The Theory of Money and Credit

Ludwig von Mises.
Mises, Ludwig von
(1881-1973)
CEE
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Editor/Trans.
H. E. Batson, trans.
First Pub. Date
1912
Publisher/Edition
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
LibertyClassics
Pub. Date
1981
Comments
Foreword by Murray Rothbard and Introduction by Lionel Robbins not available online
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CHAPTER 4

Money and the State

1 The Position of the State in the Market

I.4.1

The position of the state in the market differs in no way from that of any other parties to commercial transactions. Like these others, the state exchanges commodities and money on terms which are governed by the laws of price. It exercises its sovereign rights over its subjects to levy compulsory contributions from them; but in all other respects it adapts itself like everybody else to the commercial organization of society. As a buyer or seller the state has to conform to the conditions of the market. If it wishes to alter any of the exchange ratios established in the market, it can only do this through the market's own mechanism. As a rule it will be able to act more effectively than anyone else, thanks to the resources at its command outside the market. It is responsible for the most pronounced disturbances of the market because it is able to exercise the strongest influence on demand and supply. But it is nonetheless subject to the rules of the market and cannot set aside the laws of the pricing process. In an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production, no government regulation can alter the terms of exchange except by altering the factors that determine them.

I.4.2

Kings and republics have repeatedly refused to recognize this. Diocletian's edict de pretiis rerum venalium, the price regulations of the Middle Ages, and the maximum prices of the French Revolution are the most well-known examples of the failure of authoritative interference with the market. These attempts at intervention were not frustrated by the fact that they were valid only within the state boundaries and ignored elsewhere. It is a mistake to imagine that similar regulations would have led to the desired result even in an isolated state. It was the functional, not the geographical, limitations of the government that rendered them abortive. They could have achieved their aim only in a socialistic state with a centralized organization of production and distribution. In a state that leaves production and distribution to individual enterprise, such measures must necessarily fail of their effect.

I.4.3

The concept of money as a creature of law and the state is clearly untenable. It is not justified by a single phenomenon of the market. To ascribe to the state the power of dictating the laws of exchange, is to ignore the fundamental principles of money-using society.

2 The Legal Concept of Money

I.4.4

When both parties to an exchange fulfill their obligations immediately and surrender a commodity for ready cash, there is usually no motive for the judicial intervention of the state. But when the exchange is one of present goods against future goods it may happen that one party fails to fulfill his obligations although the other has carried out his share of the contract. Then the judiciary may be invoked. If the case is one of lending or purchase on credit, to name only the most important examples, the court has to decide how a debt contracted in terms of money can be liquidated. Its task thus becomes that of determining, in accordance with the intent of the contracting parties, what is to be understood by money in commercial transactions. From the legal point of view, money is not the common medium of exchange, but the common medium of payment or debt settlement. But money only becomes a medium of payment by virtue of being a medium of exchange. And it is only because it is a medium of exchange that the law also makes it the medium for fulfilling obligations not contracted in terms of money, but whose literal fulfillment is for some reason or other impossible.

I.4.5

The fact that the law regards money only as a means of canceling outstanding obligations has important consequences for the legal definition of money. What the law understands by money is in fact not the common medium of exchange but the legal medium of payment. It does not come within the scope of the legislator or jurist to define the economic concept of money.

I.4.6

In determining how monetary debts may be effectively paid off there is no reason for being too exclusive. It is customary in business to tender and accept in payment certain money substitutes instead of money itself. If the law refused to recognize the validity of money substitutes that are sanctioned by commercial usage, it would only open the door to all sorts of fraud and deceit. This would offend against the principle malitiis non est indulgendum. Besides this, the payment of small sums would, for technical reasons, hardly be possible without the use of token money. Even ascribing the power of debt settlement to banknotes does not injure creditors or other recipients in any way, so long as the notes are regarded by the businessman as equivalent to money.

I.4.7

But the state may ascribe the power of debt settlement to other objects as well. The law may declare anything it likes to be a medium of payment, and this ruling will be binding on all courts and on all those who enforce the decisions of the courts. But bestowing the property of legal tender on a thing does not suffice to make it money in the economic sense. Goods can become common media of exchange only through the practice of those who take part in commercial transactions; and it is the valuations of these persons alone that determine the exchange ratios of the market. Quite possibly, commerce may take into use those things to which the state has ascribed the power of payment; but it need not do so. It may, if it likes, reject them.

I.4.8

Three situations are possible when the state has declared an object to be a legal means of fulfilling an outstanding obligation. First, the legal means of payment may be identical with the medium of exchange that the contracting parties had in mind when entering into their agreement; or, if not identical, it may yet be of equal value with this medium at the time of payment. For example, the state may proclaim gold as a legal medium for settling obligations contracted in terms of gold, or, at a time when the relative values of gold and silver are as 1 to 15½, it may declare that liabilities in terms of gold may be settled by payment of 15½ times the quantity of silver. Such an arrangement is merely the legal formulation of the presumable intent of the agreement. It damages the interests of neither party. It is economically neutral.

I.4.9

The case is otherwise when the state proclaims as medium of payment something that has a higher or lower value than the contractual medium. The first possibility may be disregarded; but the second, of which numerous historical examples could be cited, is important. From the legal point of view, in which the fundamental principle is the protection of vested rights, such a procedure on the part of the state can never be justified, although it might sometimes be vindicated on social or fiscal grounds. But it always means, not the fulfillment of obligations, but their complete or partial cancellation. When notes that are appraised commercially at only half their face value are proclaimed legal tender, this amounts fundamentally to the same thing as granting debtors legal relief from half of their liabilities.

I.4.10

State declarations of legal tender affect only those monetary obligations that have already been contracted. But commerce is free to choose between retaining its old medium of exchange or creating a new one for itself, and when it adopts a new medium, so far as the legal power of the contracting parties reaches, it will attempt to make it into a standard of deferred payments also, in order to deprive of its validity, at least for the future, the standard to which the state has ascribed complete powers of debt settlement. When, during the last decade of the nineteenth century, the bimetallist party in Germany gained so much power that the possibility of experiment with its inflationist proposals had to be reckoned with, gold clauses began to make their appearance in long-term contracts. The recent period of currency depreciation has had a similar effect. If the state does not wish to render all credit transactions impossible, it must recognize such devices as these and instruct the courts to acknowledge them. And, similarly, when the state itself enters into ordinary business dealings, when it buys or sells, guarantees loans or borrows, makes payments or receives them, it must recognize the common business medium of exchange as money. The legal standard, the particular group of things that are endued with the property of unlimited legal tender, is in fact valid only for the settlement of existing debts, unless business usage itself adopts it as a general medium of exchange.

3 The Influence of the State on the Monetary System

I.4.11

State activity in the monetary sphere was originally restricted to the manufacture of coins. To supply ingots of the greatest possible degree of similarity in appearance, weight, and fineness, and provide them with a stamp that was not too easy to imitate and that could be recognized by everybody as the sign of the state coinage, was and still is the premier task of state monetary activity. Beginning with this, the influence of the state in the monetary sphere has gradually extended.

I.4.12

Progress in monetary technique has been slow. At first, the impression on a coin was merely a proof of the genuineness of its material, including its degree of fineness, while the weight had to be separately checked at each payment. (In the present state of knowledge this cannot be stated dogmatically; and in any case the development is not likely to have followed the same lines everywhere.) Later, different kinds of coins were distinguished, all the separate coins of any particular kind being regarded as interchangeable. The next step after the innovation of classified money. was the development of the parallel standard. This consisted in the juxtaposition of two monetary systems, one based on gold commodity money, and one on silver. The coins belonging to each separate system constituted a self-contained group. Their weights bore a definite relation to each other, and the state gave them a legal relation also, in the same proportion, by sanctioning the commercial practice which had gradually been established of regarding different coins of the same metal as interchangeable. This stage was reached without further state influence. All that the state had done till then in the monetary sphere was to provide the coins for commercial use. As controller of the mint, it supplied in handy form pieces of metal of specific weight and fineness, stamped in such a way that everybody could recognize without difficulty what their metallic content was and whence they originated. As legislator, the state attributed legal tender to these coins—the significance of this has just been expounded—and as judge it applied this legal provision. But the matter did not end at this stage. For about the last two hundred years the influence of the state on the monetary system has been greater than this. One thing, however, must be made clear; even now the state has not the power of directly making anything into money, that is to say into a common medium of exchange. Even nowadays, it is only the practice of the individuals who take part in business that can make a commodity into a medium of exchange. But the state's influence on commercial usage, both potential and actual, has increased. It has increased, first, because the state's own importance as an economic agent has increased; because it occupies a greater place as buyer and seller as payer of wages and levier of taxes, than in past centuries. In this there is nothing that is remarkable or that needs special emphasis. It is obvious that the influence of an economic agent on the choice of a monetary commodity will be the greater in proportion to its share in the dealings of the market; and there is no reason to suppose that there should be any difference in the case of the one particular economic agent, the state.

I.4.13

But, besides this, the state exercises a special influence on the choice of the monetary commodity, which is due not to its commercial position nor to its authority as legislator and judge, but to its official standing as controller of the mint and to its power to change the character of the money substitutes in circulation.

I.4.14

The influence of the state on the monetary system is usually that ascribed to its legislative and judicial authority. It is assumed that the law, which can authoritatively alter the tenor of existing debt relations and force new contracts of indebtedness in a particular direction, enables the state to exercise a deciding influence in the choice of the commercial medium of exchange.

I.4.15

Nowadays the most extreme form of this argument is to be found in Knapp's State Theory of Money;*37 but very few German writers are completely free from it. Helfferich may be mentioned as an example. It is true that this writer declares, with regard to the origin of money, that it is perhaps doubtful whether it was not the function of common medium of exchange alone that sufficed to make a thing money and to make money the standard of deferred payments of every kind. Nevertheless, he constantly regards it as quite beyond any sort of doubt that for our present economic organization certain kinds of money in some countries, and the whole monetary system in other countries, are money, and function as a medium of exchange, only because compulsory payments and obligations contracted in terms of money must or may be fulfilled in terms of these particular objects.*38

I.4.16

It would be difficult to agree with views of this nature. They fail to recognize the meaning of state intervention in the monetary sphere. By declaring an object to be fitted in the juristic sense for the liquidation of liabilities expressed in terms of money, the state cannot influence the choice of a medium of exchange, which belongs to those engaged in business. History shows that those states that have wanted their subjects to accept a new monetary system have regularly chosen other means than this of achieving their ends.

I.4.17

The establishment of a legal ratio for the discharge of obligations incurred under the regime of the superseded kind of money constitutes a merely secondary measure which is significant only in connection with the change of standard which is achieved by other means. The provision that taxes are in future to be paid in the new kind of money, and that other liabilities imposed in terms of money will be fulfilled only in the new money, is a consequence of the transition to the new standard. It proves effective only when the new kind of money has become a common medium of exchange in commerce generally. A monetary policy can never be carried out merely by legislative means, by an alteration in the legal definitions of the content of contracts of indebtedness and of the system of public expenditure; it must be based on the executive authority of the state as controller of the mint and as issuer of claims to money, payable on demand, that can take the place of money in commerce. The necessary measures must not merely be passively recorded in the protocols of legislative assemblies and official gazettes, but—often at great financial sacrifice—must be actually put into operation.

I.4.18

A country that wishes to persuade its subjects to go over from one precious-metal standard to another cannot rest content with expressing this aspiration in appropriate provisions of the civil and fiscal law. It must make the new money take the commercial place of the old. Exactly the same is true of the transition from a credit-money or fiat-money standard to commodity money. No statesman faced with the task of such a change has ever had even a momentary doubt about the matter. It is not the enactment of a legal ratio and the order that taxes are to be paid in the new money that are the decisive steps, but the provision of the necessary quantity of the new money and the withdrawal of the old.

I.4.19

This may be confirmed by a few historical examples. First, the impossibility of modifying the monetary system merely by the exercise of authority may be illustrated by the ill success of bimetallistic legislation. This was once thought to offer a simple solution of a big problem. For thousands of years, gold and silver had been employed side by side as commodity money; but the continuance of this practice had constantly grown more burdensome, for the parallel standard, or simultaneous employment as currency of two kinds of commodity, has many disadvantages. Since no spontaneous assistance was to be expected from the individuals engaged in business, the state decided to intervene in the hope of cutting the Gordian knot. Just as it had previously removed certain obvious difficulties by declaring that debts contracted in terms of thalers might be discharged by payment of twice as many half-thalers or four times as many quarter-thalers, so it now proceeded to establish a fixed ratio between the two different precious metals. Debts payable in silver, for instance, could be discharged by payment of 1 : 15½ times the same weight of gold. It was thought that this had solved the problem, while in fact the difficulties that it involved had not even been suspected; as events were to prove. All the results followed that are attributed by Gresham's law to the legislative equating of coins of unequal value. In all debt settlements and similar payments, only that money was used which the law rated more highly than the market. When the law had happened to hit upon the existing market ratio as its par, then this effect was delayed a little until the next movement in the prices of the precious metals. But it was bound to occur as soon as a difference arose between the legislative and the market ratios of the two kinds of money. The parallel standard was thus turned, not into a double standard, as the legislators had intended, but into an alternative standard.

I.4.20

The primary result of this was a decision, for a little while at least, between the two precious metals. Not that this was what the state had intended. On the contrary, the state had no thought whatever of deciding in favor of the use of one or the other metal; it had hoped to secure the circulation of both. But the official regulation, which in declaring the reciprocal substitutability of gold and silver money overestimated the market ratio of the one in terms of the other, merely succeeded in differentiating the utility of the two for monetary purposes. The consequence was the increased employment of one of the metals and the disappearance of the other. The legislative and judicial intervention of the state had completely failed. It had been demonstrated, in striking fashion, that the state alone could not make a commodity into a common medium of exchange, that is, into money, but that this could be done only by the common action of all the individuals engaged in business.

I.4.21

But what the state fails to achieve through legislative means may be to a certain degree within its power as controller of the mint. It was in the latter capacity that the state intervened when the alternative standard was replaced by permanent monometallism. This happened in various ways. The transition was quite simple and easy when the action of the state consisted in preventing a return to the temporarily undervalued metal in one of the alternating monometallic periods by rescinding the fight of free coinage. The matter was even simpler in those countries where one or the other metal had gained the upper hand before the state had reached the stage necessary for the modern type of regulation, so that all that remained for the law to do was to sanction a situation that was already established.

I.4.22

The problem was much more difficult when the state attempted to persuade businessmen to abandon the metal that was being used and adopt the other. In this case, the state had to manufacture the necessary quantity of the new metal, exchange it for the old currency, and either turn the metal thus withdrawn from circulation into token coinage or sell it for nonmonetary use or for recoinage abroad. The reform of the German monetary system after the foundation of the Reich in 1871 may be regarded as a perfect example of the transition from one metallic commodity standard to another. The difficulties that this involved, and that were overcome by the help of the French war indemnity, are well known. They were involved in the performance of two tasks—the provision of the gold and the disposal of the silver. This and nothing else was the essence of the problem that had to be solved when the decision was taken to change the standard. The Reich completed the transition to gold by giving gold and claims to gold in exchange for the silver money and claims to silver money held by its citizens. The corresponding alterations in the law were mere accompaniments of the change.*39

I.4.23

The change of standard occurred in just the same way in Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the other countries that reformed their monetary systems in the succeeding years. Here also the problem was merely that of providing the requisite quantities of gold and setting them in circulation among those engaged in business in place of the media previously employed. This process was extraordinarily facilitated and, what was even more to the point, the amount of gold necessary for the changeover was considerably decreased, by the device of permitting the coins constituting the old fiat money or credit money to remain wholly or partly in circulation, while fundamentally changing their economic character by transforming them into claims that were always convertible into the new kind of money. This gave a different outward appearance to the transaction, but it remained in essence the same. It is scarcely open to question that the steps taken by those countries that adopted this kind of monetary policy consisted essentially in the provision of quantities of metal.

I.4.24

The exaggeration of the importance in monetary policy of the power at the disposal of the state in its legislative capacity can only be attributed to superficial observation of the processes involved in the transition from commodity money to credit money. This transition has normally been achieved by means of a state declaration that inconvertible claims to money were as good means of payment as money itself. As a rule, it has not been the object of such a declaration to carry out a change of standard and substitute credit money for commodity money. In the great majority of cases, the state has taken such measures merely with certain fiscal ends in view. It has aimed to increase its own resources by the creation of credit money. In the pursuit of such a plan as this, the diminution of the money's purchasing power could hardly seem desirable. And yet it has always been this depreciation in value which, through the coming into play of Gresham's law, has caused the change of monetary standard. It would be quite out of harmony with the facts to assert that cash payments had ever been stopped; that is, that the permanent convertibility of the notes had been suspended, with the intention of effecting a transition to a credit standard. This result has always come to pass against the will of the state, not in accordance with it.

I.4.25

Business usage alone can transform a commodity into a common medium of exchange. It is not the state, but the common practice of all those who have dealings in the market, that creates money. It follows that state regulation attributing general power of debt liquidation to a commodity is unable of itself to make that commodity into money. If the state creates credit money—and this is naturally true in a still greater degree of fiat money—it can do so only by taking things that are already in circulation as money substitutes (that is, as perfectly secure and immediately convertible claims to money) and isolating them for purposes of valuation by depriving them of their essential characteristic of permanent convertibility. Commerce would always protect itself against any other method of introducing a government credit currency. The attempt to put credit money into circulation has never been successful, except when the coins or notes in question have already been in circulation as money substitutes.*40

I.4.26

This is the limit of the constantly overestimated influence of the state on the monetary system. What the state can do in certain circumstances, by means of its position as controller of the mint, by means of its power of altering the character of money substitutes and depriving them of their standing as claims to money that are payable on demand, and above all by means of those financial resources which permit it to bear the cost of a change of currency, is to persuade commerce to abandon one sort of money and adopt another. That is all.


Notes for this chapter


37.
Knapp, Staatliche Theorie des Geldes (3d. ed., 1921); trans. into English by H. M. Lucas and J. Bonar as The State Théory of Money (London, 1924).
38.
See Helfferich, Das Geld, 6th ed. (Leipzig, 1923), p. 294; English trans., Money (London, 1927), p. 312.
39.
See Helfferich, Die Reform des deutschen Geldwesens nach der Gründung des Reiches (Leipzig, 1898), vol. 1, pp. 307 ff; Lotz, Geschichte und Kritik des deutschen Bankgesetzes vom 14. März 1875 (Leipzig, 1888), pp. 137 ff.
40.
See Subercaseaux, Essai sur la nature du papier monnaie (Paris, 1909), pp. 5 ff.

End of Notes


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CHAPTER 5

Money as an Economic Good

1 Money Neither a Production Good nor a Consumption Good

I.5.1

It is usual to divide economic goods into the two classes of those which satisfy human needs directly and those which only satisfy them indirectly: that is, consumption goods, or goods of the first order; and production goods, or goods of higher orders.*41 The attempt to include money in either of these groups meets with insuperable difficulties. It is unnecessary to demonstrate that money is not a consumption good. It seems equally incorrect to call it a production good.

I.5.2

Of course, if we regard the twofold division of economic goods as exhaustive we shall have to rest content with putting money in one group or the other. This has been the position of most economists; and since it has seemed altogether impossible to call money a consumption good, there has been no alternative but to call it a production good.

I.5.3

This apparently arbitrary procedure has usually been given only a very cursory vindication. Roscher, for example, thought it sufficient to mention that money is "the chief instrument of every transfer" (vornehmstes Werkzeug jeden Verkehrs).*42

I.5.4

In opposition to Roscher, Knies made room for money in the classification of goods by replacing the twofold division into production goods and consumption goods by a threefold division into means of production, objects of consumption, and media of exchange.*43 His arguments on this point, which are unfortunately scanty, have hardly attracted any serious attention and have been often misunderstood. Thus Helfferich attempts to confute Knies's proposition, that a sale-and-purchase transaction is not in itself an act of production but an act of (interpersonal) transfer, by asserting that the same sort of objection might be made to the inclusion of means of transport among instruments of production on the grounds that transport is not in itself an act of production but an act of (interlocal) transfer and that the nature of goods is no more altered by transport than by a change of ownership.*44

I.5.5

Obviously, it is the ambiguity of the German word Verkehr that has obscured the deeper issues here involved. On the one hand, Verkehr bears a meaning that may be roughly translated by the word commerce; that is, the exchange of goods and services on the part of individuals. But it also means the transfer through space of persons, goods, and information. These two groups of things denoted by the German word Verkehr have nothing in common but their name. It is therefore impossible to countenance the suggestion of a relationship between the two meanings of the word that is involved in the practice of speaking of "Verkehr in the broader sense," by which is meant the transfer of goods from one person's possession to that of another, and "Verkehr in the narrower sense," by which is meant the transfer of goods from one point in space to another.*45 Even popular usage recognizes two distinct meanings here, not a narrower and a broader version of the same meaning.

I.5.6

The common nomenclature of the two meanings, as also their incidental confusion, may well be attributable to the fact that exchange transactions often, but by no means always, go hand in hand with acts of transport, through space and vice versa.*46 But obviously this is no reason why science should impute an intrinsic similarity to these essentially different processes.

I.5.7

It should never have been called in question that the transportation of persons, goods, and information is to be reckoned part of production, so far as it does not constitute an act of consumption, as do pleasure trips for example. All the same, two things have hindered recognition of this fact. The first is the widespread misconception of the nature of production. There is a naive view of production that regards it as the bringing into being of matter that did not previously exist, as creation in the true sense of the word. From this it is easy to derive a contrast between the creative work of production and the mere transportation of goods. This way of regarding the matter is entirely inadequate. In fact, the role played by man in production always consists solely in combining his personal forces with the forces of Nature in such a way that the cooperation leads to some particular desired arrangement of material. No human act of production amounts to more than altering the position of things in space and leaving the rest to Nature.*47 This disposes of one of the objections to regarding transportation as a productive process.

I.5.8

The second objection arises from insufficient insight into the nature of goods. It is often overlooked that, among other natural qualities, the position of a thing in space has important bearings on its capacity for satisfying human wants. Things that are of perfectly identical technological composition must yet be regarded as specimens of different kinds of goods if they are not in the same place and in the same state of readiness for consumption or further production. Till now the position of a good in space has been recognized only as a factor determining its economic or noneconomic nature. It is hardly possible to ignore the fact that drinking water in the desert and drinking water in a well-watered mountain district, despite their chemical and physical similarity and their equal thirst-quenching properties, have nevertheless a totally different significance for the satisfaction of human wants. The only water that can quench the thirst of the traveler in the desert is the water that is on the spot, ready for consumption.

I.5.9

Within the group of economic goods itself, however, the factor of situation has been taken into consideration only for goods of certain kinds—those whose position has been fixed, whether by man or nature; and even among these, attention has seldom been given to any but the most outstanding example, land. As far as movable goods are concerned, the factor of situation has been treated as negligible.

I.5.10

This attitude is in consonance with commercial technology. The microscope fails to reveal any difference between two lots of beet sugar, of which one is warehoused in Prague and the other in London. But for the purposes of economics it is better to regard the two lots of sugar as goods of different kinds. Strictly speaking, only those goods should be called goods of the first order which are already where they can immediately be consumed. All other economic goods, even if they are ready for consumption in the technological sense, must be regarded as goods of higher orders which can be transmuted into goods of the first order only by combination with the complementary good, "means of transport." Regarded in this light, means of transport are obviously production goods. "Production," says Wieser, "is the utilization of the more advantageous among remote conditions of welfare."*48 There is nothing to prevent us from interpreting the word remote in its literal sense for once, and not just figuratively.

I.5.11

We have seen that transfer through space is one sort of production; and means of transport, therefore, so far as they are not consumption goods such as pleasure yachts and the like, must be included among production goods. Is this true of money as well? Are the economic services that money renders comparable with those rendered by means of transport? Not in the least. Production is quite possible without money. There is no need for money either in the isolated household or in the socialized community. Nowhere can we discover a good of the first order of which we could say that the use of money was a necessary condition of its production.

I.5.12

It is true that the majority of economists reckon money among production goods. Nevertheless, arguments from authority are invalid; the proof of a theory is in its reasoning, not in its sponsorship; and with all due respect for the masters, it must be said that they have not justified their position very thoroughly in this matter. This is most remarkable in Böhm-Bawerk. As has been said, Knies recommends the substitution of a threefold classification of economic goods into objects of consumption, means of production, and media of exchange, for the customary twofold division into consumption goods and production goods. In general, Böhm-Bawerk treats Knies with the greatest respect and, whenever he feels obliged to differ from him, criticizes his arguments most carefully. But in the present case he simply disregards them. He unhesitatingly includes money in his concept of social capital, and incidentally specifies it as a product destined to assist further production. He refers briefly to the objection that money is an instrument, not of production, but of exchange; but instead of answering this objection, he embarks on an extended criticism of those doctrines that treat stocks of good in the hands of producers and middlemen as goods ready for consumption instead of as intermediate products.

I.5.13

Böhm-Bawerk's argument proves conclusively that production is not completed until the goods have been brought to the place where they are wanted, and that it is illegitimate to speak of goods being ready for consumption until the final process of transport is completed. But it contributes nothing to our present discussion; for the chain of reasoning gives way just at the critical link. After having proved that the horse and wagon with which the farmer brings home his corn and wood must be reckoned as means of production and as capital, Böhm-Bawerk adds that "logically all the objects and apparatus of 'bringing home' in the broader economic sense, the things that have to be transported, the roads, railways, and ships, and the commercial tool money, must be included in the concept of capital."*49

I.5.14

This is the same jump that Roscher makes. It leaves out of consideration the difference between transport, which consists in an alteration of the utility of things, and exchange, which constitutes a separate economic category altogether. It is illegitimate to compare the part played by money in production with that played by ships and railways. Money is obviously not a "commercial tool" in the same sense as account books, exchange lists, the stock exchange, or the credit system.

I.5.15

Böhm-Bawerk's argument in its turn has not remained uncontradicted. Jacoby objects that while it treats money and the stocks of commodities in the hands of producers and middlemen as social capital, it nevertheless maintains the view that social capital is a pure economic category and independent of all legal definitions, although money and the "commodity" aspect of consumption goods are peculiar to a "commercial" type of economic organization.*50

I.5.16

The invalidity of this criticism, so far as it is an objection to regarding commodities as production goods, is implied by what has been said above. There is no doubt that Böhm-Bawerk is in the right here, and not his critic. It is otherwise with the second point, the question of the inclusion of money. Admittedly, Jacoby's own discussion of the capital concept is not beyond criticism, and Böhm-Bawerk's refusal to accept it is probably justified.*51 But that does not concern us at present. We are only concerned with the problem of the concept of goods. On this point as well Böhm-Bawerk disagrees with Jacoby. In the third edition of volume two of his masterpiece, Capital and Interest, he argues that even a complex socialistic organization could hardly do without undifferentiated orders or certificates of some sort, "like money," which refer to the product awaiting distribution.*52 This particular argument of his was not directly aimed at our present problem. Nevertheless, it is desirable to inquire whether the opinion expressed in it does not contain something that may be useful for our purpose as well.

I.5.17

Every sort of economic organization needs not only a mechanism for production but also a mechanism for distributing what is produced. It will scarcely be questioned that the distribution of goods among individual consumers constitutes a part of production, and that in consequence we should include among the means of production not only the physical instruments of commerce such as stock exchanges, account books, documents, and the like, but also everything that serves to maintain the legal system which is the foundation of commerce, as, for example, fences, railings, walls, locks, safes, the paraphernalia of the law courts, and the equipment of the organs of government entrusted with the protection of property. In a socialist state, this category might include among other things Böhm-Bawerk's "undifferentiated certificates" (to which, however, we cannot allow the description "like money"; for since money is not a certificate, it will not do to say of a certificate that it is like money. Money is always an economic good, and to say of a claim, which is what a certificate is, that it is like money, is only to drop back into the old practice of regarding rights and business connections as goods. Here we can invoke Böhm-Bawerk's own authority against himself).*53

I.5.18

What prevents us nevertheless from reckoning money among these "distribution goods" and so among production goods (and incidentally the same objection applies to its inclusion among consumption goods) is the following consideration. The loss of a consumption good or production good results in a loss of human satisfaction; it makes mankind poorer The gain of such a good results in an improvement of the human economic position; it makes mankind richer The same cannot be said of the loss or gain of money. Both changes in the available quantity of production goods or consumption goods and changes in the available quantity of money involve changes in values; but whereas the changes in the value of the production goods and consumption goods do not mitigate the loss or reduce the gain of satisfaction resulting from the changes in their quantity, the changes in the value of money are accommodated in such a way to the demand for it that, despite increases or decreases in its quantity, the economic position of mankind remains the same. An increase in the quantity of money can no more increase the welfare of the members of a community, than a diminution of it can decrease their welfare. Regarded from this point of view, those goods that are employed as money are indeed what Adam Smith called them, "dead stock, which ... produces nothing."*54

I.5.19

We have shown that, under certain conditions, indirect exchange is a necessary phenomenon of the market. The circumstance that goods are desired and acquired in exchange not for their own sakes but only in order to be disposed of in further exchange can never disappear from our type of market dealing, because the conditions that make it inevitable are present in the overwhelming majority of all exchange transactions. Now the economic development of indirect exchange leads to the employment of a common medium of exchange, to the establishment and elaboration of the institution of money. Money, in fact, is indispensable in our economic order But as an economic good it is not a physical component of the social distributive apparatus in the way that account books, prisons, or firearms are. No part of the total result of production is dependent on the collaboration of money, even though the use of money may be one of the fundamental principles on which the economic order is based.

I.5.20

Production goods derive their value from that of their products. Not so money; for no increase in the welfare of the members of a society can result from the availability of an additional quantity of money. The laws which govern the value of money are different from those which govern the value of production goods and from those which govern the value of consumption goods. All that these have in common is their general underlying principle, the fundamental economic law of value. This is a complete justification of the suggestion put forward by Knies that economic goods should be divided into means of production, objects of consumption, and media of exchange; for, after all, the primary object of economic terminology is to facilitate investigation into the theory of value.

2 Money as Part of Private Capital

I.5.21

We have not undertaken this investigation into the relationship between money and production goods merely for its terminological interest. What is of importance for its own sake is not our ultimate conclusion, but the incidental light shed by our argument upon those peculiarities of money that distinguish it from other economic goods. These special characteristics of the common medium of exchange will receive closer attention when we turn to consider the laws that regulate the value of money and its variations.

I.5.22

But the result of our reasoning, too, the conclusion that money is not a production good, is not entirely without significance. It will help us to answer the question whether money is capital or not. This question in its turn is not an end in itself, but it provides a check upon the answer to a further problem concerning the relations between the equilibrium rate of interest and the money rate of interest, which will be dealt with in the third part of this book. If each conclusion confirms the other, then we may assume with a considerable degree of assurance that our arguments have not led us into error.

I.5.23

The first grave difficulty in the way of any investigation into the relation between money and capital arises from the difference of opinion that exists about the definition of the concept of capital. The views of scholars on the definition of capital are more divergent than their views on any other point of economics. None of the many definitions that have been suggested has secured general recognition; nowadays, in fact, the controversy about the theory of capital rages more fiercely than ever. If from among the large number of conflicting concepts we select that of Böhm-Bawerk to guide us in our investigation into the relation of money to capital, we could justify our procedure merely by reference to the fact that Böhm-Bawerk is the best guide for any serious attempt to study the problem of interest, even if such a study leads eventually (and by no means entirely without indebtedness to the labor that Böhm-Bawerk bestowed on this problem) to conclusions that differ widely from those which he himself arrived at. Furthermore, all those weighty argu ments with which Böhm-Bawerk established his concept and defended it against his critics support such a choice. But quite apart from these, a reason that appears to be quite decisive is provided by the fact that no other concept of capital has been developed with equal clarity.*55 This last point is particularly important. It is not the object of the present discussion to arrive at any kind of conclusion respecting terminology or to provide any criticism of concepts, but merely to shed some light on one or two points that are of importance for the problem of the relations between the equilibrium and the money rates of interest. Hence it is less important for us to classify things correctly than to avoid vague ideas about their nature. Various opinions may be held as to whether money should be included in the concept of capital or not. The delimitation of concepts of this nature is merely a question of expediency, in connection with which it is quite easy for differences of opinion to arise. But the economic function of money is a matter about which it should be possible to arrive at perfect agreement.

I.5.24

Of the two concepts of capital that Böhm-Bawerk distinguishes, following the traditional economic terminology, that of what is called private or acquisitive capital is both the older and the wider. This was the original root idea from which the narrower concept of social or productive capital was afterward separated. It is therefore logical to begin our investigation by inquiring into the connection between private capital and money.

I.5.25

Böhm-Bawerk defines private capital as the aggregate of the products that serve as a means to the acquisition of goods.*56 It has never been questioned that money must be included in this category. In fact, the development of the scientific concept of capital starts from the notion of an interest-bearing sum of money. This concept of capital has been broadened little by little until at last it has taken the form which it bears in modern scientific discussion, on the whole in approximate coincidence with popular usage.

I.5.26

The gradual evolution of the concept of capital has meant at the same time an increasing understanding of the function of money as capital. Early in history the lay mind discovered an explanation of the fact that money on loan bears interest—that money, in fact, "works." But such an explanation as this could not long satisfy scientific requirements. Science therefore countered it with the fact that money itself is barren. Even in ancient times general recognition must have been accorded to the view which later in the shape of the maxim pecunia pecuniam parere non potest was to be the basis of all discussion of the problem of interest for hundreds and even thousands of years, and Aristotle undoubtedly did not state it in the famous passage in his Politics as a new doctrine but as a generally accepted commonplace.*57 Despite its obviousness, this perception of the physical unfruitfulness of money was a necessary step on the way to full realization of the problem of capital and interest. If sums of money on loan do bear "fruit," and it is not possible to explain this phenomenon by the physical productivity of the money, then other explanations must be sought.

I.5.27

The next step toward an explanation was provided by the observation that after a loan is made the borrower as a rule exchanges the money for other economic goods, and that those owners of money who wish to obtain a profit from their money without lending it do the same. This was the starting point for the extension of the concept of capital referred to above, and for the development of the problem of the money rate of interest into the problem of the "natural" rate of interest.

I.5.28

It is true that centuries passed before these further steps were accomplished. At first there was a complete halt in the development of the theory of capital. Further progress was in fact not desired; what was already attained sufficed perfectly; for the aim of science then was not to explain reality but to vindicate ideals. And public opinion disapproved of the taking of interest. Even later, when the taking of interest was recognized in Greek and Roman law, it was still not considered respectable, and all the writers of classical times strove to outdo one another in condemning it. When the church adopted this proscription of interest, and attempted to support its attitude by quotations from the Bible, it cut the ground away from beneath all unauthorized attempts to deal with the matter. Every theorist who turned his attention to the problem was already convinced that the taking of interest was harmful, unnatural, and uncharitable, and found his principal task in the search for new objections to it. It was not for him to explain how interest came to exist, but to sustain the thesis that it was reprehensible. In such circumstances it was easy for the doctrine of the sterility of money to be taken over uncritically by one writer from another as an extraordinarily powerful argument against the payment of interest, and thus, not for the sake of its content but for the sake of the conclusion it supported, to become an obstacle in the way of the development of interest theory. It became a help and no longer a hindrance to this development, when a move was made toward the construction of a new theory of capital after the downfall of the old canonist theory of interest. Its first effect, then, was to necessitate an extension of the concept of capital, and consequently of the problem of interest. In popular usage and in the terminology of scholars, capital was no longer "sums of money on loan" but "accumulated stocks of goods."*58

I.5.29

The doctrine of the unfruitfulness of money has another significance for our problem. It sheds light on the position of money within the class of things constituting private capital. Why do we include money in capital? Why is interest paid for sums of money on loan? How is it possible to use sums of money, even without lending them, so that they yield an income? There can be no doubt about the answers to these questions. Money is an acquisitive instrument only when it is exchanged for some other economic good. In this respect money may be compared with those consumption goods that form part of private capital only because they are not consumed by their owners themselves but are used for the acquisition of other goods or services by means of exchange. Money is no more acquisitive capital than these consumption goods are; the real acquisitive capital consists in the goods for which the money or the consumption goods are exchanged. Money that is lying "idle," that is, money that is not exchanged for other goods, is not a part of capital; it produces no fruit. Money is part of the private capital of an individual only if and so far as it constitutes a means by which the individual in question can obtain other capital goods.

3 Money Not a Part of Social Capital

I.5.30

By social or productive capital Böhm-Bawerk means the aggregate of the products intended for employment in further production.*59 If we accept the views expounded above, according to which money cannot be included among productive goods, then neither can it be included in social capital. It is true that Böhm-Bawerk includes it in social capital, as the majority of the economists that preceded him had done. This attitude follows logically from regarding money as a productive good; this is its only justification, and in endeavoring to show that money is not a productive good we have implied how baseless a justification it is.

I.5.31

In any case, perhaps we may suggest that those writers who include money among productive goods and consequently among capital goods are not very consistent. They usually reckon money as a part of social capital in that division of their systems where they deal with the concepts of money and capital, but certain obvious further conclusions are not drawn from this. On the contrary, where the doctrine of the nature of money as capital should logically be applied it appears to have been suddenly forgotten. In reviewing the determinants of the rate of interest, writers emphasize over and over again that it is not the greater or smaller quantity of money that is of importance, but the greater or smaller quantity of other economic goods. To reconcile this assertion, which is indubitably a correct summary of the matter, with the other assertion that money is a productive good, is simply impossible.


Notes for this chapter


41.
See Menger, Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre, 2d ed. (Vienna, 1923), pp. 20 ff.; Wieser, Über den Ursprung und die Hauptgesetze des wirtschaftlichen Wertes (Vienna, 1884), pp. 42 ff.
42.
Roscher, System der Volkswirtschaft, ed. Pöhlmann, 24th ed. (Stuttgart, 1906), vol. 1, p. 123.
43.
See Knies, Geld und Kredit, 2d ed. (Berlin, 1885), vol. 1, pp. 20 ff.
44.
See Helfferich, Das Geld, 6th ed. (Leipzig, 1923), pp. 264 f.; Money (London, 1924),
45.
E.g. Philippovich, Grundriss der politischen Ökonomie 1st-3d eds. (Tübingen, 1907), vol. 2; Wagner, Theoretische Sozialökonomik (Leipzig, 1909), vol. 2, Part 2 p. 1.
46.
The older meaning, at least the only earlier meaning in literature, appears to have been that relating to the sale of goods. It is remarkable that even Grimm's Dictionary, vol. 12, published in 1891, contains no mention of the meaning relating to transportation.
47.
See J. S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy (London, 1867), p. 16; Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, pp. 10 ff.
48.
Wieser, Über den Ursprung und die Hauptgesetze des wirtschaftlichen Wertes, p. 47. See also Böhm-Bawerk, op. cit., pp. 131 f.; Clark, The Distribution of Wealth (New York, 1908), p. 11.
49.
Böhm-Bawerk, op. cit., Part II pp. 131 ff. See also, on the historical aspect, Jacoby, Der Streit um den Kapitalsbegriff (Jena, 1908), pp. 90 ff; Spiethoff, "Die Lehre vom Kapital," Schmoller-Festschrift Die Entwicklung der deutschen Volkswirtschaftslehre im 19. Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1908), vol. 4, p. 26.
50.
See Jacoby, op. cit., pp. 59 f.
51.
See Böhm-Bawerk, op. cit., p. 125 n.
52.
Ibid., p. 132 n.
53.
Böhm-Bawerk, Rechte und Verhältnisse, pp. 36 ff.
54.
Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Cannan's ed. (London, 1930).
55.
This is true even bearing in mind the discussions of Menger and Clark. But in any case, an investigation, both of this matter and of the problems dealt with in part 3, chap. 19, which started from Menger's or Clark's capital concept would lead eventually to the same result as one based on Böhm-Bawerk's definition.
56.
See Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, pp. 54 f.
57.
I, 3, 23.
58.
See Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, Part I, pp. 16 ff., Part II, pp. 23 ff.
59.
Ibid., Part II pp. 54 f., 130 ff.

End of Notes


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CHAPTER 6

The Enemies of Money

1 Money in the Socialist Community

I.6.1

It has been shown that under certain conditions, which occur the more frequently as division of labor and the differentiation of wants are extended, indirect exchange becomes inevitable; and that the evolution of indirect exchange gradually leads to the employment of a few particular commodities, or even one commodity only, as a common medium of exchange. When there is no exchange of any sort, and hence no indirect exchange, the use of media of exchange naturally remains unknown. This was the situation when the isolated household was the typical economic unit, and this, according to socialist aspirations, is what it will be again one day in that purely socialistic order where production and distribution are to be systematically regulated by a central body. This vision of the future socialistic system has not been described in detail by its prophets; and, in fact, it is not the same vision which they all see. There are some among them who allow a certain scope for exchange of economic goods and services, and so far as this is the case the continued use of money remains possible.

I.6.2

On the other hand, the certificates or orders that the organized society would distribute to its members cannot be regarded as money. Supposing that a receipt was given, say, to each laborer for each hour's labor, and that the social income, so far as it was not employed for the satisfaction of collective needs or the support of those not able to work, was distributed in proportion to the number of receipts in the possession of each individual, so that each receipt represented a claim to an aliquot part of the total amount of goods to be distributed. Then the significance of any particular receipt as a means of satisfying the wants of an individual, in other words its value, would vary in proportion to the size of the total dividend. If, with the same number of hours of labor, the income of the society in a given year was only half as big as in the previous year, then the value of each receipt would likewise be halved.

I.6.3

The case of money is different. A decrease of fifty percent in the real social income would certainly involve a reduction in the purchasing power of money. But this reduction in the value of money need not bear any direct relation to the decrease in the size of the income. It might accidentally happen that the purchasing power of money was exactly halved also; but it need not happen so. This difference is of fundamental importance.

I.6.4

In fact, the exchange value of money is determined in a totally different way from that of a certificate or warrant. Titles like these are not susceptible of an independent process of valuation at all. If it is certain that a warrant or order will always be honored on demand, then its value will be equal to that of the goods to which it refers. If this certainty is not absolute, the value of the warrant will be correspondingly less.

I.6.5

If we suppose that a system of exchange might be developed even in a socialist society—not merely the exchange of labor certificates but, say, the exchange of consumption goods between individuals—then we may conceive of a place for the function of money even within the framework of such a society. This money would not be so frequently and variously employed as in an economic order based on private ownership of the means of production, but its use would be governed by the same fundamental principles.

I.6.6

These considerations dictate the attitude toward money that must be assumed by any attempt to construct an imaginary social order, if self-contradiction is to be avoided. So long as such a scheme completely excludes the free exchange of goods and services, then it follows logically that it has no need for money; but so far as any sort of exchange at all is allowed, it seems that indirect exchange achieved by means of a common medium of exchange must be permitted also.

2 Money Cranks

I.6.7

Superficial critics of the capitalistic economic system are in the habit of directing their attacks principally against money. They are willing to permit the continuance of private ownership of the means of production and consequently, given the present stage of division of labor, of free exchange of goods also; and yet they want this exchange to be achieved without any medium, or at least without a common medium, or money. They obviously regard the use of money as harmful and hope to overcome all social evils by eliminating it. Their doctrine is derived from notions that have always been extraordinarily popular in lay circles during periods in which the use of money has been increasing.

I.6.8

All the processes of our economic life appear in a monetary guise; and those who do not see beneath the surface of things are only aware of monetary phenomena and remain unconscious of deeper relationships. Money is regarded as the cause of theft and murder, of deception and betrayal. Money is blamed when the prostitute sells her body and when the bribed judge perverts the law. It is money against which the moralist declaims when he wishes to oppose excessive materialism. Significantly enough avarice is called the love of money; and all evil is attributed to it.*60

I.6.9

The confused and vague nature of such notions as these is obvious. It is not so clear whether it is thought that a return to direct exchange by itself will be able to overcome all the disadvantages of the use of money, or whether it is thought that other reforms will be necessary as well. The world makers and world improvers responsible for these notions feel no obligation to follow up their ideas inexorably to their final consequences. They prefer to call a halt at the point where the difficulties of the problem are just beginning. And this, incidentally, accounts for the longevity of their doctrines; so long as they remain nebulous, they offer nothing for criticism to seize upon.

I.6.10

Even less worthy of serious attention are those schemes of social reform which, while not condemning the use of money in general, object to the use of gold and silver In fact, such hostility to the precious metals has something very childish in it. When Thomas More, for example, endows the criminals in his utopia with golden chains and the ordinary citizens with gold and silver chamber pots,*61 it is in something of the spirit that leads primitive mankind to wreak vengeance on lifeless images and symbols.

I.6.11

It is hardly worthwhile to devote even a moment to such fantastic suggestions, which have never been taken seriously. All the criticism of them that was necessary has been completed long ago.*62 But one point, which usually escapes notice, must be emphasized.

I.6.12

Among the many confused enemies of money there is one group that fights with other theoretical weapons than those used by its usual associates. These enemies of money take their arguments from the prevailing theory of banking and propose to cure all human ills by means of an "elastic credit system, automatically adapted to the need for currency." It will surprise no one acquainted with the unsatisfactory state of banking theory to find that scientific criticism has not dealt with such proposals as it should have done, and that it has in fact been incapable of doing so. The rejection of schemes such as Ernest Solvay's "social comptabilism"*63 is to be attributed solely to the practical man's timidity and not to any strict proof of the weaknesses of the schemes, which has indeed not been forthcoming. All the banking theorists whose views are derived from the system of Tooke and Fullarton (and this includes nearly all present-day writers) are helpless with regard to Solvay's theory and others of the same kind. They would like to condemn them, since their own feelings as well as the trustworthy judgments of practical men warn them against the airy speculations of reformers of this type; but they have no arguments against a system which, in the last analysis, involves nothing but the consistent application of their own theories.

I.6.13

The third part of this book is devoted exclusively to problems of the banking system. There the theory of the elasticity of credit is subjected to a detailed investigation, the results of which perhaps render any further discussion of this kind of doctrine unnecessary.


Notes for this chapter


60.
On the history of such ideas, see Hildebrand, Die Nationalökonomie der Gegenwart und Zunkunft (Frankfurt, 1848), pp. 118 ff.; Roscher, System der Volkswirtschaft, ed. Pöhlmann, 24th ed. (Stuttgart, 1906), vol. 1, pp. 345 f.; Marx, Das Kapital, 7th ed. (Hamburg, 1914), vol. 1, pp. 95 f. n.
61.
More, Utopia.
62.
See Marx, Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, ed. Kautsky (Stuttgart, 1897), pp. 70 if.; Knies, Geld und Kredit, 2d ed. (Berlin, 1885), vol. 1, pp. 239 ff.; Aucuy, Les systèmes socialistes d'Éxchange (Paris, 1908), pp. 114 ff.
63.
See the three memoranda published in 1889 in Brussels by Solvay under the title La monnaie et le Compte, and also his Gesellschaftlicher Comptabilismus (Brussels, 1897). Solvay's theories also contain various other fundamental errors.

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