The A B C of Finance
By Simon Newcomb
A part of these “lessons” appeared some time since in
Harper’s Weekly. The unexpected favor with which they were received, by being reprinted, in whole or in part, by newspapers in various sections of the country, has suggested their reproduction in a more permanent form. They are now completed, by the addition of several chapters bearing on the labor questions of the present day.
First Pub. Date
New York: Harper & Brothers
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Lesson I. What Society Does for the Laborer
- Lesson II. Capital and Labor
- Lesson III. Starvation Wages
- Lesson IV. One Dollar
- Lesson V. Value Cannot Be Given By Government
- Lesson VI. The Value of Paper Money
- Lesson VII. Why Has the Greenback Any Value
- Lesson VIII. The 3.65-Bond Plan
- Lesson IX. The Mystery of Money
- Lesson X. The Evil of a Depreciating Currency
- Lesson XI. A Few Facts
- Lesson XII. The Lessons of History
- Lesson XIII. The Public Faith
- Lesson XIV. The Cause and the Remedy
- Lesson XV. Some General Thoughts
Some General Thoughts
This question of regulating the currency is no easy one, to be settled by an offhand opinion even of wise men, much less of men entirely ignorant of the history and laws of the subject. It perplexes the best intellects of the world, and will probably continue to do so for a long time to come. It is so intricate that only a mathematical head can unravel it—the same kind of a head which can solve a tough problem in algebra, or settle the accounts of the Tweed Ring, and tell just how much money each man owes. Neither fine writing nor oratory will afford the slightest help, any more than it will help a man to understand a steam-engine.
The advocates of redeemable money have no millennium to offer. They know that the sentence, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” cannot be commuted by any human contrivance; that there is no real value which can be commanded by any other agency than labor of the hand or head. They perfectly know the difficulties which beset any system of redemption of paper in coin, and are as keenly alive to them, and as anxious to remedy them, as the strongest paper-money advocates can be. But they know also that to undertake to avoid these difficulties by doing away with redemption in gold is as foolish as if the passengers in a ship, finding that she was tossed by the storm, frightfully beaten by the waves, and in danger of destruction, should scuttle her and take to swimming, for fear of suffering shipwreck. I think most readers must have a faint suspicion that the wisest of the human race are opposed to irredeemable paper. If you were to take a vote of the political economists, the close students, the bankers, the professors, and the historians on the subject—in fine, of all those men who, either by their knowledge or their powers of investigation, are best fitted to understand the subject, the vote for irredeemable currency would be astonishingly small. If the reader distrusts his own judgment, this fact is worth thinking of.
We can hardly conceive a scene of more dramatic interest than that of the people of our country preparing to decide whether they will taste the tempting cup which the advocates of inflation are holding to their lips, and accept the honeyed words in which they are told that it contains the magic elixir of life, which will put money into every poor man’s pocket. A hundred generations of the human race have held their breath as they have heard or read the song of the sirens addressed to Ulysses, which would have allured him to destruction if he had not filled the ears of his crew with wax:
“Oh stay, pride of Greece, Ulysses, stay;
Oh cease thy course, and listen to our lay.
Blest is the man ordained our voice to hear;
The song instructs the soul and charms the ear.
Approach! thy soul shall into raptures rise;
Approach! and learn new wisdom from the wise.
We know whate’er the kings of mighty name
Achieved at Ilion in the field of fame,
Whate’er beneath the sun’s bright journey lies.
Oh stay, and learn new wisdom from the wise!”
The drunkard, holding the intoxicating cup to the lips of the innocent boy, and saying, “just swallow this, my boy, and your thirst will be quenched—you will feel new life in your veins, new strength in your limbs, and a happiness in your spirits of which you never dreamed,” affords the moralist a scene on which he has dwelt ever since the days of Solomon. The present crisis in our national history is similar to that in the life of Ulysses when the song of the sirens charmed his soul, or in the life of the boy when he has to decide whether he will taste the cup. The promises are as fair as those of the sirens, the words as tempting as those of the drunkard; the result, a disaster to our national prosperity from which it would take long, long years to recover.