondi published his Nouveaux Principes d'Econ. Pol.; wherein amongst many excellent chapters, there is one entitled, "money, the sign, token, and measure of value." Liv. v. c. 1.
Edit. de Kehl, oct. tom. xvii. p. 394.
Rapport entre l'Argent et les Denrèes, p. 35.
For these calculations I am indebted to the Essai sur les Monnaies, and the Variations dans les Prix, both by Dupré de Saint Maur.
Book II. Chap. 4.
12 oz. of silver were given for 1 oz. of gold, in Cæsar's time. Wherefore, silver having fallen in the ratio of 4 to 1, 1 oz. of gold was worth as much in his days, as 48 oz. of pure silver at the present period. But 48 oz. of silver are now worth 3 oz. of gold or thereabouts: so that gold must have fallen in the ratio of about 3 to 1.
The same error of calculation has led these translators involuntarily to underrate the prodigality of the worst of the emperors. Thus we are told, that Caligula, in less than a year, squandered the whole of the treasure accumulated by Tiberius, amounting to 2700 millions of sestertii, which La Harpe translates into no more than 540 millions of livres: whereas, supposing the value of gold to have varied little between the days of Cæsar and of Caligula, which is probable enough, it will be found to amount to very nearly 3000 millions of livres. Indeed, it seems hardly possible, that a less sum would have sufficed for the monstrous extravagancies recorded of him.
Horace, Epist. 2. lib. ii. speaks of an estate, that, from the context, must have been a considerable one, as being of the value of 300,000 sestertii, which, according to my view, amounted to 303,600 fr. (about 56,470 dollars) of our present money. His commentator, Dacier, perverts the meaning of the passage, by estimating the estate in question, at 22,500 fr. only, or 4185 dollars.
Le Blanc. Traité Monnaies, p. 3. estimates the Roman lb. of 12 oz. at the actual weight of only 10 2/3 oz. of our standard, taking as a guide, the weight of some of the coins of the emperors which are in a state of high preservation. The valuation I have here given of the oz. of gold, takes it at the mint standard, viz. with a proportion of 1/10 alloy; for I take it for granted, that the gold, thus laid hands upon by Cæsar, was not pure gold, but coin with a mixture of alloy.
Until the period specified, the ratio of gold to silver in Europe was 1 to 12. At present, it is in most nations of Europe 1 to 14, or 1 to 15; so that taking the average ratio in ancient times at 1 to 11 ¼ and in modern times at 1 to 15, gold will have increased in relative value to silver in the proportion of 4 to 3. Wherefore, if gold be multiplied by 3, and silver by 4, the result will be equal.
I am disposed to believe, that the value of both gold and silver began again to decline about the commencement of the present century; for more gold and silver are now given for most of the commodities least liable to vary in the costs of production.*
After then examining the productiveness of the mines of Mexico, Colombia, including New Grenada, Peru, Buenos Ayres, Chili, and Brazil, in gold and silver, and also after taking notice of the gold found in North and South Carolina and Georgia, from 1824 to 1830, he sums up the whole of the amount of the gold and silver supplied by the late Spanish dominions in America, during the twenty years, from the end of the year 1809 to the end of 1829, thus:—
"In Europe," he states, likewise, "the produce of gold and silver has declined, when the average of the last twenty years is compared with that of the one hundred and ten years which preceded it. The value of the gold produced in Europe, he estimates about 720,000l. and of the silver 530,000l., being together 1,250,000l. annually, or in the period of twenty years from 1810 to 1829, 23 millions; to this the supply from America, 80,736,768l., will make together, 103,736,768 pounds sterling." Mr. Jacobs estimates the diminution in the mass of metallic money, during the twenty years mentioned, at 13 per cent. American Editor.
The relative position of gold and silver, in respect to value, is by no means determined by the respective supply of each from the mines. Humboldt states, in his Essai Pol. sur la Nouvelle Espagne, tom. iv. p. 222, oct., that silver is produced from the mines of America and Europe jointly, in the ratio to gold, of 45 to 1. Now the ratio of their value, instead of being 45 to 1, is only,
The difference is probably owing to the superior utility and demand of silver for the purposes of plate, &c. as well as of money. It would seem, that this cause operates more forcibly in the East than in the West; for gold jewellery is relatively cheaper there than in our part of the world.
Traité Hist. des Monnaies de la France, Prolegom. p. 4.
Vide our author's pamphlet, entitled, de l'Angleterre, et des Anglais, 1815. 3d edition, p. 50, et seq.
Proposals for an economical and secure Currency, by D. Ricardo, 1816. It seems, the British legislature has since adopted the expedient of that writer, in 1819. The experiment is yet in progress; and whatever be its ultimate result, it must needs advance the interests of the science.
Billon, a compound of copper and silver, containing ¼ or ½ only of the latter and the residue of the former. It is used in the fractional coinage of France, to supersede the employment of copper in large quantities.
Suprà, p. 166.
Mongez, Consider. sur les Monnaies, p. 31.
Book I, Chapter XXII
End of Notes
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