Elements of Political Economy
By James Mill
There are few things of which I have occasion to advertize the reader, before he enters upon the perusal of the following work.My object has been to compose a school-book of Political Economy, to detach the essential principles of the science from all extraneous topics, to state the propositions clearly and in their logical order, and to subjoin its demonstration to each. I am, myself, persuaded, that nothing more is necessary for understanding every part of the book, than to read it with attention; such attention as persons of either sex, of ordinary understanding, are capable of bestowing. [From the Preface]
First Pub. Date
London: Henry G. Bohn
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
Section I. Nature of the Advantage Derived from the Interchange of Commodities, and the Principal Agents Employed in it.
When two men have more than they need; one, for example, of food; another, of cloth; while the first desires more of cloth than he possesses, the second more of food; it is a great accommodation to both, if they can perform an exchange of a part of the food of the one for a part of the cloth of the other; and so in other cases.
In performing exchanges, there are two sets of persons, the intervention of whom is of great advantage: the first are Carriers, the second Merchants.
When the division and distribution of labour has been carried to any considerable extent, goods are produced at some, often at a very considerable, distance from the place where they are wanted for consumption. It is necessary that they should be conveyed from the one place to the other. Carriers are of two sorts: Carriers by Land, and Carriers by Water. For the business of carriage, both capital and labour are required. In carriage by land, the waggons or carts, the horses or other cattle, and the maintenance both of them and of the necessary number of men; in carriage by water, the ships, and the maintenance of the men who navigate them, constitute the capital required.
To procure articles, as men have occasion to consume them, it would be very inconvenient to repair, in each instance, to the respective manufacturers and producers, who may often live at a very considerable distance from one another. Great trouble is saved to consumers, when they find assembled in one place the whole, or any considerable portion, of the articles which they use. This convenience gives rise to the class of merchants, who buy from the manufacturers, and keep ready for use, all those articles for which they expect a profitable sale.
In small towns, where one or a few merchants can supply the wants of all the population, the shop or store of one merchant contains articles of all, or most of the kinds, in general demand. In places where the population is large, instead of a great number of shops, each dealing in almost all kinds of articles, it is found more convenient to divide the articles into classes, and that each shop should confine itself to a particular class: one, for example, to hats, another to hosiery; one to glass, another to iron; and so on.
Section II. What Determines the Quantity in Which Commodities Exchange for One Another
When a certain quantity of one commodity is exchanged for a certain quantity of another commodity; a certain quantity of cloth, for example, for a certain quantity of corn; there is something which determines the owner of the cloth to accept for it such and such a quantity of corn; and, in like manner, the owner of the corn to accept such and such a quantity of cloth.
This is, evidently, the principle of demand and supply, in the first instance. If a great quantity of corn comes to market to be exchanged for cloth, and only a small quantity of cloth to be exchanged for corn, a great quantity of corn will be given for a small quantity of cloth. If the quantity of cloth, which thus comes to market, is increased, without any increase in the quantity of corn, the quantity of corn which is exchanged for a given quantity of cloth will be proportionally diminished.
This answer, however, does not resolve the whole of the question. The quantity in which commodities exchange for one another depends upon the proportion of supply to demand. It is evidently therefore necessary to ascertain upon what that proportion depends. What are the laws according to which supply is furnished to demand, is one of the most important inquiries in Political Economy.
Demand creates, and the loss of demand annihilates, supply. When an increased demand arises for any commodity, an increase of supply, if the supply is capable of increase, follows, as a regular effect. If the demand for any commodity altogether ceases, the commodity is no longer produced.
The connexion here, or causes and effects, is easily explained. If corn is brought to market, the cost of bringing it has been so much. If cloth is brought to market, the cost of bringing it has been so much. For the benefit of simplicity, the number of commodities in the market is here supposed to be two: it is of no consequence, with regard to the result, whether they are understood to be few or many.
The cost of bringing the corn to market has been either equal to that of bringing the cloth, or unequal. If it has been equal, there is no motive, to those who bring the cloth or the corn, for altering the quantity of either. They cannot obtain more of the commodity which they receive in exchange, by transferring their labour to its production. If the cost has been unequal, there immediately arises a motive for altering the proportions. Suppose that the cost of bringing the whole of the corn has been greater than that of bringing the whole of the cloth; and that the whole of the one is exchanged against the whole of the other, either at once, or in parts: the persons who brought the cloth have in that case possessed themselves of a quantity of corn at less cost, than that at which it was brought to market, by those who produced it; those, on the other hand, who brought the corn have possessed themselves of a quantity of cloth, at a greater cost than that at which it can be made and brought to market.
Here motives arise, to diminish the quantity of corn, and increase the quantity of cloth; because the men who have been producing corn, and purchasing cloth, can obtain more cloth, by transferring their means of production from the one to the other. As soon, again, as no more cloth can be obtained by applying the same amount of means to the production of cloth, than by applying them to corn, and exchanging it for cloth, all motive to alter the quantity of the one as compared with that of the other is at an end. Nothing is to be gained by producing corn rather than cloth, or cloth rather than corn. The cost of production on both sides is equal.
It thus appears that the relative value of commodities, or in other words, the quantity of one which exchanges for a given quantity of another, depends upon demand and supply, in the first instance; but upon cost of production, ultimately; and hence, in accurate language, upon cost of production, entirely. An increase or diminution of demand or supply, may temporarily increase or diminish, beyond the point of productive cost, the quantity of one commodity which exchanges for a given quantity of another; but the law of competition, wherever it is not obstructed, tends invariably to bring it to that point, and to keep it there.
Cost of production, then, regulates the exchangeable value of commodities. But cost of production is itself involved in some obscurity.
Two instruments are commonly combined in production; Labour and Capital.
It follows, either that cost of production consists in labour and capital combined; or that one of these may be resolved into the other. If one of them can be resolved into the other, it follows that cost of production does not consist in both combined.
The opinion, which is suggested by first appearances, undoubtedly is, that cost of production consists in capital alone. The capitalist pays the wages of his labourer, buys the raw material, and expects that what he has expended shall be returned to him, in the price, with the ordinary profits upon the whole of the capital employed. From this view of the subject, it would appear, that cost of production consists exclusively in the portion of capital expended, together with the profits upon the whole of the capital employed in effecting the production.
It is easy, however, to see, that in the term capital, thus understood, an ambiguity, and hence a fallacy, is involved. When we say that capital and labour, the two instruments of production, belong to two classes of persons; we mean that the labourers have contributed so much to the production, and the capitalists so much; and that the commodity, when produced, belongs in certain proportions to both. It may so happen, however, that one of these parties has purchased the share of the other, before the production is completed. In that case, the whole of the commodity belongs to the party who has purchased the share of the other. In point of fact, it does happen, that the capitalist, as often as he employs labourers, by the payment of wages, purchases the share of the labourers. When the labourers receive wages for their labour, without waiting to be paid by a share of the commodity produced, it is evident that they sell their title to that share. The capitalist is then the owner, not of the capital only, but of the labour also. If what is paid as wages is included, as it commonly is, in the term capital, it is absurd to talk of labour separately from capital. The word capital, as thus employed, includes labour and capital both. To say, therefore, that the exchangeable value of commodities is determined by capital, understood in this sense, is to say that it is determined by labour and capital combined. This, however, is returning to the point from which we set out. It is nugatory to include labour in the definition of the word capital, and then to say that, capital without labour, determines exchangeable value. If capital is understood in a sense which does not include the purchase money of labour, and hence the labour itself, it is obvious that capital does not regulate the exchangeable value of commodities.
If labour were the sole instrument of production, and capital not required, the produce of one day’s labour in one commodity would exchange against the produce of one day’s labour in another commodity. In the rude state of society, if the hunter and the fisherman desired to vary their food, the one by a portion of game, the other by a portion of fish, the average quantity which they took in a day would form the standard of exchange. If it did not, one of the two would be placed in a more unfavourable situation than his neighbour, with perfect power, which he would of course employ, to pass from the one situation to the other.
In estimating equal quantities of labour, an allowance would, of course, be included for different degrees of hardness and skill. If the products of each of two days’ labour of equal hardness and skill exchanged for one another, the product of a day’s labour, which was either harder, or required a greater degree of skill, would exchange for something more.
All capital consists really in commodities. The capital of the farmer is not the money which he may be worth, because that he cannot apply to production. His capital consists in his implements and stock.
As all capital consists in commodities, it follows, of course, that the first capital must have been the result of pure labour. The first commodities could not be made by any commodities existing before them.
But if the first commodities, and of course the first capital, were the result of pure labour, the value of this capital, the quantity of other commodities for which it would exchange, must have been estimated by labour. This is an immediate consequence of the proposition which we have just established, that where labour was the sole instrument of production, exchangeable value was determined by the quantity of labour which the production of the commodity required.
If this be established, it is a necessary consequence, that the exchangeable value of all commodities is determined by quantity of labour.
The first capital, as has just been seen, being the result of pure labour, bears a value in proportion to that labour. This capital concurs in production. And it is contended that as soon as capital concurs in production, the value of the commodity produced is determined by the value of the capital. But the value of that capital itself, we have just observed, is determined by labour. To say, therefore, that the value of a product is determined by the value of the capital, is of no use, when you have to go beyond the value of the capital, and ask, what it is by which that value is itself determined. To say that the value of the product is determined by the value of the capital, but the value of the capital is determined by the quantity of labour, is to say that the value of the product is determined by the quantity of labour.
It thus undeniably appears, that not only the value of the first capital, but, by equal necessity, that of the commodities which are produced by the first capital, is determined by quantity of labour. Capital of the second stage must consist in the commodities which are produced by that of the first stage. It must, therefore, be estimated by the quantity of labour. The same reasoning applies to it in every subsequent stage. The value of the first capital was regulated by quantity of labour: the value of that which was produced by the first capital was regulated by the value of the first: that, however, was valued by labour: the last, therefore, is valued by labour; and so on, without end, as often as successive productions may be supposed to be made. But, if the value of all capital must be determined by labour, it follows, upon all suppositions, that the value of all commodities must be determined by labour.
To say, indeed, that the value of commodities depends upon capital, implies one of the most obvious of all absurdities. Capital is commodities. If the value of commodities, then, depends upon the value of capital, it depends upon the value of commodities; value in short depends upon value. This is not an exposition of value. It is an attempt clearly and completely abortive.
It thus appears, that quantity of labour, in the last resort, determines the proportion in which commodities exchange for one another.
There is one phenomenon which is brought to controvert these conclusions, and which it is, therefore, necessary to explain.
It is said that the exchangeable value of commodities is affected by time, without the intervention of labour; because, when profits of stock must be included, so much must be added for every portion of time which the production of one commodity requires beyond that of another. For example, if the same quantity of labour has produced in the same season a cask of wine, and 20 sacks of flour, they will exchange against one another at the end of the season: but if the owner of the wine places the wine in his cellar, and keeps it for a couple of years, it will be worth more than the 20 sacks of flour, because the profits of stock for the two years must be added to the original price. Here is an addition of value, but here it is affirmed, there has been no new application of labour; quantity of labour, therefore, is not the principle by which exchangeable value is regulated.
This objection is founded upon a misapprehension with respect to the nature of profits. Profits are, in reality, the measure of quantity of labour; and the only measure of quantity of labour to which, in the case of capital, we can resort. This can be established by rigid analysis.
If two commodities are produced, a bale of silk, for example, for immediate consumption, and a machine, which is an article of fixed capital; it is certain, that if the bale of silk and the machine were produced by the same quantity of labour, and in the same time, they would exactly exchange for one another: quantity of labour would clearly be the regulator of their value.
But suppose that the owner of the machine, instead of selling it, is disposed to use it, for the sake of the profits which it brings; what is the real character and nature of his action? Instead of receiving the price of his machine all at once, he takes a deferred payment, so much per annum: he receives, in fact, an annuity, in lieu of the capital sum; an annuity, fixed by the competition of the market, and which is therefore an exact equivalent for the capital sum. Whatever the proportion which the capital sum bears to the annuity, whether it be ten years’ purchase, or twenty years’ purchase, such a proportion is each year’s annuity of the original value of the machine. The conclusion, therefore, is incontrovertible: as the exchangeable value of the machine, had it been sold as soon as made, would have been the practical measure of the quantity of labour employed in making it, one-tenth or one-twentieth of that value measures also a tenth or a twentieth of the quantity of labour.
If a piece of machinery, which has cost 100 days’ labour, is applied in making a commodity, and is worn out in the making of it; and if 100 days’ pure labour are employed in making another commodity; the produce of the machine, and the produce of the labour, supposing no adjustment necessary for difference of time, will exchange against one another.
Make now a different supposition: that the machine is an article of fixed capital, and not worn out, and let us trace the consequences. It was correctly supposed, in the former case, that 100 days’ labour were expended by wearing out the machine; but 100 days’ labour have not been expended in the second, because the machine is not worn out. Some labour, however, has been expended, because 100 days’ labour in a mass has been applied. How much of it shall we say has been expended? We have an exact measure of it in the equivalent which is paid. If the equivalent which was obtained when the machine was worn out, was a measure of 100 days’ labour, whatever proportion of such equivalent is received as a year’s use of the machine when not worn out, must represent a corresponding proportion of the labour expended upon the machine.
Capital is allowed to be correctly described under the title of hoarded labour. A portion of capital produced by 100 days’ labour, is 100 days’ hoarded labour. But the whole of the 100 days’ hoarded labour is not expended, when the article constituting the capital is not worn out. A part is expended, and what part? Of this we have no direct, we have only an indirect measure. If capital, paid for by an annuity, is paid for at the rate of 10 per cent, one-tenth of the hoarded labour may be correctly considered as expended in one year.
The instance which is commonly adduced as exemplifying the supposed fact of an increase of value without increase of labour, is that of wine. Wine acquires a greater value by being merely deposited in the cellars of the merchant.
But they who would advance this, as an answer to the antecedent reasoning, do not perceive the force of their own objection. Their doctrine is, that exchangeable value is regulated by cost of production. Cost of production is the outlay necessary for completing the product. When the wine was put into the cellar, it was worth so much, according to the capital expended in its production. When it is placed in the cellar, no more capital is employed upon it, nor any more labour; and yet it acquires an additional value. The question, why it acquires more value, when there is not more capital, is just as difficult, as why it acquires more value, when there is not more labour.
It is no solution to say, that profits must be paid; because this only brings us to the question, why must profits be paid? To this there is no answer but one, that they are the remuneration for labour; labour not applied immediately to the commodity in question, but applied to it through the medium of other commodities, the produce of labour. Thus a man has a machine, the produce of 100 days’ labour. In applying it, the owner undoubtedly applies labour, though in a secondary sense, by applying that which could not have been had but through the medium of labour. This machine, let us suppose, is calculated to last exactly 10 years. One tenth of the fruits of 100 days’ labour is thus expended every year; which is the same thing in the view of cost and value, as saying that 10 days’ labour have been expended. The owner is to be paid for the 100 days’ labour which the machine costs him, at the rate of so much per annum, that is, by an annuity for ten years, equivalent to the original value of the machine. It thus appears that profits are simply remuneration for labour. They may, indeed, without doing any violence to language, hardly even by a metaphor, be denominated wages: the wages of that labour which is applied, not immediately by the hand, but mediately, by the instruments which the hand has produced. And if you may measure the amount of immediate labour by the amount of wages, you may measure the amount of secondary labour by that of the return to the capitalist. We surely have not occasion to add, that if this be the general account of profits, which seems undeniable, it is applicable to all particular cases, to that of wine in the cellar, as well as to every other. Suppose that 100 men make a machine in one day, that another 100 men employ this machine the next day, and wear it out; the first 100 men, and the second 100 men, will divide the produce equally between them. The share of the first 100 men is payment for capital, no doubt, but it is also, most obviously, payment for labour too; and in whatever degree labour is productive, that is, yields more than is consumed in effecting the product, to that degree an advantage is afforded beyond the replacing of the capital consumed, and constitutes profit.
The return which is made to capital employed upon the land, is that which determines the rate of annual profit from all other employments of capital; and, of course, for that which is employed in meliorating wine in a wine-cellar. The case of the wine in the cellar coincides exactly with that of a machine worn out in a year, which works by itself without additional labour. The new wine, which is one machine, is replaced by its produce, the old wine, with that addition of value which corresponds with the return to capital employed upon the land; and the account which is to be rendered of the one return, is also the true account of the other.
Section III. Effect Upon Exchangeable Values of a Fluctuation in Wages and Profits.
In stating that commodities are produced by two instruments, Labour and Capital, of which the last is the result of labour, we, in effect, mean, that commodities are produced by two quantities of labour, differently circumstanced; the one, immediate, or primary labour, that which is applied at once by the hand of the labourer; the other, hoarded, or secondary labour, that which is the result of former labour, and either is applied in aid of the immediate labour, or is the subject matter upon which it is bestowed.
Of these two species of labour, two things are to be observed: First, that they are not always paid according to the same rate; that is, the payment of the one does not rise when that of the other rises, or fall when that of the other falls: And, secondly, that they do not always contribute to the production of all commodities in equal proportions.
If there were any two species of labour, the wages of which did not rise and fall in the same proportion, and which, contributing to the production of all commodities, did not contribute to them all in equal degrees, this circumstance, of their not contributing in equal degrees, would create a difference in exchangeable values, as often as any fluctuation took place in the rate of wages.
If all commodities were produced by a portion of skilled, and a portion of unskilled labour, but the ratio which these portions bore to one another were different in different commodities; and if, as often as the wages of skilled labour rose, the wages of unskilled labour rose twice as much; it is very obvious, that, upon a rise of wages, those commodities, to the production of which a greater proportion of unskilled labour was applied, would rise in value as compared with those to which a less proportion was applied. It is also obvious, that, though this difference in the ratios according to which the wages of the two kinds of labour had altered, and in the proportions in which they were applied to the production of different commodities, would, upon a rise or fall in wages, alter the relative value of the commodities, it would do so, without in the least degree affecting the truth of the proposition, that quantity of labour determined exchangeable values.
The case is precisely the same when we consider that it is the two species of labour, called primary and secondary, which are applied in different proportions.
Three cases will conveniently exemplify the different degrees in which labour and capital respectively contribute to production. These are the two extreme cases, and the medium. The first is that of commodities which are produced by immediate labour alone without capital; the second, that of commodities produced, one half by capital, one half by immediate labour; the third, that of commodities produced by capital alone without immediate labour. There are perhaps no actual cases which perfectly coincide with either of the extremes. There are, however, cases which approximate to both; and when the most simple are illustrated as examples, allowance can easily and correctly be made for the differences of the rest.
If two species of labour are employed in the production of commodities; and if, when the payment of the one species of labour rises, that of the other falls; a commodity, in the production of which a greater proportion of the first species of labour is employed, will, upon a rise in the payment of that species of labour, rise in exchangeable value, as compared with a commodity in which less is employed. The degree however, in which it will rise, will depend upon two circumstances: first, upon the degree in which the payment of the one species of labour falls when the other rises; and, secondly, upon the degree in which the proportion of the labour of the first kind, employed in its production, exceeds the proportion of it which is employed in the production of the other commodity.
The first question then, is, in what degree, when wages rise, do profits fall? And this is the only general question; for the degree in which the two species of labour combine in the production of different commodities, depends upon the circumstances of each particular case.
If all commodities corresponded with the first of the cases, assumed above as examples, and which we may, for the sake of abbreviation, designate, as No. 1, No. 2, No. 3; in other words, if all commodities were produced wholly by labour, capital being solely employed in the payment of wages; in that case, just as much as wages of labour rose, profits of stock would fall.
Suppose a capital of 1000
l. to be thus employed, and profits to be 10 per cent., the value of the commodity would be 1100
l., for that would replace the capital with its profits. The commodity may be regarded as consisting of 1100 parts, of which 1000 would belong to the labourers, and 100 to the capitalist. Let wages, upon this, be supposed to rise 5 per cent.; in that case, it is evident, that instead of 100 parts of the 1100, the capitalist would receive only 50; his profits, therefore, instead of 10 would be only 5 per cent. Instead of 1000
l. he would have to pay 1050
l. in wages. The commodity would not rise in value to indemnify him, because we have supposed that all commodities are in the same situation; it would, therefore, be of the value of 1100
l., as before, of which 50
l. alone would remain for himself.
If all commodities corresponded with the case No. 2, profits would fall only half as much as wages rose. If we suppose that 1000
l. were paid in wages, and 1000
l. employed in fixed capital; that profits, as before, were 10 per cent., and this the whole expenditure; the value of the commodity would be 1200
l. because that is the sum which would replace the capital expended and pay the profits of the whole. In this case the commodity might be considered as divided into 1200 parts, of which 200 would belong to the capitalist. If wages rose 5 per cent., and instead of 1000
l. as wages, he paid 1050
l. he would still retain 150
l. as profits; in other words, he would sustain a reduction of only 2½ per cent.
The case would be precisely the same, if we supposed the 1000
l. of capital, which is not employed in the payment of wages, to be employed in any proportion, in the shape of circulating capital consumed in the course of the productive process, and requiring to be replaced. Thus, while 1000
l. were employed in the payment of wages, 500
l. might be employed as fixed capital in durable machinery, 500
l. in raw material and other expenses. If this were the state of the expenditure, the value of the article would be 1700
l.; being the amount of the capital to be replaced, and 10 per cent. profits upon the whole. Of these 1700 parts, 1000 would be the share of the labourers, though paid in advance, and 700 the share of the capitalist, 200 being profits. If, now, wages were to rise 5 per cent., 1050 of the above 1700 parts would be the share of the labourers, and 650 only would remain to the capitalist, of which, after replacing his 500
l. of circulating capital, 150 would remain as profits; a reduction of 2½ per cent. as before.
If all commodities corresponded with the third case, as no wages would be paid, profits could not be affected by the rise of them: and it is obvious, that, in proportion as commodities may be supposed to approach that extreme, profits would be less and less affected by such a rise.
If we suppose, what is most probable, that, in the actual state of things, as many cases are on the one side of the medium as on the other, the result would be, in consequence of the mutual compensations that would take place, that profits would be reduced exactly half as much as wages rose.
The steps may be traced as follows:
When wages rise, and profits fall, it is evident that all commodities, made with a less proportion of labour to capital, will fall in value, as compared with those which are made with a greater. Thus, if No. 1 is taken as the standard, that in which commodities are produced wholly by labour; all commodities belonging to that case will be said to remain of the same value; all belonging to any of the other cases will be said to fall in value. If No. 2 is taken as the standard, all commodities appertaining to that case will be said to remain of the same value; all, belonging to any case nearer the first extreme, will be said to rise in value; all, to any nearer the last extreme, to fall.
Those capitalists, who produce articles of case No. 1, sustain, when wages have risen 5 per cent., an additional cost of 5 per cent.; but they exchange their commodity against other commodities. If they exchange them against those of case No. 2, where the capitalists have sustained an additional cost of only 2½ per cent., they will receive 2½ per cent. additional quantity. Thus, in obtaining goods, produced under the circumstances of case No. 2, they obtain a certain degree of compensation, and sustain, by the rise of wages, a disadvantage of only 2½ per cent. In this exchange, however, the result, with respect to the capitalists who produce goods under the circumstances of case No. 2, is reversed. They have already sustained a disadvantage of 2½ per cent., in the production of their goods, and are made to sustain another disadvantage of 2½ per cent. in obtaining, by exchange the goods produced under the circumstances of case No. 1.
The result, then, upon the whole, is, that all producers, who possess themselves, either by production or exchange, of goods produced under the circumstances of case No. 2, sustain a disadvantage of 2½ per cent.; those who possess themselves of goods in cases approaching the first extreme, sustain a greater; those in cases approaching the last, a less disadvantage: that, if the cases on the one side are equal to those on the other, a loss of 2½ per cent. is sustained upon the whole; that this, accordingly, is the extent to which, in practice, it may be supposed that profits are reduced.
From these elements it is easy to compute the effect of a rise of wages upon price. All commodities are compared with money, or the precious metals. If money be supposed to correspond with case No. 2, or to be produced, which is probably not far from the fact, by equal proportions of labour and capital; then all commodities, produced under these medium circumstances, are not altered in price by a rise of wages; those commodities which approach nearer the first extreme, or admit a greater proportion of labour than capital in their formation, rise in price: those which approach the second, that is, have a greater portion of capital than labour, fall: and, upon the aggregate of commodities or all taken together, there is neither fall nor rise.
From the explanations, here afforded, it will be easy to see what is meant by the term “measure of value,” and wherein it differs from that which we have already endeavoured to explain, the “regulator of value.”
Money, that is, the precious metals in coin, serves practically as a measure of value, as is evident from what has immediately been said. A certain quantity of the precious metal is taken as a known value, and the value of other things is measured by that value; one commodity is twice, another thrice the value of such a portion of the metal, and so on.
It is evident, however, that this can remain an accurate measure of value, only if it remains of the same value itself. If a commodity, which was twice the value of an ounce of silver, becomes three times its value, we can only know what change has taken place in the value of this commodity, if we know that our measure is unchanged.
But there is no commodity to be taken as a measure of value, which is not itself liable to alterations in value, or in its power of purchasing, from a change in the quantity of labour and capital required both for its own production, and that of other commodities, and also from a change in wages and profits.
The alteration of value, arising from a change in the quantity of labour required for production, is the most important; for if we could be sure, that the commodity chosen for our measure of value was itself always produced under the same circumstances, that is, by the same quantity of immediate, and the same quantity of hoarded, labour, it would always answer the following purposes: 1st, it would show, by every alteration in its power of purchasing a commodity produced by the same proportion of labour and capital, the alteration which had taken place in the cost of production of that commodity, or in that by which its value is regulated: and 2dly, it might be accommodated by calculation to the changes in value, produced by the alteration of wages and profits, in the case of commodities not produced by the same proportions of labour and capital.
Thus, if gold were produced under the circumstances of case No. 1, by mere labour, picked up, for example, by the hand, from the beds of rivers, and always in equal quantity, in return for an equal quantity of labour, it would always be a measure, exactly and immediately, of all commodities produced by pure labour. In the case, however, of a rise of wages, and a fall in the profits of stock, gold would in these circumstances rise as compared with commodities produced under the circumstances of case No. 2, though no alteration should have taken place in the amount of the labour and capital required for their production. It is evident, therefore, that in these circumstances, gold, fluctuating in value with every fluctuation in the wages of labour, would very imperfectly serve the purposes of a measure of value. If a contract, for example, were made, to pay an annuity of so much gold for twenty years, it might be 10 per cent. more, or 10 per cent. less, at the end of that period, than it was at the beginning. Of labour it would all the time command exactly the same quantity, but of all commodities produced by aid of capital it would command a different quantity, and that, in proportion to the degree in which capital, not labour, was the instrument of their production.
Though we can by strict analysis discover, that exchangeable value is proportioned to quantity of labour expended in production, there are three circumstances which prevent its application as the measure of value.
In the first place, there are two kinds of labour employed in production, and the degree in which the produce is shared between them often varies, and occasions as we have seen, a corresponding variation in the exchangeable values of commodities produced by different proportions of these two kinds of labour. In the next place, we have no practical means of ascertaining before hand the exact quantity of hoarded labour which goes to production, since the only measure we have of its quantity is the price which it brings. In the third place, labour is not constant in its productive powers. If one day’s labour produced always the same quantity of gold, but not the same quantity of corn, or of cloth, the exchangeable value of gold would alter in respect to corn and cloth.
From these explanations it also appears, that nothing else can be applied as an accurate measure of value.
Every commodity may be considered as produced under one of the three sets of circumstances specified above. If we take as our measure a commodity, produced under the circumstances No. 1, the gold, for example, picked up by the hand, this will always purchase the same quantity of pure labour, and of such commodities as are produced by the same quantity of that labour; but it will not purchase the same quantity of commodities which come to need more or less of labour, nor the same quantity of the produce of hoarded labour, but less of it in proportion as wages rise, more as wages fall. Could we take as our measure a commodity produced under the circumstances No. 3, that is, by hoarded labour alone, it would always purchase the same quantity of the produce of hoarded labour, when no alteration had taken place in its productive powers, but less or more of the produce of immediate labour, according as profits, the wages of hoarded labour, rose or fell. A commodity, produced under the medium circumstances, answers the purpose best; because by far the greater number of commodities are produced under circumstances more nearly approaching to the medium than any of the extremes. Gold, therefore, which is produced in these circumstances, and with less variation in the quantity of the two kinds of labour applied to its production, than almost any other commodity, has this recommendation among others, to be the medium of exchange, that it is less imperfect as a measure of value than almost any other commodity, which could be taken. Such aberrations as are obvious, and capable of being in some degree foreseen, practical sagacity corrects by the proper allowances. This cannot be done when great and unexpected changes take place; and much disorder is the consequence.
Section IV. Occasions on Which it is the Interest of Nations to Exchange Commodities with One Another
We have already seen, that the benefits, derived from the division and skilful distribution of labour, form part of the motives which give rise to the exchange of commodities. Men will not confine themselves to the production of one only of the various articles which contribute to the well-being of the individual, unless they can, by its means, provide themselves with others.
There is another circumstance, which very obviously affords a motive to exchange commodities. Some can be produced only in particular places. Metals, coals, and various other commodities of the greatest importance, are the product of certain spots. The same is the case with some vegetable productions, to which every soil and climate are not adapted. Certain commodities, though not confined to particular spots, can yet be more conveniently and cheaply produced in some places than in others; commodities, for example, which require a great consumption of fuel, in a coal country; commodities, the manufacture of which requires a strong moving power, where a sufficient fall of water can be obtained; commodities which require an extraordinary proportion of manual labour, where provisions, and consequently labour, are cheap.
These are all obvious causes. There is another cause, which requires rather more explanation. If two countries can both of them produce two commodities, corn, for example, and cloth, but not both commodities, with the same comparative facility, the two countries will find their advantage in confining themselves, each to one of the commodities, bartering for the other. If one of the countries can produce one of the commodities with peculiar advantages, and the other the other with peculiar advantages, the motive is immediately apparent which should induce each to confine itself to the commodity which it has peculiar advantages for producing. But the motive may no less exist, where one of the two countries has facilities superior to the other in producing both commodities.
By superior facilities, I mean, the power of producing the same effect with less labour. The conclusion, too, will be the same, whether we suppose the labour to be more or less highly paid. Suppose that Poland can produce corn and cloth with less labour than England, it will not follow that it may not be the interest of Poland to import one of the commodities from England. If the degree, in which it can produce with less labour, is the same in both cases; if, for example, the same quantity of corn and cloth which Poland can produce, each with 100 days’ labour, requires each 150 days’ labour in England, Poland will have no motive to import either from England. But if, at the same time that the quantity of cloth, which, in Poland, is produced with 100 days’ labour, can be produced in England with 150 days’ labour; the corn, which is produced in Poland with 100 days’ labour, requires 200 days’ labour in England; in that case, it will be the interest of Poland to import her cloth from England. The evidence of these propositions may thus be traced.
If the cloth and the corn, each of which required 100 days’ labour in Poland, required each 150 days’ labour in England, it would follow, that the cloth of 150 days’ labour in England, if sent to Poland, would be equal to the cloth of 100 days’ labour in Poland: if exchanged for corn, therefore, it would exchange for the corn of only 100 days’ labour. But the corn of 100 days’ labour in Poland was supposed to be the same quantity with that of 150 days’ labour in England. With 150 days’ labour in cloth, therefore, England would only get as much corn in Poland as she could raise with 150 days’ labour at home; and she would, on importing it, have the cost of carriage besides. In these circumstances no exchange would take place.
If, on the other hand, while the cloth produced with 100 days’ labour in Poland was produced with 150 days’ labour in England, the corn which was produced in Poland with 100 days’ labour could not be produced in England with less than 200 days’ labour; an adequate motive to exchange would immediately arise. With a quantity of cloth which England produced with 150 days’ labour, she would be able to purchase as much corn in Poland as was there produced with 100 days’ labour; but the quantity, which was there produced with 100 days’ labour, would be as great as the quantity produced in England with 200 days’ labour. If the exchange, however, was made in this manner, the whole of the advantage would be on the part of England; and Poland would gain nothing, paying as much for the cloth she received from England, as the cost of producing it for herself.
But the power of Poland would be reciprocal. With a quantity of corn which cost her 100 days’ labour, equal to the quantity produced in England by 200 days’ labour, she could in the supposed case purchase, in England, the produce of 200 days’ labour in cloth. The produce of 150 days’ labour in England in the article of cloth would be equal to the produce of 100 days’ labour in Poland. If, with the produce of 100 days’ labour, she could purchase, not the produce of 150, but the produce of 200, she also would obtain the whole of the advantage, and England would purchase corn, which she could produce by 200 days’ labour, with the product of as many days’ labour in other commodities. The result of competition would be to divide the advantage equally between them.
Suppose the following case: That 10 yards of broad cloth purchase 15 yards of linen in England; and 20 yards in Germany. In exchanging 10 yards of English broad cloth for the equivalent of German linen, a saving, to the amount of 5 yards of linen, is the result of the bargain; and it is evident that the advantage will be shared upon the following principles. In England linen will fall, in relation to cloth, from the knowledge that 10 yards of cloth will purchase more than 15 yards of linen in Germany; and in Germany linen will rise as compared with cloth, from a knowledge that 20 yards of linen, if sent to England, will purchase more than 10 yards of cloth. It is the inevitable effect of such an interchange to bring the relative value of the two commodities to a level in the two countries; that is, to make the purchasing power of linen in respect to cloth, and of cloth in respect to linen, the same in both; bating the difference in the cost of carriage, each country paying the cost of the carriage of the commodity which it imports, and the value of that article being so much higher in the country which imports than in that which exports it.
To produce exchange, therefore, there must be two countries, and two commodities.
When both countries can produce both commodities, it is not greater absolute, but greater relative, facility, that induces one of them to confine itself to the production of one of the commodities, and to import the other.
When a country can either import a commodity, or produce it at home, it compares the cost of producing at home with the cost of procuring from abroad; if the latter cost is less than the first, it imports.
The cost at which a country can import from abroad depends, not upon the cost at which the foreign country produces the commodity, but upon what the commodity costs which it sends in exchange, compared with the cost which it must be at to produce the commodity in question, if it did not import it.
If a quarter of corn is produced in England with 50 days’ labour, it may be equally her interest to import corn from Poland, whether it requires, in Poland, 50 days’ labour, or 60, or 40, or any other number. Her only consideration is, whether the commodity with which she can import a quarter costs her less than 50 days’ labour.
Thus, if labour in Poland produce corn and cloth, in the ratio of eight yards to one quarter; but, in England, in the ratio of ten yards to one quarter, exchange will take place.
The practical conclusion may be commodiously and correctly stated thus:
Whenever the purchasing power of any commodity with respect to another is less, in one of two countries, than it is in the other, it is the interest of those countries to exchange these commodities with one another.
Unless the difference of purchasing power, which renders it the interest of nations to barter commodities with one another, be sufficiently great to cover the expense of carriage, and something more, no advantage is obtained.
Section V. The Commodities Imported are the Cause of the Benefits Derived from a Foreign Trade
From what is stated in the preceding chapter, one general, or rather universal, proposition may be deduced. The benefit which is derived from exchanging one commodity for another, arises, in all cases, from the commodity
received, not from the commodity given. When one country exchanges, in other words, when one country traffics with another, the whole of its advantage consists in the commodities
imported. It benefits by the importation, and by nothing else.
This seems to be so very nearly a self-evident proposition, as to be hardly capable of being rendered more clear by illustration; and yet it is so little in harmony with current and vulgar opinions, that it may not be easy by any illustration, to gain it admission into certain minds.
When a man possesses a certain commodity, he cannot benefit himself by giving it away. It seems to be implied, therefore, in the very fact of his parting with it for another commodity, that he is benefited by what he receives. His own commodity be might have kept, if it had been valued by him more than that for which he exchanges it. The fact of his choosing to have the other commodity rather than his own, is a proof that the other is to him more valuable than his own.
The corresponding facts are evidence equally conclusive in the case of nations. When one nation exchanges a part of its commodities for a part of the commodities of another nation, the nation can gain nothing by parting with its commodities; all the gain must consist in what it receives. If it be said that the gain consists in receiving money, it will presently appear, from the doctrine of money, that a nation derives no advantage, but the contrary, from possessing more than its due proportion of the precious metals.
In importing commodities which the country itself is competent to produce, as in the case, supposed above, of trade with Poland, we saw that England would import her corn from Poland, if she thus obtained, with the produce of so many days’ labour in cloth, as much corn as it would have required a greater number of days’ labour to produce in England. If it had so happened, that she could procure in Poland with the cloth, only as much corn as she could produce with the same quantity of labour at home, she would have had no advantage in the transaction. Her advantage would arise, not from what she should export, but wholly from what she should import.
The case in which a country imports commodities, which she herself is incompetent to produce, is of still more simple investigation. That country, or, more properly speaking, the people of that country, have certain commodities of their own, but these they are willing to give for certain commodities of other countries. They prefer having those other commodities. They are benefited, therefore, not by what they give away; that it would be absurd to say; but by what they receive.
Section VI. Convenience of a Particular Commodity, as a Medium of Exchange
In exchanging commodities for one another directly, or in the way of barter, the wants of individuals could not be easily supplied. If a man had only sheep to dispose of; and wanted bread, or a coat; he might find himself subject to either of two difficulties: first, the man possessing the article which he wished to obtain, might be unwilling to accept of a sheep; or, secondly, the sheep might be of more value than the article which he wished to obtain, and could not be divided.
To obviate these difficulties, it would be fortunate if a commodity could be found, which every man, who had goods to dispose of, would be willing to receive, and which could be divided into such quantities, as would adapt themselves to the value of the articles which he wished to obtain. In this case, the man who had the sheep, and wanted bread or a coat, instead of offering his sheep to obtain them, would first exchange it for the equivalent quantity of this other commodity, and with that he would purchase the bread and other things for which he had occasion.
This, then, is the true idea of a medium of exchange. It is some one commodity, which, in order to effect an exchange between two other commodities, is first received in exchange for the one, and then given in exchange for the other.
Certain metals, gold, for example, and silver, were found to unite, in a superior degree, all the qualities desired in a medium of exchange. They were commodities which every man, who had goods to dispose of, was willing to receive in exchange. They could be divided into such portions as suited any quantity of other commodities which the purchaser desired to obtain. They possessed the further recommendation, by including a great value in a small bulk, of being very portable. They were also very indestructible; and less than almost any other commodities liable to fluctuations of value. From these causes, gold and silver have formed the principal medium of exchange in all parts of the globe.
The precious metals were liable to be mixed with baser metals in a manner which it was not easy to detect; and thus a less value was apt to be received than that which was understood to be so. It was also found inconvenient to perform the act of weighing every time that a purchase was to be made. An obvious expedient was calculated to remedy both inconveniences. Metal might be prepared of a determined fineness; it might be divided into portions adopted to all sorts of purchases; and a stamp might be put upon it, denoting both its weight and its fineness. It is obvious, that the putting of this stamp could only be entrusted to an authority in which the people had confidence. The business has generally been undertaken by governments, and kept exclusively in their own hands. The business of putting the precious metals in the most convenient shape, for serving as the medium of exchange, has been denominated coining; and the pieces into which they are divided have obtained the appellation of money.
By value of money, is here to be understood the proportion in which it exchanges for other commodities, or the quantity of it which exchanges for a certain quantity of other things.
It is not difficult to perceive, that it is the total quantity of the money in any country, which determines what portion of that quantity shall exchange for a certain portion of the goods or commodities of that country.
If we suppose that all the goods of the country are on one side, all the money on the other, and that they are exchanged at once against one another, it is obvious that one-tenth, or one-hundredth, or any other part of the goods, will exchange against one-tenth, or any part of the whole of the money; and that this tenth, &c. will be a great quantity or small, exactly in proportion as the whole quantity of the money in the country is great or small. If this were the state of the facts, therefore, it is evident that the value of money would depend wholly upon the quantity of it.
It will appear that the case is precisely the same in the actual state of the facts. The whole of the goods of a country are not exchanged at once against the whole of the money; the goods are exchanged in portions, often in very small portions, and at different times, during the course of the whole year. The same piece of money which is paid in one exchange to-day, may be paid in another exchange to-morrow. Some of the pieces will be employed in a great many exchanges, some in very few, and some, which happen to be hoarded, in none at all. There will, amid all these varieties, be a certain average number of exchanges, the same which, if all the pieces had performed an equal number, would have been performed by each; that average we may suppose to be any number we please; say, for example, ten. If each of the pieces of the money in the country perform ten purchases, that is exactly the same thing as if all the pieces were multiplied by ten, and performed only one purchase each. As each piece of the money is equal in value to that which it exchanges for, if each performs ten different exchanges to effect one exchange of all the goods, the value of all the goods in the country is equal to ten times the value of all the money.
If the quantity of money, instead of performing ten exchanges to exchange all the goods once, were ten times as great, and performed only one exchange, it is evident that whatever addition were made to the whole quantity, would produce a proportional diminution of value, in each of the minor quantities taken separately. As the quantity of goods, against which the money is all exchanged at once, is supposed to be the same, the value of all the money is no more, after the quantity is augmented, than before it was augmented. If it is supposed to be augmented one-tenth, the value of every part, that of an ounce for example, must be diminished one-tenth. Suppose the whole quantity 1,000,000 ounces, and augmented by one-tenth; the loss of value to the whole must be communicated proportionally to every part; but what one-tenth or a million is to a million, one-tenth of an ounce is to an ounce.
If the whole of the money is only one-tenth of the above supposed sum, and performs ten purchases in exchanging all the goods once, it of course exchanges each time against one-tenth of the goods. But if the tenth which exchanges against a tenth is increased in any proportion, it is the same thing as if the whole which exchanges against the whole were increased in that proportion. In whatever degree, therefore, the quantity of money is increased or diminished, other things remaining the same, in that same proportion, the value of the whole, and of every part, is reciprocally diminished or increased. This, it is evident, is a proposition universally true. Whenever the value of money has either risen or fallen, (the quantity of goods, against which it is exchanged, and the rapidity of circulation, remaining the same,) the change must be owing to a corresponding diminution or increase of the quantity; and can be owing to nothing else. If the quantity of goods diminish, while the quantity of money remains unaltered, it is the same thing as if the quantity of money had been increased; and if the quantity of goods be increased, while the quantity of money remains unaltered, it is the same thing as if the quantity of money had been diminished.
Similar changes are produced by any alteration in the rapidity of circulation. By rapidity of circulation is meant, of course, the number of times the money must change hands to effect one sale of all the commodities.
The whole of the goods, which fall to be exchanged in the course of the year, is the amount contemplated in the above propositions. If there is any portion of the annual produce, which is not exchanged at all, as what is consumed by the producer; or which is not exchanged for money; any such portion is not taken into account, because what is not exchanged for money is in the same state, with respect to the money, as if it did not exist. If there is any part of what falls to be exchanged in the course of the year, which is exchanged two, or three, or more times, that also is not taken into account, because the effect is the same, with respect to the money, as if the goods had been increased to the amount of these multiplications, and exchanged only once.
Section VIII. What Regulates the Quantity of Money
When we have ascertained, that quantity determines the value of money, we still have to inquire what it is that regulates quantity.
The quantity of money may seem, at first sight, to depend upon the will of the governments, which assume to themselves the privilege of making it, and may fabricate any quantity they please.
Money is made under two sets of circumstances; either when government leaves the increase or diminution of it free; or when it endeavours to control the quantity, making it great or small as it pleases.
When the increase or diminution of money is left free, government opens the mint to the public at large, making bullion into coins for as many as require it.
It is evident that individuals, possessed of bullion, will desire to convert it into coins, only when it is their interest to do so; that is, when their bullion, converted into coins, will be more valuable to them than in the shape of bullion.
This can only happen when the coins are peculiarly valuable, and when the same quantity of metal, in the state of coin, will exchange for more than in the state of bullion.
As the value of the coins depends upon the quantity of them, it is only when the quantity is to a certain degree limited, that they have this value. It is the interest of individuals, when coins are thus high in value, to carry bullion, to be coined; but by every addition to the number of the coins, the value of them is diminished; and at last the value of the metal in the coins, above the bullion, becomes too small to afford a motive for carrying bullion to be coined. If the quantity of money, therefore, should at any time be so small as to increase its value above that of the metal of which it is made, the interest of individuals operates immediately, in a state of freedom, to augment the quantity.
It is also possible for the quantity of money to be so large as to reduce the value of the metal in the coin, below its value in the state of bullion; in that case, the interest of individuals operates immediately to reduce the quantity. If a man has possessed himself of a quantity of the coins, containing, we shall say, an ounce of the metal, and if these coins are of less value than the metal in bullion, he has direct motive to melt the coins, and convert them into bullion: and this motive continues to operate till by the reduction of the quantity of money, the value of the metal in that state is so nearly the same with its value in bullion, as not to afford a motive for melting.
Whenever the coining of money, therefore, is free, its quantity is regulated by the value of the metal, it being the interest of individuals to increase or diminish the quantity, in proportion as the value of the metal in coins is greater or less than its value in bullion.
But if the quantity of money is determined by the value of the metal, it is still necessary to inquire what it is which determines the value of the metal. That is a question, however, which may be considered as already solved. Gold and silver are in reality commodities. They are commodities, for the attaining of which labour and capital must be employed. It is cost of production, therefore, which determines the value of these, as of other ordinary productions.
We have next to examine the effects which take place by the attempts of government to control the increase or diminution of money, and to fix the quantity as it pleases. When it endeavours to keep the quantity of money less than it would be, if things were left in freedom, it raises the value of the metal in the coin, and renders it the interest of every body, who can, to convert his bullion into money. By supposition, the government will not so convert it. He must, therefore, have recourse to private coining. This the government must, if it perseveres, prevent by punishment. On the other hand, were it the object of government to keep the quantity of money greater than it would be, if left in freedom, it would reduce the value of the metal in money, below its value in bullion, and make it the interest of every body to melt the coins. This, also, the government would have only one expedient for preventing, namely, punishment.
But the prospect of punishment will prevail over the prospect of profit, only if the profit is small. It is well known, that, where the temptation is considerable, private coinage goes on, in spite of the endeavours of government. As melting is a more easy process than coining, and can be performed more secretly, it will take place by a less temptation than coinage.
It thus appears, that the quantity of money is naturally regulated, in every country, by the value, in other words, by the productive cost, in that country, of the metals of which it is made; that the government may, by forcible methods, reduce the actual quantity of money to a certain, but an inconsiderable extent, below that natural quantity; that it can also, but to a still less extent, raise it above that quantity.
When it diminishes the quantity below what it would be in a state of freedom, in other words, raises the value of the metal in the coins, above its value in bullion, it in reality imposes a seignorage. In practice, a seignorage is commonly imposed by issuing coins which contain rather less of the metal than they profess to contain, or less than that quantity to which they are intended to be an equivalent. By coining upon this principle, government makes a profit of the difference between the value of the metal in the coins, and that in bullion. Suppose the difference to be five per cent., the government obtains bullion at the market price, and makes it into coins which are worth five per cent. more than the bullion. Coins, however, will retain this value, only, if, as we have shown in the preceding section, they are limited in amount. To be able to limit them in amount, it is necessary that seignorage should not be so high as to compensate for the risk of counterfeiting; in short, that it should not greatly exceed the expense of coining.
Section IX. The Effect of Employing Two Metals Both as Standard Money, and of Using Subsidiary Coins, at Less Than the Metallic Value.
Some nations have made use of two metals, gold and silver, both, as standard money, or legal tender to any amount.
For this purpose it was necessary to fix a certain relative value between them. A certain weight of the one was taken to be equal in value to a certain weight of the other.
If the proportion thus fixed for the coins were accurately the proportion which obtained in the market, and continued so invariably, there would be no inconvenience in the two standards. The value of any sum would always be the same in either set of coins.
The relative value, however, of the two metals the market is fluctuating.
Suppose that the value fixed for the coins is that of 15 to 1; in other words, that one piece of gold is equal to 15 pieces of silver of the same weight. A change takes place in the market, and this value becomes as 16 to 1. What follows?
A man who had a debt to pay, equal, let us say, to 100 of the gold pieces, or 1500 of the silver, finds it his interest to pay his debt not with gold. With his 100 pieces of gold he can go into the market and purchase as much silver as may be coined into 1600 pieces, with 1500 of which he may pay his debt, and retain 100 to himself. In this manner silver coins would be multiplied; and the quantity of the currency would be increased; its value would, therefore, be diminished; the gold in coins would thus become of less value than in bullion; hence the gold coins would be melted and would disappear.
After a fluctuation in one direction, it may take place in another. Silver may rise, instead of falling, as compared with gold. The relative value may become as 14 to 1. In this case it would be the interest of every man to pay in gold, rather than silver; and in this case it would be the silver coins which would disappear.
Two inconveniences are therefore incurred by the double standard. First, the value of the currency, instead of being rendered as steady in value as possible, is subjected to a particular cause of variation. And, secondly, the country is put to the expence of a new coinage, as often as a change takes place in the relative value of the metals.
The case would be exactly the same, if a seignorage existed. Suppose that 10 per cent. were imposed as seignorage; it would be equally true, that the 100 pieces of gold; were the proportion changed, from 15 to 1, to 16 to 1; would purchase as much silver as would be exchanged at the mint for 1600 pieces of silver. While the market value or the two metals was the same as the mint value, one piece of gold purchased not only as much silver as was contained in 15 pieces or silver, but one-tenth more; after the change which we have just supposed, it purchases in the proportion of 16 to 15, that is, as much as will be contained in 16 pieces, and a tenth more.
The use of silver coins, for the purpose of small payments, or change, as it is called, of the more valuable coins, if they are legal tender only to a small amount, is not liable to the objections which apply to a double standard.
It has, indeed, been affirmed, that if they are issued, at a higher value than that of the metal contained in them, they will occasion the exportation of the gold coins. But it is easy to see that this is a mistake.
Suppose that our silver coins in this country are 10 per cent. above the value of the metal, but legal tender only to the extent of 40 shillings; every man, it is affirmed, has hence an interest in sending gold to Paris to buy silver.
The relative value of gold to silver in Paris and England is naturally pretty nearly the same; let us say as 15 to 1. An ounce of gold, therefore, will in Paris purchase 15 oz. of silver. But so it will in England. Where then is the advantage in going to France to purchase it?
You propose to coin it because it is 10 per cent more valuable as coin.
But 10 per cent. of it is taken from you, and hence to you the advantage of the high value is lost.
Your silver coins with 10 per cent. added to them would make the coins of full weight.
Suppose the price of silver to have sunk below the mint proportion, it would then be your interest to pay in silver if you could; but you can only pay to the extent of 40 shillings; it is therefore worth nobody’s while to surcharge the market.
Besides, government reserves to itself the right of refusing to coin silver, when it pleases; it can therefore retain it of a high value.
Subsidiary coins cannot send the standard coins out of the country, unless the increased amount of them sink the value of the currency. The standard coins will not go in preference to bullion, unless they can be purchased cheaper than bullion.
Section X. Substitutes for Money
The only substitute for money, of sufficient importance to require explanation, in this epitome of the science, is that species of written obligation to pay a sum of money, which has obtained the appellation of paper money.
The use of this species of obligation, as a substitute for money, seems to have originated in the invention of bills of exchange, ascribed to the Jews, in the feudal and barbarous ages.
When two countries, as England and Holland, traded with one another; when England, for example, imported Dutch goods, and Holland imported English goods, the question immediately arose, how payment was to be made for them. If England was under the necessity of sending gold and silver for the goods which she had brought from Holland, the expense was considerable. If Holland was under the necessity of sending gold and silver to England, the expense was also considerable. It was very obvious, however, that if there were two individuals, one of whom owed to the other 100
l., and the other to him 100
l., instead of the first man’s taking the trouble to count down 100
l. to the second, and the second man’s taking the same trouble to count down 100
l. to the first, all they had to do was to exchange their mutual obligations. The case was the same between England and Holland. If England had to pay a million of money to Holland, and had an equal sum to receive from Holland, instead of sending the money from England to Holland, it would save expence and trouble to consign to her creditors, in Holland, the money due to her in Holland; and those merchants in Holland, who owed money to England, and must have been at the expense of sending it, would be well pleased to be saved from that expense, by obeying an order to pay, in Holland, what they owed to a merchant in England. A bill of exchange was, literally, such an order. The merchant in England wrote to the merchant in Holland, who owed him a sum of money, “Pay to such and such a person, such and such a sum;” and this was called drawing a bill upon that person. The merchants in Holland acted in the same manner, with respect to the persons in England, from whom they had money to receive, and to whom they had money to pay. When it so happened, that the money, which the two countries owed to one another, was equal, the payments balanced one another, and each country paid for the goods, which it had received, free, altogether, from the expense of transmitting money. Even when it happened that one of the two owed more than it had to receive, it had only the balance to discharge, and was relieved from all the rest of the expense.
The advantage, therefore, derived from the invention and use of bills of exchange, was very considerable. The use of them was recommended by a still stronger necessity, at the period of the invention, because the coarse policy of those times prohibited the exportation of the precious metals, and punished with the greatest severity any infringement of that barbarous law.
Bills of exchange not only served the purpose of discharging debts between country and country, but very often acted as a substitute for money, in the country to which they were sent. When a bill was drawn, payable after a certain time, the merchant to whom it was sent, if he had a debt to pay, or purchase to make, without having money ready for the purpose, paid with the bill, instead of money. One of these bills would often pass through several hands, and be the medium of payment in a number of transactions, before it was finally discharged by the person on whom it was drawn. To this extent, it performed the precise functions of paper money, and led the way to the further use of that important substitute.
As soon as it was discovered, that the obligation of a merchant of credit, to pay a sum of money, was, from the assurance that it would be paid as soon as demanded, considered of equal value with the money itself, and was without difficulty received in exchanges, as the money itself would have been received, there was motive sufficient to extend the use of the substitute. Those persons who had been accustomed to perform the functions of bankers in keeping the money of individuals, and exchanging against one another the coins of different countries, were the first who issued promises to pay certain sums of money, in the expectation that they would operate, as substitutes for money, in the business of purchase and sale. As soon as the use of such a substitute for money has begun, nothing is wanting but freedom, and the confidence of the public in the written promises, to enable the paper to supersede the use of the metal, and operate, almost exclusively, as the medium of exchange.
It remains to inquire what are the advantages derived from the use of this substitute; and what are the inconveniences to which it is liable.