The Theory of Money and Credit
By Ludwig Mises
Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) first published
The Theory of Money and Credit in German, in 1912. The edition presented here is that published by Liberty Fund in 1980, which was translated from the German by H. E. Batson originally in 1934, with additions in 1953. Only a few corrections of obvious typos were made for this website edition. One character substitution has been made: the ordinary character “C” has been substituted for the “checked C” in the name Cuhel.
H. E. Batson, trans.
First Pub. Date
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc. Liberty Classics
First published in German. Foreword by Murray Rothbard and Introduction by Lionel Robbins not available online
The text of this edition is under copyright. Picture of Ludwig von Mises: file photo, Liberty Fund, Inc.
- Historical Prefaces
- Part I,Ch.1
- Part I,Ch.2
- Part I,Ch.3
- Part I,Ch.4
- Part I,Ch.5
- Part I,Ch.6
- Part II,Ch.7
- Part II,Ch.8
- Part II,Ch.9
- Part II,Ch.10
- Part II,Ch.11
- Part II,Ch.12
- Part II,Ch.13
- Part II,Ch.14
- Part III,Ch.15
- Part III,Ch.16
- Part III,Ch.17
- Part III,Ch.18
- Part III,Ch.19
- Part III,Ch.20
- Part IV,Ch.21
- Part IV,Ch.22
- Part IV,Ch.23
- Appendix A
- Appendix B
1 Money and Money Substitutes
The Various Kinds of Money
When an indirect exchange is transacted with the aid of money, it is not necessary for the money to change hands physically; a perfectly secure claim to an equivalent sum, payable on demand, may be transferred instead of the actual coins. In this by itself there is nothing remarkable or peculiar to money. What is peculiar, and only to be explained by reference to the special characteristics of money; is the extraordinary frequency of this way of completing monetary transactions.
In the first place, money is especially well adapted to constitute the substance of a generic obligation. Whereas the fungibility of nearly all other economic goods is more or less circumscribed and is often only a fiction based on an artificial commercial terminology, that of money is almost unlimited. Only that of shares and bonds can be compared with it. The sole factor that could possibly prevent any of these from being completely fungible is the difficulty of sub-dividing their separate units; and various expedients have been adopted, which, at least as far as money is concerned, have entirely robbed this difficulty of all practical significance.
A still more important circumstance is involved in the nature of the function that money performs. A claim to money may be transferred over and over again in an indefinite number of indirect exchanges without the person by whom it is payable ever being called upon to settle it. This is obviously not true as far as other economic goods are concerned, for these are always destined for ultimate consumption.
The special suitability for facilitating indirect exchanges possessed by absolutely secure and immediately payable claims to money, which we may briefly refer to as money substitutes, is further increased by their standing in law and commerce.
Technically, and in some countries legally as well, the transfer of a banknote scarcely differs from that of a coin. The similarity of outward appearance is such that those who are engaged in commercial dealings are usually unable to distinguish between those objects that actually perform the function of money and those that are merely employed as substitutes for them. The businessman does not worry about the economic problems involved in this; he is only concerned with the commercial and legal characteristics of coins, notes, checks, and the like. To him, the facts that banknotes are transferable without documentary evidence, that they circulate like coins in round denominations, that no fight of recovery lies against their previous holders, that the law recognizes no difference between them and money as an instrument of debt settlement, seem good enough reason for including them within the definition of the term
money, and for drawing a fundamental distinction between them and cash deposits, which can be transferred only by a procedure that is much more complex technically and is also regarded in law as of a different kind. This is the origin of the popular conception of money by which everyday life is governed. No doubt it serves the purposes of the bank official, and it may even be quite useful in the business world at large, but its introduction into the scientific terminology of economics is most undesirable.
The controversy about the concept of money is not exactly one of the most satisfactory chapters in the history of our science. It is chiefly remarkable for the smother of juristic and commercial technicalities in which it is enveloped and for the quite undeserved significance that has been attached to what is after all merely a question of terminology. The solution of the question has been re garded as an end in itself and it seems to have been completely forgotten that the real aim should have been simply to facilitate further investigation. Such a discussion could not fail to be fruitless.
In attempting to draw a line of division between money and those objects that outwardly resemble it, we only need to bear in mind the goal of our investigation. The present discussion aims at tracing the laws that determine the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods. This and nothing else is the task of the economic theory of money. Now our terminology must be suited to our problem. If a particular group of objects is to be singled out from among all those that fulfill a monetary function in commerce and, under the special name of money (which is to be reserved to this group alone), sharply contrasted with the rest (to which this name is denied), then this distinction must be made in a way that will facilitate the further progress of the investigation.
It is considerations such as these that have led the present writer to give the name of money substitutes and not that of money to those objects that are employed like money in commerce but consist in perfectly secure and immediately convertible claims to money.
Claims are not goods;
*20 they are means of obtaining disposal over goods. This determines their whole nature and economic significance. They themselves are not valued directly, but indirectly; their value is derived from that of the economic goods to which they refer. Two elements are involved in the valuation of a claim: first, the value of the goods to whose possession it gives a right; and, second, the greater or less probability that possession of the goods in question will actually be obtained. Furthermore, if the claim is to come into force only after a period of time, then consideration of this circumstance will constitute a third factor in its valuation. The value on January 1 of a right to receive ten sacks of coal on December 31 of the same year will be based not directly on the value of ten sacks of coal, but on the value of ten sacks of coal to be delivered in a year’s time. This sort of calculation is a matter of common experience, as also is the fact that in reckoning the value of claims their soundness or security is taken into account.
Claims to money are, of course, no exception. Those which are payable on demand, if there is no doubt about their soundness and no expense connected with their settlement, are valued just as highly as cash and tendered and accepted in the same way as money.
*21 Only claims of this sort—that is, claims that are payable on demand, absolutely safe as far as human foresight goes, and perfectly liquid in the legal sense—are for business purposes exact substitutes for the money to which they refer. Other claims, of course, such as notes issued by banks of doubtful credit or bills that are not yet mature, also enter into financial transactions and may just as well be employed as general media of exchange. This, according to our terminology, means that they are money. But then they are valued independently; they are reckoned equivalent neither to the sums of money to which they refer nor even to the worth of the rights that they embody. What the further special factors are that help to determine their exchange value, we shall discover in the course of our argument.
Of course it would be in no way incorrect if we attempted to include in our concept of money those absolutely secure and immediately convertible claims to money that we have preferred to call money substitutes. But what must be entirely condemned is the widespread practice of giving the name of money to certain classes of money substitutes, usually banknotes, token money, and the like, and contrasting them sharply with the remaining kinds, such as cash deposits.
*22 This is to make a distinction without any adequate difference; for banknotes, say, and cash deposits differ only in mere externals, important perhaps from the business and legal points of view, but quite insignificant from the point of view of economics.
On the other hand, arguments of considerable weight may be urged in favor of including all money substitutes without exception in the single concept of money. It may be pointed out, for instance, that the significance of perfectly secure and liquid claims to money is quite different from that of claims to other economic goods; that whereas a claim on a commodity must sooner or later be liquidated, this is not necessarily true of claims to money. Such claims may pass from hand to hand for indefinite periods and so take the place of money without any attempt being made to liquidate them. It may be pointed out that those who require money will be quite satisfied with such claims as these, and that those who wish to spend money will find that these claims answer their purpose just as well; and that consequently the supply of money substitutes must be reckoned in with that of money, and the demand for them with the demand for money. It may further be pointed out that whereas it is impossible to satisfy an increase in the demand, say, for bread by issuing more breadtickets without adding to the actual supply of bread itself, it is perfectly possible to satisfy an increased demand for money by just such a process as this. It may be argued, in brief, that money substitutes have certain peculiarities of which account is best taken by including them in the concept of money.
Without wishing to question the weight of such arguments as these, we shall on grounds of convenience prefer to adopt the narrower formulation of the concept of money, supplementing it with a separate concept of money substitutes. Whether this is the most advisable course to pursue, whether perhaps some other procedure might not lead to a better understanding of our subject matter, must be left to the judgment of the reader To the author it appears that the way chosen is the only way in which the difficult problems of the theory of money can be solved.
2 The Peculiarities of Money Substitutes
Economic discussion about money must be based solely on economic considerations and may take legal distinctions into account only insofar as they are significant from the economic point of view also. Such discussion consequently must proceed from a concept of money based, not on legal definitions and discriminations, but on the economic nature of things. It follows that our decision not to regard drafts and other claims to money as constituting money itself must not be interpreted merely in accordance with the narrow juristic concept of a claim to money. Besides strictly legal claims to money, we must also take into account such relationships as are not claims in the juristic sense, but are nevertheless treated as such in commercial practice because some concern or other deals with them as if they actually did constitute claims against itself.
There can be no doubt that the German token coins minted in accordance with the Coinage Act of July 9, 1873, did not in law constitute claims to money. Perhaps there are some superficial critics who would be inclined to classify these coins actually as money because they consisted of stamped silver or nickel or copper discs that had every appearance of being money. But despite this, from the point of view of economics these token coins merely constituted drafts on the national Treasury. The second paragraph of section nine of the Coinage Act (in its form of June 1, 1909) obliged the Bundesrat to specify those centers that would pay out gold coins on demand in return for not less than 200 marks’ worth of silver coins or fifty marks’ worth of nickel and copper coins. Certain branches of the Reichsbank were entrusted with this function. Another section of the Coinage Act (sec. 8) provided that the Reich would always be in a position actually to maintain this convertibility. According to this section, the total value of the silver coins minted was never to exceed twenty marks per head of the population, nor that of the nickel and copper coins two and one-half marks per head. In the opinion of the legislature, these sums represented the demand for small coins, and there was consequently no danger that the total issue of token coinage would exceed the public demand for it. Admittedly, there was no statutory recognition of any right to conversion on the part of holders of token coins, and the limitation of legal tender (sec. 9, par 1) was only an inadequate substitute for this. Nevertheless, it is a matter of general knowledge that the token coins were in fact cashed without any demur at the branches of the Reichsbank specified by the chancellor
Exactly the same sort of significance was enjoyed by the Reich Treasury notes, of which not more than 120 million marks’ worth were allowed to be in circulation. These also (sec. 5 of the act of April 30, 1874) were always cashed for gold by the Reichsbank on behalf of the Treasury. It is beside the point that the Treasury notes were not legal tender in private transactions while everybody was obliged to accept silver coins in amounts up to twenty marks and nickel and copper coins in amounts up to one mark; for, although they were not legally bound to accept them in settlement of debts, people in fact accepted them readily.
Another example is afforded by the German thaler of the period from the introduction of the gold standard until the withdrawal of the thaler from circulation on October 1, 1907. During the whole of this period the thaler was undoubtedly legal tender But if we seek to go behind this expression, whose juristic derivation makes it useless for our present purpose, and ask if the thaler was
money during this period, the answer must be that it was not. It is true that it was employed in commerce as a medium of exchange; but it could be used in this way solely because it was a claim to something that really was money, that is, to the common medium of exchange. For although neither the Reichsbank nor the Reich nor its separate constituent kingdoms and duchies nor anybody else was obliged to cash them, the Reichsbank, acting on behalf of the government, always took pains to ensure that no more thalers were in circulation than were demanded by the public. It achieved this result by refusing to press thalers on its customers when paying out. This, together with the circumstance that thalers were legal tender both to the bank and to the Reich, was sufficient to turn them in effect into drafts that could always be converted into money, with the result that they circulated at home as perfectly satisfactory substitutes for money. It was repeatedly suggested to the directors of the Reichsbank that they should cash their own notes not in gold but in thalers (which would have been well within the letter of the law) and pay out gold only at a premium, with the object of hindering the export of it. But the bank steadily refused to adopt this or any proposal of a similar nature.
The exact nature of the token coinage in other countries has not always been so easy to understand as that of Germany, whose banking and currency system was fashioned under the influence of such men as Bamberger, Michaelis, and Soetbeer. In some legislation, the theoretical basis of modern token-coinage policy may not be so easy to discover or to demonstrate as in the examples already dealt with. Nevertheless, all such policy has ultimately the same intent. The universal legal peculiarity of token coinage is the limitation of its power of payment to a specified maximum sum; and as a rule this provision is supplemented by legislative restriction of the amount that may be minted.
There is no such thing as an economic concept of token coinage. All that economics can distinguish is a particular subgroup within the group of claims to money that are employed as substitutes for money, the members of this subgroup being intended for use in transactions where the amounts involved are small. The fact that the issue and circulation of token coins are subjected to special
legal rules and regulations is to be explained by the special nature of the purpose that they serve. The general recognition of the right of the holder of a banknote to receive money in exchange for it while the conversion of token coins is in many countries left to administrative discretion is a result of the different lines of development that notes and token coinage have followed respectively. Token coins have arisen from the need for facilitating the exchange of small quantities of goods of little value. The historical details of their development have not yet been brought to light and, almost without exception, all that has been written on the subject is of purely numismatical or metrological importance.
*24 Nevertheless, one thing can safely be asserted: token coinage is always the result of attempts to remedy deficiencies in the existing monetary system. It is those technical difficulties, that hinder the subdivision of the monetary unit into small coins, that have led, after all sorts of unsuccessful attempts, to the solution of the problem that we adopt nowadays. In many countries, while this development has been going on, a kind of fiat money
*25 has sometimes been used in small transactions, with the very inconvenient consequence of having two independent kinds of money performing side by side the function of a common medium of exchange. To avoid the inconveniences of such a situation the small coins were brought into a fixed legal ratio with those used in larger transactions and the necessary precautions were taken to prevent the quantity of small coins from exceeding the requirements of commerce. The most important means to this end has always been the restriction of the quantity minted to that which seems likely to be needed for making small payments, whether this is fixed by law or strictly adhered to without such compulsion. Along with this has gone the limitation of legal tender in private dealings to a certain relatively small amount. The danger that these regulations would prove inadequate has never seemed very great, and consequently legislative provision for conversion of the token coins has been either entirely neglected or left incomplete by omission of a clear statement of the holder’s right to change them for money. But everywhere nowadays those token coins that are rejected from circulation are accepted without demur by the state, or some other body such as the central bank, and thus their nature as claims to money is established. Where this policy has been discontinued for a time and the attempt made by suspending effectual conversion of the token coins to force more of them into circulation than was required, they have become credit money, or even commodity money. Then they have no longer been regarded as claims to money, payable on demand, and therefore equivalent to money, but have been valued independently.
The banknote has followed quite a different line of development. It has always been regarded as a claim, even from the juristic point of view. The fact has never been lost sight of that if its value was to be kept equal to that of money, steps would have to be taken to ensure its permanent convertibility into money. That a cessation of cash payments would alter the economic character of banknotes could hardly escape notice; in the case of the quantitatively less important coins used in small transactions it could more easily be forgotten. Furthermore, the smaller quantitative importance of token coins means that it is possible to maintain their permanent convertibility without establishing special funds for the purpose. The absence of such special funds may also have helped to disguise the real nature of token coinage.
Consideration of the monetary system of Austria-Hungary is particularly instructive. The currency reform that was inaugurated in 1892 was never formally completed, and until the disruption of the Hapsburg monarchy the standard remained legally what is usually called a paper standard, since the Austro-Hungarian Bank was not obliged to redeem its own notes, which were legal tender to any amount. Nevertheless, from 1900 to 1914 Austria-Hungary really possessed a gold standard or gold-exchange standard, for the bank did in fact readily provide gold for commercial requirements. Although according to the letter of the law it was not obliged to cash its notes, it offered bills of exchange and other claims payable abroad in gold (checks, notes, and the like), at a price below the upper theoretical gold point. Under such conditions, those who wanted gold for export naturally preferred to buy claims of this sort, which enabled them to achieve their purpose more cheaply than by the actual export of gold.
For internal commerce as well, in which the use of gold was exceptional since the population had many years before gone over to banknotes and token coins,
*27 the bank cashed its notes for gold without being legally bound to do so. And this policy was pursued, not accidentally or occasionally or without full recognition of its significance, but deliberately and systematically, with the object of permitting Austria and Hungary to enjoy the economic advantages of the gold standard. Both the Austrian and the Hungarian governments, to whose initiative this policy of the bank was due, cooperated as far as they were able. But in the first place it was the bank itself which had to ensure, by following an appropriate discount policy, that it would always be in a position to carry out with promptitude its voluntary undertaking to redeem its notes. The measures that it took with this purpose in view did not differ fundamentally in any way from those adopted by the banks-of-issue in other gold-standard countries.
*28 Thus the notes of the Austro-Hungarian Bank were in fact nothing but money substitutes. The money of the country, as of other European countries, was gold.
3 Commodity Money, Credit Money, and Fiat Money
The economic theory of money is generally expressed in a terminology that is not economic but juristic. This terminology has been built up by writers, statesmen, merchants, judges, and others whose chief interests have been in the legal characteristics of the different kinds of money and their substitutes. It is useful for dealing with those aspects of the monetary system that are of importance from the legal point of view; but for purposes of economic investigation it is practically valueless. Sufficient attention has scarcely been devoted to this shortcoming, despite the fact that confusion of the respective provinces of the sciences of law and economics has nowhere been so frequent and so fraught with mischievous consequences as in this very sphere of monetary theory. It is a mistake to deal with economic problems according to legal criteria. The juristic phraseology, like the results of juristic research into monetary problems, must be regarded by economics as one of the objects of its investigations. It is not the task of economics to criticize it, although it is entitled to exploit it for its own purposes. There is nothing to be said against using juristic technical terms in economic argument where this leads to no undesirable consequences. But for its own special purposes, economics must construct its own special terminology.
There are two sorts of thing that may be used as money: on the one hand, physical commodities as such, like the metal gold or the metal silver; and, on the other hand, objects that do not differ technologically from other objects that are not money, the factor that decides whether they are money being not a physical but a legal characteristic. A piece of paper that is specially characterized as money by the imprint of some authority is in no way different, technologically considered, from another piece of paper that has received a similar imprint from an unauthorized person, just as a genuine five-franc piece does not differ technologically from a “genuine replica.” The only difference lies in the law that regulates the manufacture of such coins and makes it impossible without authority. (In order to avoid every possible misunderstanding, let it be expressly stated that all that the law can do is to regulate the issue of the coins and that it is beyond the power of the state to ensure in addition that they actually shall become money; that is, that they actually shall be employed as a common medium of exchange. All that the state can do by means of its official stamp is to single out certain pieces of metal or paper from all the other things of the same kind so that they can be subjected to a process of valuation independent of that of the rest. Thus it
permits those objects possessing the special legal qualification to be used as a common medium of exchange while the other commodities of the same sort remain mere commodities. It can also take various steps with the object of encouraging the actual employment of the qualified commodities as common media of exchange. But these commodities can never become money just because the state commands it; money can be created only by the usage of those who take part in commercial transactions.)
We may give the name
commodity money to that sort of money that is at the same time a commercial commodity; and the name
fiat money to money that comprises things with a special legal qualification. A third category may be called
credit money, this being that sort of money which constitutes a claim against any physical or legal person. But these claims must not be both payable on demand and absolutely secure; if they were, there could be no difference between their value and that of the sum of money to which they referred, and they could not be subjected to an independent process of val uation on the part of those who dealt with them. In some way or other the maturity of these claims must be postponed to some future time. It can hardly be contested that fiat money in the strict sense of the word is theoretically conceivable. The theory of value proves the possibility of its existence. Whether fiat money has ever actually existed is, of course, another question, and one that cannot offhand be answered affirmatively. It can hardly be doubted that most of those kinds of money that are not commodity money must be classified as credit money. But only detailed historical investigation could clear this matter up.
Our terminology should prove more useful than that which is generally employed. It should express more clearly the peculiarities of the processes by which the different types of money are valued. It is certainly more correct than the usual distinction between metallic money and paper money. Metallic money comprises not only standard money but also token coins and such coins as the German thaler of the period 1873-1907; and paper money, as a rule, comprises not merely such fiat money and credit money as happen to be made of paper, but also convertible notes issued by banks or the state. This terminology is derived from popular usage. Previously, when more often than nowadays “metallic” money really was money and not a money substitute, perhaps the nomenclature was a little less in-appropriate than it is now. Furthermore, it corresponded—perhaps still corresponds—to the naive and confused popular conception of value that sees in the precious metals something “intrinsically” valuable and in paper credit money something necessarily anomalous. Scientifically, this terminology is perfectly useless and a source of endless misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The greatest mistake that can be made in economic investigation is to fix attention on mere appearances, and so to fail to perceive the fundamental difference between things whose externals alone are similar, or to discriminate between fundamentally similar things whose externals alone are different.
Admittedly, for the numismatist and the technologist and the historian of art there is very little difference between the five-franc piece before and after the cessation of free coinage of silver, while the Austrian silver gulden even of the period 1879 to 1892 appears to be fundamentally different from the paper gulden. But it is regrettable that such superficial distinctions as this should still play a part in economic discussion.
Our threefold classification is not a matter of mere terminological gymnastics; the theoretical discussion of the rest of this book should demonstrate the utility of the concepts that it involves.
The decisive characteristic of commodity money is the employment for monetary purposes of a commodity in the technological sense. For the present investigation, it is a matter of complete indifference what particular commodity this is; the important thing is that it is the commodity in question that constitutes the money, and that the money is merely this commodity. The case of fiat money is quite different. Here the deciding factor is the stamp, and it is not the material bearing the stamp that constitutes the money, but the stamp itself. The nature of the material that bears the stamp is a matter of quite minor importance. Credit money, finally, is a claim falling due in the future that is used as a general medium of exchange.
4 The Commodity Money of the Past and of the Present
Even when the differentiation of commodity money, credit money, and fiat money is accepted as correct in principle and only its utility disputed, the statement that the freely mintable currency of the present day and the metallic money of previous centuries are examples of commodity money is totally rejected by many authorities and by still more of the public at large. It is true that as a rule nobody denies that the older forms of money were commodity money. It is further generally admitted that in earlier times coins circulated by weight and not by tale. Nevertheless, it is asserted, money changed its nature long ago. The money of Germany and England in 1914, it is said, was not gold, but the mark and the pound. Money nowadays consists of “specified units with a definite significance in terms of value, that is assigned to them by law” (Knapp). “By ‘the standard’ we mean the units of value (florins, francs, marks, etc.) that have been adopted as measures of value, and by ‘money’ we mean the tokens (coins and notes) that represent the units that function as a measure of value. The controversy as to whether silver or gold or both together should function as a standard and as currency is an idle one, because neither silver nor gold ever has performed these functions or ever could have done so” (Hammer).
Before we proceed to test the truth of these remarkable assertions, let us make one brief observation on their genesis—although it would really be more correct to say renascence than to say genesis, since the doctrines involved exhibit a very close relationship with the oldest and most primitive theories of money. Just as these were, so the nominalistic monetary theories of the present day are, characterized by their inability to contribute a single word toward the solution of the chief problem of monetary theory—one might in fact simply call it
the problem of monetary theory—namely that of explaining the exchange ratios between money and other economic goods. For their authors, the economic problem of value and prices simply does not exist. They have never thought it necessary to consider how market ratios are established or what they signify. Their attention is accidentally drawn to the fact that a German thaler (since 1873), or an Austrian silver florin (since 1879), is essentially different from a quantity of silver of the same weight and fineness that has not been stamped at the government mint. They notice a similar state of affairs with regard to “paper money.” They do not understand this, and endeavor to find an answer to the riddle. But at this point, just because of their lack of acquaintance with the theory of value and prices, their inquiry takes a peculiarly unlucky turn. They do not inquire how the exchange ratios between money and other economic goods are established. This obviously seems to them quite a self-evident matter. They formulate their problem in another way:
How does it come about that three twenty-mark pieces are equivalent to twenty thalers despite the fact that the silver contained in the thalers has a lower market value than the gold contained in the marks? And their answer runs:
Because the value of money is determined by the state, by statute, by the legal system. Thus, ignoring the most important facts of monetary history, they weave an artificial network of fallacies; a theoretical construction that collapses immediately the question is put:
What exactly are we to understand by a unit of value? But such impertinent questions can only occur to those who are acquainted with at least the elements of the theory of prices. Others are able to content themselves with references to the “nominality” of the unit of value. No wonder, then, that these theories should have achieved such popularity with the man in the street, especially since their kinship with inflationism was bound to commend them strongly to all “cheap-money” enthusiasts.
It may be stated as an assured result of investigation into monetary history that at all times and among all peoples the principal coins have been tendered and accepted, not by tale without consideration of their quantity and quality, but only as pieces of metal of specific degrees of weight and fineness. Where coins have been accepted by tale, this has always been in the definite belief that the stamp showed them to be of the usual fineness of their kind and of the correct weight. Where there were no grounds for this assumption, weighing and testing were resorted to again.
Fiscal considerations have led to the promulgation of a theory that attributes to the minting authority the right to regulate the purchasing power of the coinage as it thinks fit. For just as long as the minting of coins has been a government function, governments have tried to fix the weight and content of the coins as they wished. Philip VI of France expressly claimed the right “to mint such money and give it such currency and at such rate as we desire and seems good to us”
*30 and all medieval rulers thought and did as he in this matter. Obliging jurists supported them by attempts to discover a philosophical basis for the divine right of kings to debase the coinage and to prove that the true value of the coins was that assigned to them by the ruler of the country.
Nevertheless, in defiance of all official regulations and prohibitions and fixing of prices and threats of punishment, commercial practice has always insisted that what has to be considered in valuing coins is not their face value but their value as metal. The value of a coin has always been determined, not by the image and superscription it bears nor by the proclamation of the mint and market authorities, but by its metal content. Not every kind of money has been accepted at sight, but only those kinds with a good reputation for weight and fineness. In loan contracts, repayment in specific kinds of money has been stipulated for, and in the case of a change in the coinage, fulfillment in terms of metal required.
*31 In spite of all fiscal influences, the opinion gradually gained general acceptance, even among the jurists, that it was the metal value—the
bonitas intrinseca as they called it—that was to be considered when repaying money debts.
Debasement of the coinage was unable to force commercial practice to attribute to the new and lighter coins the same purchasing power as the old and heavier coins.
*33 The value of the coinage fell in proportion to the diminution of its weight and quality. Even price regulations took into account the diminished purchasing power of money due to its debasement. Thus the Schöffen or assessors of Schweidnitz in Silesia used to have the newly minted pfennigs submitted to them, assess their value, and then in consultation with the city council and elders fix the prices of commodities accordingly. There has been handed down to us from thirteenth-century Vienna a
forma institutionis que fit per civium arbitrium annuatim tempore quo denarii renovantur pro rerum venalium qualibet emptione in which the prices of commodities and services are regulated in connection with the introduction of a new coinage in the years 1460 to 1474. Similar measures were taken on similar occasions in other cities.
Wherever disorganization of the coinage had advanced so far that the presence of a stamp on a piece of metal was no longer any help in determining its actual content, commerce ceased entirely to rely on the official monetary system and created its own system of measuring the precious metals. In large transactions, ingots and trade tokens were used. Thus, the German merchants visiting the fair at Geneva took ingots of refined gold with them and made their purchases with these, employing the weights used at the Paris market, instead of using money. This was the origin of the Markenskudo or scutus marcharum, which was nothing but the merchants’ usual term for 3.765 grams of refined gold. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, when the Geneva trade was gradually being transferred to Lyons, the gold mark had become such a customary unit of account among the merchants that bills of exchange expressed in terms of it were carried to and from the market. The old Venetian
lire di grossi had a similar origin.
*35 In the giro banks that sprang up in all big commercial centers at the beginning of the modern era we see a further attempt to free the monetary system from the authorities’ abuse of the privilege of minting. The clearinghouse business of these banks was based either on coins of a specific fineness or on ingots. This bank money was commodity money in its most perfect form.
The nominalists assert that the monetary unit, in modern countries at any rate, is not a concrete commodity unit that can be defined in suitable technical terms, but a nominal quantity of value about which nothing can be said except that it is created by law. Without touching upon the vague and nebulous nature of this phraseology, which will not sustain a moment’s criticism from the point of view of the theory of value, let us simply ask: What, then, were the mark, the franc, and the pound before 1914? Obviously, they were nothing but certain weights of gold. Is it not mere quibbling to assert that Germany had not a gold standard but a mark standard? According to the letter of the law, Germany was on a gold standard, and the mark was simply the unit of account, the designation of 1/2790 kg. of refined gold. This is in no way affected by the fact that nobody was bound in private dealings to accept gold ingots or foreign gold coins, for the whole aim and intent of state intervention in the monetary sphere is simply to release individuals from the necessity of testing the weight and fineness of the gold they receive, a task which can only be undertaken by experts and which involves very elaborate precautionary measures. The narrowness of the limits within which the weight and fineness of the coins are legally allowed to vary at the time of minting, and the establishment of a further limit to the permissible loss by wear of those in circulation, are much better means of securing the integrity of the coinage than the use of scales and nitric acid on the part of all who have commercial dealings. Again, the right of free coinage, one of the basic principles of modern monetary law, is a protection in the opposite direction against the emergence of a difference in value between the coined and uncoined metal. In large-scale international trade, where differences that are negligible as far as single coins are concerned have a cumulative importance, coins are valued, not according to their number, but according to their weight; that is, they are treated not as coins but as pieces of metal. It is easy to see why this does not occur in domestic trade. Large payments within a country never involve the actual transfer of the amounts of money concerned, but merely the assignment of claims, which ultimately refer to the stock of precious metal of the central bank.
The role played by ingots in the gold reserves of the banks is a proof that the monetary standard consists in the precious metal, and not in the proclamation of the authorities.
Even for present-day coins, so far as they are not money substitutes, credit money, or fiat money, the statement is true that they are nothing but ingots whose weight and fineness are officially guaranteed.
*36 The money of those modern countries where metal coins with no mint restrictions are used is commodity money just as much as that of ancient and medieval nations.
Über Wert, Kapital und Rente (Jena, 1893; London, 1933), pp. 50 f.
Schumpeter is surely mistaken in thinking that the necessity for money can be proved solely from the assumption of indirect exchange (see his
Wesen und Hauptinhalt der theoretischen Nationalökonomie [Leipzig, 1908], pp. 273 ff.). On this point, cf. Weiss,
Die moderne Tendenz in der Lehre vom Geldwert, Zeitschrift für Volkswirtschaft, Sozialpolitik und Verwaltung, vol. 19, pp. 518 ff.
Untersuchungen über die Methode der Sozialwissenschaften und der politischen Okonomie insbesondere (Leipzig, 1883), pp. 172 ff.;
Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre, 2d ed. (Vienna, 1923), pp. 247 ff.
Grundsätze, pp. 278 ff.
A Treatise on Money and Essays on Present Monetary Problems (Edinburgh, 1888), pp. 22 ff.; Laughlin,
The Principles of Money (London, 1903), pp. 22 f.
Grundsätze, pp. 284 ff.
Geld und Kredit, 2d ed. [Berlin, 1885], vol. 1, pp. 233 ff.) has laid stress upon the function of money as interlocal transmitter of value.
Grundsätze, pp. 282 f.
Philosophie des Geldes, 2d ed. (Leipzig, 1907), p. 35; Schumpeter,
Wesen und Hauptinhalt der theoretischen Nationalökonomie (Leipzig, 1908), p. 50.
Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik (1886), New Series, vol. 13, p. 48.
Zur Lehre von den Bedürfnissen (Innsbruck, 1906), pp. 186 ff.; Weiss,
Die moderne Tendenz in der Lehre vom Geldwert, Zeitschrift für Volkswirtschaft, Sozialpolitik und Verwaltung, vol. 19, pp. 532 ff. In the last edition of his masterpiece
Capital and Interest, revised by himself, Böhm-Bawerk endeavored to refute Cuhel’s criticism, but did not succeed in putting forward any new considerations that could help toward a solution of the problem (see
Kapital und Kapitalzins, 3d ed. [Innsbruck, 1909-12], pp. 331 ff. Exkurse, pp. 280 ff.).
Mathematical Investigations in the Theory of Value and Prices, Transactions of the Connecticut Academy (New Haven, 1892), vol. 9, pp. 14 ff.
op. cit., p. 538.
op. cit., p. 290.
op. cit., pp. 534 ff.
Essentials of Economic Theory (New York, 1907), p. 41. In the first German edition of the present work, the above argument contained two further sentences that summarized in an inadequate fashion the results of investigation into the problem of total value. In deference to certain criticisms of C. A. Verrijn Stuart (
Die Grundlagen der Volkswirtschaft [Jena, 1923], p. 115), they were omitted from the second edition.
Die Gemeinwirtschaft: Untersuchungen über den Sozialismus(Jena, 1922), pp. 100 ff.
Rechte und Verhältnisse (Innsbruck, 1881), pp. 120 ff.
Beiträge zur Lehre von den Banken (Leipzig, 1857), pp. 34 ff.
Das Geld, 6th ed. (Leipzig, 1923), pp. 267 ff.; English trans.,
Money (London, 1927), pp. 284 ff.
The Principles of Money (London, 1903), pp. 516 ff.
Englands Übergang zur Goldwährung im 18. Jahrhundert (Strassburg, 1895), pp. 64 ff.; Schmoller, “Über die Ausbildung einer richtigen Scheidemünzpolitik vom 14. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert,”
Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft im Deutschen Reich 24 (1900): 1247-74; Helfferich,
Studien über Geld und Bankwessen (Berlin, 1900), pp. 1-37.
Cours complet d’économie politique pratique, 3d ed. (Paris, 1852), vol, 1, p. 408; and Wagner,
Theoretische Sozialökonomik (Leipzig, 1909), Part II pp. 504 ff. Very instructive discussions are to be found in the memoranda and debates that preceded the Belgian Token Coinage Act of 1860. In the memorandum of Pirmez, the nature of modern convertible token coins is characterized as follows: “With this property (of convertibility) the coins are no longer merely coins; they become claims, promises to pay. The holder no longer has a mere property right to the coin itself [
jus in re]; he has a claim against the state to the amount of the nominal value of the coin [
jus ad rem], a right which he can exercise at any moment by demanding its conversion. Token coins cease to be money and become a credit instrument [
une institution de crédit], banknotes inscribed on pieces of metal …” (see
Loi décrétant la fabrication d’une monnaie d’appoint … précédée des notes sur la monnaie de billon en Belgique ainsi que la discussion de la loi à la Chambre des Représentants [Brussels, 1860], p. 50).
Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft im Deutschen Reich 33 (1909): 985-1037; “Zum Problem gesetzlicher Aufnahme der Barzahlungen in Österreich-Ungarn,”
ibid. 34 (1910): 1877-84; “The Foreign Exchange Policy of the Austro-Hungarian Bank,”
Economic Journal 19 (1909): 202-11; “Das vierte Privilegium der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Bank,”
Zeitschrift für Volkswirtschaft, Sozialpolitik und Verwaltung 21 (1922): 611-24.
Die Hauptprinzipien des Geld-und Währungswesens und die Lösung der Valutafrage (Vienna, 1891), pp. 7 ff.; Gesell,
Die Anpassung des Geldes und seiner Verwaltung an die Bedürfnisse des modernen Verkehres (Buenos Aires, 1897), pp. 21 ff.; Knapp,
Staatliche Theorie des Geldes, 3d ed. (Munich, 1921), pp. 20 ff.
Allgemeine Münzkunde und Geldgeschichte des Mittelalters und der neureren Zeit (Munich, 1904), P. 215; Babelon,
La théorie féodale de la monnaie (
Extrait des mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, vol. 38, Part I [Paris, 1908], p. 35).
op. cit., p. 35.
Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik (1894), 3d. Series, vol. 7, p. 688.
Grundzüge der Volkswirtschaftslehre, trans. into German by Altschul (Leipzig, 1918), p. 357.
Studien in der romanisch-kanonistischen Wirtschafts-und Rechtslehre bis gegen Ende des 17. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1874), vol. 1, pp. 180 ff.
Cours d’économie politique, III., La monnaie (Paris, 1850), pp. 21 ff; Goldschmidt,
Handbuch des Handelsrechts (Erlangen, 1868), vol. 1, Part II, pp. 1073 ff.