Discourses Upon Trade: Principally Directed to the Cases of the Interest, Coynage, Clipping, Increase of Money
Upon farther Consideration of the Foregoing Matters, I think fit to add the following Notes.
WHEN a Nation is grown Rich, Gold, Silver, Jewels, and every thing useful, or desirable, (as I have already said) will be plentiful; and the Fruits of the Earth will purchase more of them, than before, when People were poorer: As a fat Oxe in former Ages, was not sold for more Shillings, than now Pounds. The like takes place in Labourers Wages, and every thing whatever; which confirms the Universal Maxim I have built upon, viz. That Plenty of any thing makes it cheap.
Therefore Gold and Silver being now plentiful, a Man hath much more of it for his labour, for his Corn, for his Cattle, &c. then could be had Five Hundred Years ago, when, as must be owned, there was not near so much by many parts as now.
Notwithstanding this, I find many, who seem willing to allow, that this Nation at present, abounds with Gold and Silver, in Plate and Bullion; but are yet of Opinion, That coyned Money is wanted to carry on |[ii]| the Trade, and that were there more Specifick Money, Trade would increase, and we should have better Markets for every thing.
That this is a great Error, I think the foregoing Papers makes out: but to clear it a little farther, let it be considered, that Money is a Manufacture of Bullion wrought in the Mint. Now if the Materials are ready, and the Workmen also, 'tis absurd to say, the Manufacture is wanted.
For instance: Have you Corn, and do you want Meal? Carry the Corn to the Mill, and grind it. Yes; but I want Meal, because others will not carry their Corn; and I have none: say you so; then buy Corn of them, and carry it to the Mill your self. This is exactly the Case of Money. A very rich Man hath much Plate, for Honour and Show; whereupon a poorer Man thinks, if it were coyned into Money, the Publick, and his self among the rest, would be the better for it; but he is utterly mistaken; unless at the same time you oblige the rich Man to squander his new coyn'd Money away.
For if he lays it up, I am sure the matter is not mended: if he commutes it for Diamonds, Pearl, &c. the Case is still the same; it is but changed from one hand to another: and it may be the Money is dispatcht to the Indies to pay for those Jewels: then if he buys Land, it is no more than changing the hand, and regarding all Persons, except the Dealers only, the Case is still the same. Money will always have an Owner, and never goeth a Beggar for Entertainment, but must be purchast for valuable consideration in solido.
If the use of Plate were prohibited, then it were a sumptuary Law, and, as such, would be a vast hindrance to the Riches and Trade of the Nation: for now seeing |[iii]| every Man hath Plate in his House, the Nation is possest of a solid Fund, consisting in those Mettals, which all the World desire, and would willingly draw from us; and this in far greater measure than would be, if Men were not allowed that liberty. For the poor Tradesman, out of an ambition to have a Piece of Plate upon his Cupboard, works harder to purchase it, than he would do if that humour were restrain'd as I have said elsewhere.
There is required for carrying on the Trade of the Nation, a determinate Sum of Specifick Money, which varies, and is sometimes more, sometimes less, as the Circumstances we are in requires. War time calls for more Money than time of Peace, because every one desires to keep some by him, to use upon Emergiences; not thinking it prudent to rely upon Moneys currant in dealing, as they do in times of Peace, when Payments are more certain.
This ebbing and flowing of Money, supplies and accommodates itself, without any aid of Politicians. For when Money grows scarce, and begins to be hoarded, then forthwith the Mint works, till the occasion be filled up again. And on the other side, when Peace brings out the Hoards, and Money abounds, the Mint not only ceaseth, but the overplus of Money will be presently melted down, either to supply the Home Trade, or for Transportation.
Thus the Buckets work alternately, when Money is scarce, Bullion is coyn'd; when Bullion is scarce, Money is melted. I do not allow that both should be scarce at one and the same time; for that is a state of Poverty, and will not be, till we are exhausted, which is besides my subject. |[iv]|
Some have fancied, that if by a Law the Ounce of Silver were restrained to 5 s. value, in all dealings, and at the Tower the same were coyned into 5 s. 4 d. or 5 s. 6 d. per Ounce, all the Plate in England would soon be coyned. The answer to this, in short, is: That the Principle they build upon is impossible. How can any Law hinder me from giving another Man, what I please for his Goods? The Law may be evaded a thousand ways. As be it so: I must not give, nor he receive above 5 s. per Ounce for Silver; I may pay him 5 s. and present him with 4 d. or 6 d. more; I may give him Goods in barter, at such, or greater profit; and so by other contrivances, ad Infinitum.
But put case it took effect, and by that means all the Silver in England were coyned into Money; What then? would any one spend more in Cloaths, Equipages, Housekeeping, &c. then is done? I believe not; but rather the contrary: For the Gentry and Commonalty being nipt in their delight of seeing Plate, &c. in their Houses, would in all probability be dampt in all other Expences: Wherefore if this could be done, as I affirm it cannot, yet instead of procuring the desired effect, it would bring on all the Mischiefs of a sumptuary Law.
Whenever the Money is made lighter, or baser in allay, (which is the same thing) the effect is, that immediately the price of Bullion answers. So that in reality you change the Name, but not the thing: and whatever the difference is, the Tenant and Debtor hath it in his favor; for Rent and Debts will be paid less, by just so much as the intrinsick value is less, then what was to be paid before.
For example: One who before received for Rent or Debt, 3 l. 2 s. could with it buy twelve Ounces, or a Pound of Sterling Silver; but if the Crown-piece be |[v]| worse in value than now it is, by 3 d. I do averr, you shall not be able to buy a Pound of such Silver under 3 l. 5 s. but either directly, or indirectly it shall cost so much.
But then it is said, we will buy an Ounce for 5 s. because 'tis the Price set by the Parliament, and no body shall dare to sell for more. I answer, If they cannot sell it for more, they may coyn it; And then what Fool will sell an Ounce of Silver for 5 s. when he may coyn it into 5 s. 5 d.?
Thus we may labour to hedge in the Cuckow, but in vain; for no People ever yet grew rich by Policies; but it is Peace, Industry, and Freedom that brings Trade and Wealth, and nothing else.
Notes for this chapter
Double vertical bars, ||, denote page breaks in the original 1691 North text, with page numbers when available (e.g., |2|). The bars and numbers were inserted by Hollander and are preserved in this Econlib edition.—Econlib Ed.
End of Notes
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