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PART TWO: THE VALUE OF MONEY - Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit 
The Theory of Money and Credit, trans. H.E. Batson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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THE VALUE OF MONEY
The Concept of the Value of Money
Subjective and Objective Factors in the Theory of the Value of Money
The central element in the economic problem of money is the objective exchange value of money, popularly called its purchasing power. This is the necessary starting point of all discussion; for it is only in connection with its objective exchange value that those peculiar properties of money that have differentiated it from commodities are conspicuous.
This must not be understood to imply that subjective value is of less importance in the theory of money than elsewhere. The subjective estimates of individuals are the basis of the economic valuation of money just as of that of other goods. And these subjective estimates are ultimately derived, in the case of money as in the case of other economic goods, from the significance attaching to a good or complex of goods as the recognized necessary condition for the existence of a utility, given certain ultimate aims on the part of some individual.1 Nevertheless, while the utility of other goods depends on certain external facts (the objective use-value of the commodity) and certain internal facts (the hierarchy of human needs), that is, on conditions that do not belong to the category of the economic at all but are partly of a technological and partly of a psychological nature, the subjective value of money is conditioned by its objective exchange value, that is, by a characteristic that falls within the scope of economics.
In the case of money, subjective use-value and subjective exchange value coincide.2 Both are derived from objective exchange value, for money has no utility other than that arising from the possibility of obtaining other economic goods in exchange for it. It is impossible to conceive of any function of money, qua money, that can be separated from the fact of its objective exchange value. As far as the use-value of a commodity is concerned, it is immaterial whether the commodity also has exchange value or not; but for money to have use-value, the existence of exchange value is essential.
This peculiarity of the value of money can also be expressed by saying that, as far as the individual is concerned, money has no use-value at all, but only subjective exchange value. This, for example, is the practice of Rau3 and Böhm-Bawerk.4 Whether the one or the other phraseology is employed, scientific investigation of the characteristic will lead to the same conclusions. There is no reason to enter upon a discussion of this point, especially since the distinction between value in use and value in exchange no longer holds the important place in the theory of value that it used to have.5 All that we are concerned with is to show that the task of economics in dealing with the value of money is a bigger one than its task in dealing with the value of commodities. When explaining the value of commodities, the economist can and must be content to take subjective use-value for granted and leave investigation of its origins to the psychologist; but the real problem of the value of money only begins where it leaves off in the case of commodity values, viz., at the point of tracing the objective determinants of its subjective value, for there is no subjective value of money without objective exchange value. It is not the task of the economist, but of the natural scientist, to explain why corn is useful to man and valued by him; but it is the task of the economist alone to explain the utility of money. Consideration of the subjective value of money without discussion of its objective exchange value is impossible. In contrast to commodities, money would never be used unless it had an objective exchange value or purchasing power. The subjective value of money always depends on the subjective value of the other economic goods that can be obtained in exchange for it. Its subjective value is in fact a derived concept. If we wish to estimate the significance that a given sum of money has, in view of the known dependence upon it of a certain satisfaction, we can do this only on the assumption that the money possesses a given objective exchange value. “The exchange value of money is the anticipated use-value of the things that can be obtained with it.”6 Whenever money is valued by anybody it is because he supposes it to have a certain purchasing power.
It might possibly be objected that the mere possession by money of an undefined amount of objective exchange value is not alone sufficient to guarantee the possibility of using it as a medium of exchange; that it is also necessary that this purchasing power should be present in a certain degree, neither too great nor too small, but such that the proportion between the value of the units of money and that of the units of commodity is a convenient one for carrying through the ordinary exchange transactions of daily life; that even if it were true that half of the money in a country could perform the same service as the whole stock if the value of the monetary unit were doubled, yet it is doubtful if a similar proposition could be asserted of the case in which its value was increased a millionfold, or diminished to one-millionth, in inverse correspondence with changes in the quantity of it, since such a currency would hardly be capable of fulfilling the functions of a common medium of exchange so well as the currencies in actual use; that we should try to imagine a commodity money of which a whole ton, or one of which only a thousandth of a milligram was equivalent to a dollar, and think of the inconveniences, the insuperable obstacles in fact, which the employment of such a medium would inevitably place in the way of commerce.
However true this may be, the question of the actual dimensions of the exchange ratio between money and commodities and of the size of the monetary unit is not an economic problem. It is a question that belongs to discussion of the technical conditions that make any particular good suitable for use as money. The relative scarcity of the precious metals, great enough to give them a high objective exchange value but not so great as that of the precious stones or radium and therefore not great enough to make their exchange value too high, must indeed be reckoned, along with such of their other characteristics as their practically unlimited divisibility, their malleability, and their powers of resistance to destructive external influences, as among the factors that were once decisive in causing them to be recognized as the most marketable goods and consequently to be employed as money. But nowadays, as monetary systems have developed, the particular level of value of the precious metals no longer has any important bearing on their use as money. The modern organization of the clearing system and the institution of fiduciary media have made commerce independent of the volume and weight of the monetary material.
The Objective Exchange Value of Money
It follows from what has been said that there can be no discussion of the problem of the value of money without consideration of its objective exchange value. Under modern conditions, objective exchange value, which Wieser also calls Verkehrswert (or value in business transactions), is the most important kind of value, because it governs the social and not merely the individual aspect of economic life. Except in its explanation of the fundamentals of value theory, economics deals almost exclusively with objective exchange value.7 And while this is true to some extent of all goods, including those which are useful apart from any exchange value which they possess, it is still truer of money.
“The objective exchange value of goods is their objective significance in exchange, or, in other words, their capacity in given circumstances to procure a specific quantity of other goods as an equivalent in exchange.”8 It should be observed that even objective exchange value is not really a property of the goods themselves, bestowed on them by nature, for in the last resort it also is derived from the human process of valuing individual goods. But the exchange ratios that are established between different goods in commercial transactions, and are determined by the collective influence of the subjective valuations of all the persons doing business in the market, present themselves to separate individuals, who usually have an infinitesimal influence on the determination of the ratios, as accomplished facts, which in most cases have to be accepted unconditionally. It has thus been easy for false abstraction from this state of affairs to give rise to the opinion that each good comes to the market endowed with a definite quantity of value independent of the valuations of individuals.9 From this point of view, goods are not exchanged for one another, by human beings; they simply exchange.
Objective exchange value, as it appears in the subjective theory of value, has nothing except its name in common with the old idea developed by the Classical School of a value in exchange inherent in things themselves. In the value theory of Smith and Ricardo, and in that of their successors, value in exchange plays the leading part. These theories attempt to explain all the phenomena of value by starting from value in exchange, which they interpret as labor value or cost-of-production value. For modern value theory their terminology can claim only a historical importance, and a confusion of the two concepts of exchange value need no longer be feared. This removes the objections that have recently been made to the continued use of the expression “objective exchange value.”10
If the objective exchange value of a good is its power to command a certain quantity of other goods in exchange, its price is this actual quantity of other goods. It follows that the concepts of price and objective exchange value are by no means identical. “But it is, nevertheless, true that both obey the same laws. For when the law of price declares that a good actually commands a particular price, and explains why it does so, it of course implies that the good is able to command this price, and explains why it is able to do so. The law of price comprehends the law of exchange value.”11
By “the objective exchange value of money” we are accordingly to understand the possibility of obtaining a certain quantity of other economic goods in exchange for a given quantity of money; and by “the price of money” this actual quantity of other goods. It is possible to express the exchange value of a unit of money in units of any other commodity and speak of the commodity price of money; but in actual life this phraseology and the concept it expresses are unknown. For nowadays money is the sole indicator of prices.
The Problems Involved in the Theory of the Value of Money
The theory of money must take account of the fundamental difference between the principles which govern the value of money and those which govern the value of commodities. In the theory of the value of commodities it is not necessary at first to pay any attention to objective exchange value. In this theory, all phenomena of value and price determination can be explained with subjective use-value as the starting point. It is otherwise in the theory of the value of money; for since money, in contrast to other goods, can fulfill its economic function only if it possesses objective exchange value, an investigation into its subjective value demands an investigation first into this objective exchange value. In other words, the theory of the value of money leads us back through subjective exchange value to objective exchange value.
Under the present economic system, which is founded on the division of labor and the free exchange of products, producers as a rule do not work directly on their own behalf but with a view to supplying the market. Consequently their economic calculations are determined not by the subjective use-values of their products, but by their subjective exchange values. Valuations which ignore the subjective exchange value, and consequently the objective exchange value, of a product and take account only of its subjective use-value, are nowadays most exceptional. They are on the whole limited to those cases in which the object has a sentimental value. But if we disregard those things to which certain individuals attach a symbolical significance because they remind them of experiences or persons that they wish to remember, while in the eyes of others for which they have not this personal interest the things possess a very much lower value or even no value at all, it cannot be denied that human valuations of goods are based upon their exchange value. It is not use-value, but exchange value, that appears to govern the modern economic order. Nevertheless, if we trace to its deepest springs, first the subjective and then the objective exchange value of commodities, we find that in the last resort it is still the subjective use-value of things that determines the esteem in which they are held. For, quite apart from the fact that the commodities acquired in exchange for the products are always valued according to their subjective use-value, the only valuations that are of final importance in the determination of prices and objective exchange value are those based on the subjective use-value that the products have for those persons who are the last to acquire them through the channels of commerce and who acquire them for their own consumption.
The case of money is different. Its objective exchange value cannot be referred back to any sort of use-value independent of the existence of this objective exchange value. In the origins of monetary systems, money is still a commodity which eventually ceases to circulate on reaching the hands of a final buyer or consumer.12 In the early stages of the history of money there were even monetary commodities whose natural qualities definitely precluded their employment as money for more than a short time. An ox or a sack of corn cannot remain in circulation for ever; it has sooner or later to be withdrawn for consumption if that part of its value which does not depend on its employment as money is not to be diminished by a deterioration of its substance. In a developed monetary system, on the other hand, we find commodity money, of which large quantifies remain constantly in circulation and are never consumed or used in industry; credit money, whose foundation, the claim to payment, is never made use of; and possibly even fiat money, which has no use at all except as money.
Many of the most eminent economists have taken it for granted that the value of money and of the material of which it is made depends solely on its industrial employment and that the purchasing power of our present-day metallic money, for instance, and consequently the possibility of its continued employment as money, would immediately disappear if the properties of the monetary material as a useful metal were done away with by some accident or other.13 Nowadays this opinion is no longer tenable, not merely because there is a whole series of phenomena which it leaves unaccounted for, but chiefly because it is in any case opposed to the fundamental laws of the theory of economic value. To assert that the value of money is based on the nonmonetary employment of its material is to eliminate the real problem altogether.14 Not only have we to explain the possibility of fiat money, the material of which has a far lower value without the official stamp than with it; we must also answer the question, whether the possibility of a monetary employment of the commodity money material affects its utility and consequently its value, and if so to what extent. The same problem arises in the case of credit money.
Part of the stock of gold at the command of mankind is used for monetary purposes, part for industrial. A change from one kind of use to the other is always possible. Ingots pass from the vaults of the banks to the workshops of the goldsmiths and gilders, who also directly withdraw current coins from circulation and melt them down. On the other hand, things made of gold, even with a high value as works of art, find their way to the mint when unfavorable market conditions render a sale at anything higher than the bullion price impossible. One and the same piece of metal can even fulfill both purposes simultaneously, as will be seen if we think of ornaments that are used as money or of a coin that is worn by its owner as jewelry until he parts with it again.15
Investigations into the foundations of the value of money must eliminate those determinants that arise from the properties of the monetary material as a commodity, since these present no peculiarity that could distinguish the value of money from that of other commodities. The value of commodity money is of importance for monetary theory only insofar as it depends on the peculiar economic position of the money, on its function as a common medium of exchange. Changes in the value of the monetary material that arise from its characteristics as a commodity are consequently to be considered only so far as they seem likely to make it more or less suitable for performing the function of money. Apart from this, monetary theory must take the value of the monetary material that arises from its industrial usefulness as given.
The material of which commodity money is made must have the same value whether it is used as money or otherwise. Whether a change in the value of gold originates in its employment as money or in its employment as a commodity, in either case the value of the whole stock changes uniformly.16
It is otherwise with credit money and fiat money. With these, the substance that bears the impression is essentially insignificant in the determination of the value of the money. In some circumstances it may have a relatively high exchange value comprising a considerable fraction of the total exchange value of the individual coin or note. But this value, which is not based on the monetary properties of the coin or note, only becomes of practical importance at the moment when the value based on the monetary property vanishes, that is, at the moment when the individuals participating in commerce cease to use the coin or note in question as a common medium of exchange. When this is not the case, the coins or notes bearing the monetary impression must have a higher exchange value than other pieces of the same material so long as these are not marked out by any special characteristics.
Again, in the case of credit money the claims used as money have similarly a different exchange value from other claims of the same kind that are not used as money. The hundred-gulden notes which circulated as money in Austria-Hungary before the reform of the currency had a higher exchange value than, say, a government security with a nominal value of a hundred gulden, notwithstanding the fact that the latter bore interest and the former did not.
Until gold was used as money it was valued merely on account of the possibility of using it for ornamental purposes. If it had never been used as money, or if it had ceased to be so used, its present-day value would be determined solely by the extent to which it was known to be useful in industry. But additional opportunities of using it provided an addition to the original reasons for esteeming it; gold began to be valued partly because it could be used as a common medium of exchange. It is not surprising that its value consequently rose, or that at least a decrease in its value which possibly would have occurred for other reasons was counterbalanced. Nowadays the value of gold, our principal modern monetary material, is based on both possibilities of employment, on that for monetary purposes and on that for industrial purposes.17
It is impossible to say how far the present value of money depends on its monetary employment and how far on its industrial employment. When the institution of money was first established, the industrial basis of the value of the precious metals may have preponderated; but with progress in the monetary organization of economic life the monetary employment has become more and more important. It is certain that nowadays the value of gold is largely supported by its monetary employment, and that its demonetization would affect its price in an overwhelming fashion.18 The sharp decline in the price of silver since 1873 is recognized as largely due to the demonetization of this metal in most countries. And when, between 1914 and 1918, many countries replaced gold by banknotes and Treasury notes so that gold flowed to those countries that had remained on a gold standard, the value of gold fell very considerably.
The value of the materials that are used for the manufacture of fat money and credit money is also influenced by their use as money as well as by all their other uses. The production of token coins is nowadays one of the most important uses of silver, for example. Again, when the minting of coins from nickel was begun over fifty years ago, the price of nickel rose so sharply that the director of the English mint stated in 1873 that if minting from nickel were continued the cost of the metal alone would exceed the face value of the coins.19 If we prefer to regard this sort of use as industrial and not monetary, however, it is because token coins are not money but money substitutes, and consequently the peculiar interactions between changes in the value of money and changes in the value of the monetary material are absent in these cases.
The task of the theory of the value of money is to expound the laws which regulate the determination of the objective exchange value of money. It is not its business to concern itself with the determination of the value of the material from which commodity money is made so far as this value does not depend on the monetary, but on the other, employment of this material. Neither is it its task to concern itself with the determination of the value of those materials that are used for making the concrete embodiments of fiat money. It discusses the objective exchange value of money only insofar as this depends on its monetary function.
The other forms of value present no special problems for the theory of the value of money. There is nothing to be said about the subjective value of money that differs in any way from what economics teaches of the subjective value of other economic goods. And all that it is important to know about the objective use-value of money may be summed up in the one statement—it depends on the objective exchange value of money.
The Determinants of the Objective Exchange Value, or Purchasing Power, of Money
The Element of Continuity in the Objective Exchange Value of Money
The Dependence of the Subjective Valuation of Money on the Existence of Objective Exchange Value
According to modern value theory, price is the resultant of the interaction in the market of subjective valuations of commodities and price goods. From beginning to end, it is the product of subjective valuations. Goods are valued by the individuals exchanging them, according to their subjective use-values, and their exchange ratios are determined within that range where both supply and demand are in exact quantitative equilibrium. The law of price stated by Menger and Böhm-Bawerk provides a complete and numerically precise explanation of these exchange ratios; it accounts exhaustively for all the phenomena of direct exchange. Under bilateral competition, market price is determined within a range whose upper limit is set by the valuations of the lowest bidder among the actual buyers and the highest offerer among the excluded would-be sellers, and whose lower limit is set by the valuations of the lowest offerer among the actual sellers and the highest bidder among the excluded would-be buyers.
This law of price is just as valid for indirect as for direct exchange. The price of money, like other prices, is determined in the last resort by the subjective valuations of buyers and sellers. But, as has been said already, the subjective use-value of money, which coincides with its subjective exchange value, is nothing but the anticipated use-value of the things that are to be bought with it. The subjective value of money must be measured by the marginal utility of the goods for which the money can be exchanged.20
It follows that a valuation of money is possible only on the assumption that the money has a certain objective exchange value. Such a point d’appui is necessary before the gap between satisfaction and “useless” money can be bridged. Since there is no direct connection between money as such and any human want, individuals can obtain an idea of its utility and consequently of its value only by assuming a definite purchasing power. But it is easy to see that this supposition cannot be anything but an expression of the exchange ratio ruling at the time in the market between the money and commodities.21
Once an exchange ratio between money and commodities has been established in the market, it continues to exercise an influence beyond the period during which it is maintained; it provides the basis for the further valuation of money. Thus the past objective exchange value of money has a certain significance for its present and future valuation. The money prices of today are linked with those of yesterday and before, and with those of tomorrow and after.
But this alone will not suffice to explain the problem of the element of continuity in the value of money; it only postpones the explanation. To trace back the value that money has today to that which it had yesterday, the value that it had yesterday to that which it had the day before, and so on, is to raise the question of what determined the value of money in the first place. Consideration of the origin of the use of money and of the particular components of its value that depend on its monetary function suggests an obvious answer to this question. The first value of money was clearly the value which the goods used as money possessed (thanks to their suitability for satisfying human wants in other ways) at the moment when they were first used as common media of exchange. When individuals began to acquire objects, not for consumption, but to be used as media of exchange, they valued them according to the objective exchange value with which the market already credited them by reason of their “industrial” usefulness, and only as an additional consideration on account of the possibility of using them as media of exchange. The earliest value of money links up with the commodity value of the monetary material. But the value of money since then has been influenced not merely by the factors dependent on its “industrial” uses, which determine the value of the material of which the commodity money is made, but also by those which result from its use as money. Not only its supply and demand for industrial purposes, but also its supply and demand for use as a medium of exchange, have influenced the value of gold from that point of time onward when it was first used as money.22
The Necessity for a Value Independent of the Monetary Function Before an Object Can Serve as Money
If the objective exchange value of money must always be linked with a preexisting market exchange ratio between money and other economic goods (since otherwise individuals would not be in a position to estimate the value of the money), it follows that an object cannot be used as money unless, at the moment when its use as money begins, it already possesses an objective exchange value based on some other use. This provides both a refutation of those theories which derive the origin of money from a general agreement to impute fictitious value to things intrinsically valueless23 and a confirmation of Menger’s hypothesis concerning the origin of the use of money.
This link with a preexisting exchange value is necessary not only for commodity money, but equally for credit money and fiat money.24 No fiat money could ever come into existence if it did not satisfy this condition. Let us suppose that, among those ancient and modern kinds of money about which it may be doubtful whether they should be reckoned as credit money or fiat money, there have actually been representatives of pure fiat money. Such money must have come into existence in one of two ways. It may have come into existence because money substitutes already in circulation, that is, claims payable in money on demand, were deprived of their character as claims, and yet still used in commerce as media of exchange. In this case, the starting point for their valuation lay in the objective exchange value that they had at the moment when they were deprived of their character as claims. The other possible case is that in which coins that once circulated as commodity money are transformed into fiat money by cessation of free coinage (either because there was no further minting at all or because minting was continued only on behalf of the Treasury), no obligation of conversion being de jure or de facto assumed by anybody, and nobody having any grounds for hoping that such an obligation ever would be assumed by anybody. Here the starting point for the valuation lies in the objective exchange value of the coins at the time of the cessation of free coinage.
Before an economic good begins to function as money it must already possess exchange value based on some other cause than its monetary function. But money that already functions as such may remain valuable even when the original source of its exchange value has ceased to exist. Its value then is based entirely on its function as common medium of exchange.25
The Significance of Preexisting Prices in the Determination of Market Exchange Ratios
From what has just been said, the important conclusion follows that a historically continuous component is contained in the objective exchange value of money.
The past value of money is taken over by the present and transformed by it; the present value of money passes on into the future and is transformed in its turn. In this there is a contrast between the determination of the exchange value of money and that of the exchange value of other economic goods. All preexisting exchange ratios are quite irrelevant so far as the actual levels of the reciprocal exchange ratios of other economic goods are concerned. It is true that if we look beneath the concealing monetary veil to the real exchange ratios between goods we observe a certain continuity. Alterations in real prices occur slowly as a rule. But this stability of prices has its cause in the stability of the price determinants, not in the law of price determination itself. Prices change slowly because the subjective valuations of human beings change slowly. Human needs, and human opinions as to the suitability of goods for satisfying those needs, are no more liable to frequent and sudden changes than are the stocks of goods available for consumption, or the manner of their social distribution. The fact that today’s market price is seldom very different from yesterday’s is to be explained by the fact that the circumstances that determined yesterday’s price have not greatly changed overnight, so that today’s price is a resultant of nearly identical factors. If rapid and erratic variations in prices were usually encountered in the market, the conception of objective exchange value would not have attained the significance that it is actually accorded both by consumer and producer.
In this sense, reference to an inertia of prices is unobjectionable, although the errors of earlier economists should warn us of the real danger that the use of terms borrowed from mechanics may lead to a “mechanical” system, that is, to one that abstracts erroneously from the subjective valuations of individuals. But any suggestion of a causal relationship between past and present prices must be decisively rejected.
It is not disputed that there are institutional forces in operation which oppose changes in prices that would be necessitated by changes in valuations, and which are responsible when changes in prices that would have been caused by changes in supply and demand are postponed and when small or transitory changes in the relations between supply and demand lead to no corresponding change in prices at all. It is quite permissible to speak of an inertia of prices in this sense. Even the statement that the closing price forms the starting point for the transactions of the next market26 may be accepted if it is understood in the sense suggested above. If the general conditions that determined yesterday’s price have altered but little during the night, today’s price should be but little different from that of yesterday, and in practice it does not seem incorrect to make yesterday’s the starting point. Nevertheless, there is no causal connection between past and present prices as far as the relative exchange ratios of economic goods (not including money) are concerned. The fact that the price of beer was high yesterday cannot be of the smallest significance as far as today’s price is concerned—we need only think of the effect upon the prices of alcoholic drinks that would follow a general triumph of the Prohibition movement. Anybody who devotes attention to market activities is daily aware of alterations in the exchange ratios of goods, and it is quite impossible for anybody who is well acquainted with economic phenomena to accept a theory which seeks to explain price changes by a supposed constancy of prices.
It may incidentally be remarked that to trace the determination of prices back to their supposed inertia, as even Zwiedineck in his pleadings for this assumption is obliged to admit, is to resign at the outset any hope of explaining the ultimate causes of prices and to be content with explanations from secondary causes.27 It must unreservedly be admitted that an explanation of the earliest forms of exchange transaction that can be shown to have existed—a task to the solution of which the economic historian has so far contributed but little would show that the forces that counteract sudden changes in prices were once stronger than they are now. But it must positively be denied that there is any sort of connection between those early prices and those of the present day; that is, if there really is anybody who believes it possible to maintain the assertion that the exchange ratios of economic goods (not the money prices) that prevail today on the German stock exchanges are in any sort of causal connection with those that were valid in the days of Hermann or Barbarossa. If all the exchange ratios of the past were erased from human memory, the process of market-price determination might certainly become more difficult, because everybody would have to construct a new scale of valuations for himself; but it would not become impossible. In fact, people the whole world over are engaged daily and hourly in the operation from which all prices result: the decision as to the relative significance enjoyed by specific quantities of goods as conditions for the satisfaction of wants.
It is so far as the money prices of goods are determined by monetary factors, that a historically continuous component is included in them, without which their actual level could not be explained. This component, too, is derived from exchange ratios which can be entirely explained by reference to the subjective valuations of the individuals taking part in the market, even though these valuations were not originally grounded upon the specifically monetary utility alone of these goods. The valuation of money by the market can only start from a value possessed by the money in the past, and this relationship influences the new level of the objective exchange value of money. The historically transmitted value is transformed by the market without regard to what has become its historical content.28 But it is not merely the starting point for today’s objective exchange value of money; it is an indispensable element in its determination. The individual must take into account the objective exchange value of money, as determined in the market yesterday, before he can form an estimate of the quantity of money that he needs today. The demand for money and the supply of it are thus influenced by the value of money in the past; but they in their turn modify this value until they are brought into equilibrium.
The Applicability of the Marginal-Utility Theory to Money
Demonstration of the fact that search for the determinants of the objective exchange value of money always leads us back to a point where the value of money is not determined in any way by its use as a medium of exchange, but solely by its other functions, prepares the way for developing a complete theory of the value of money on the basis of the subjective theory of value and its peculiar doctrine of marginal utility.
Until now the subjective school has not succeeded in doing this. In fact, among the few of its members who have paid any attention at all to the problem there have been some who have actually attempted to demonstrate its insolubility. The subjective theory of value has been helpless in face of the task here confronting it.
There are two theories of money which, whatever else we may think of them, must be acknowledged as having attempted to deal with the whole problem of the value of money.
The objective theories of value succeeded in introducing a formally unexceptionable theory of money into their systems, which deduces the value of money from its cost of production.29 It is true that the abandonment of this monetary theory is not merely to be ascribed to those shortcomings of the objective theory of value in general which led to its supersession by the theory of the modern school. Apart from this fundamental weakness, the cost-of-production theory of the value of money exhibited one feature that was an easy target for criticism. While it certainly provided a theory of commodity money (even if only a formally correct one), it was unable to deal with the problem of credit money and fiat money. Nevertheless, it was a complete theory of money insofar as it did at least attempt to give a full explanation of the value of commodity money.
The other similarly complete theory of the value of money is that version of the quantity theory associated with the name of Davanzati.30 According to this theory, all the things that are able to satisfy human wants are conventionally equated with all the monetary metal. From this, since what is true of the whole is also true of its parts, the exchange ratios between commodity units and units of money can be deduced. Here we are confronted with a hypothesis that is not in any way supported by facts. To demonstrate its untenability once more would nowadays be a waste of time. Nevertheless, it must not be overlooked that Davanzati was the first who attempted to present the problem as a whole and to provide a theory that would explain not merely the variations in an existing exchange ratio between money and other economic goods, but also the origin of this ratio.
The same cannot be said of other versions of the quantity theory. These all tacitly assume a certain value of money as given, and absolutely refuse to investigate further into the matter. They overlook the fact that what is required is an explanation of what determines the exchange ratio between money and commodities, and not merely of what causes changes in this ratio. In this respect, the quantity theory resembles various general theories of value (many versions of the doctrine of supply and demand, for example), which have not attempted to explain price as such but have been content to establish a law of price variations.31 These forms of the quantity theory are in fact nothing but the application of the law of supply and demand to the problem of the value of money. They introduce into monetary theory all the strong points of this doctrine; and of course all its weak points as well.32
The revolution in economics since 1870 has not yet been any more successful in leading to an entirely satisfactory solution of this problem. Of course, this does not mean that the progress of the science has left no trace on monetary theory in general and on the theory of the value of money in particular. It is one of the many services of the subjective theory of value to have prepared the way for a deeper understanding of the nature and value of money. The investigations of Menger have placed the theory on a new basis. But till now one thing has been neglected. Neither Menger nor any of the many investigators who have tried to follow him have even so much as attempted to solve the fundamental problem of the value of money. Broadly speaking, they have occupied themselves with checking and developing the traditional views and here and there expounding them more correctly and precisely, but they have not provided an answer to the question: What are the determinants of the objective exchange value of money? Menger and Jevons have not touched upon the problem at all. Carver33 and Kinley34 have contributed nothing of real importance to its solution. Walras35 and Kemmerer36 assume a given value of money and develop what is merely a theory of variations in the value of money. Kemmerer, it is true, approaches very close to a solution of the problem but passes it by.
Wieser expressly refers to the incomplete nature of the previous treatment. In his criticism of the quantity theory he argues that the law of supply and demand in its older form, the application of which to the problem of money constitutes the quantity theory, has a very inadequate content, since it gives no explanation at all of the way in which value is really determined or of its level at any given time, but confines itself without any further explanation merely to stating the direction in which value will move in consequence of variations in supply or demand; that is, in an opposite direction to changes in the former and in the same direction as changes in the latter. He further argues that it is no longer possible to rest content with a theory of the economic value of money which deals so inadequately with the problem; that since the supersession of the old law of supply and demand as applied to commodities, the case for which it was originally constructed, a more searching law must also be sought to apply to the case of money.37 But Wieser does not deal with the problem whose solution he himself states to be the object of his investigation, for in the further course of his argument he declares that the concepts of supply of money and demand for money as a medium of exchange are useless for his purpose and puts forward a theory which attempts to explain variations in the objective exchange value of money (objektive innere Tauschwert des Geldes)38 by reference to the relationship that exists in an economic community between money income and real income. For while it is true that reference to the ratio between money income and real income may well serve to explain variations in the objective exchange value of money, Wieser nowhere makes the attempt to evolve a complete theory of money—an attempt which, admittedly, the factors of supply and demand being excluded from consideration, would be certain to fail. The very objection that he raises against the old quantity theory, that it affirms nothing concerning the actual determination of value or the level at which it must be established at any time, must also be raised against his own doctrine; and this is all the more striking inasmuch as it was Wieser who, by revealing the historical element in the purchasing power of money, laid the foundation for the further development of the subjective theory of the value of money.
The unsatisfactory results offered by the subjective theory of value might seem to justify the opinion that this doctrine and especially its proposition concerning the significance of marginal utility must necessarily fall short as a means of dealing with the problem of money. Characteristically enough, it was a representative of the new school, Wicksell, who first expressed this opinion. Wicksell considers that the principle which lies at the basis of all modern investigation into the theory of value, namely, the concept of marginal utility, may well be suited to explaining the determination of exchange ratios between one commodity and another, but that it has practically no significance at all, or at most an entirely secondary significance, in explaining the exchange ratios between money and other economic goods. Wicksell, however, does not appear to detect any sort of objection to the marginal-utility theory in this assertion. According to his argument, the objective exchange value of money is not determined at all by the processes of the market in which money and the other economic goods are exchanged. If the money price of a single commodity or group of commodities is wrongly assessed in the market, then the resulting maladjustments of the supply and demand and the production and consumption of this commodity or group of commodities will sooner or later bring about the necessary correction. If, on the other hand, all commodity prices, or the average price level, should for any reason be raised or lowered, there is no factor in the circumstances of the commodity market that could bring about a reaction. Consequently, if there is to be any reaction at all against a price assessment that is either too high or too low it must in some way or other originate outside the commodity market. In the further course of his argument, Wicksell arrives at the conclusion that the regulator of money prices is to be sought in the relations of the commodity market to the money market, in the broadest sense of the term. The cause which influences the demand for raw materials, labor, the use of land, and other means of production, and thus indirectly determines the upward or downward movement of commodity prices, is the ratio between the money rate of interest (Darlehnszins) and the “natural” or equilibrium rate of interest (natürliche Kapitalzins), by which we are to understand that rate of interest which would be determined by supply and demand if real capital was itself lent directly without the intermediation of money.39
Wicksell imagines that this argument of his provides a theory of the determination of the objective exchange value of money. In fact, however, all that he attempts to prove is that forces operate from the loan market on the commodity market which prevent the objective exchange value of money from rising too high or falling too low. He never asserts that the rate of interest on loans determines the actual level of this value in any way; in fact, to assert this would be absurd. But if we are to speak of a level of money prices that is “too high” or “too low,” we must first state how the ideal level with which the actual level is compared has been established. It is in no way sufficient to show that the position of equilibrium is returned to after any disturbance, if the existence of this position of equilibrium is not first explained. Indubitably, this is the primary problem, and its solution leads directly to that of the other; without it, further inquiry must remain unfruitful, for the state of equilibrium can only be maintained by those forces which first established it and continue to reestablish it. If the circumstances of the loan market can provide no explanation of the genesis of the exchange ratio subsisting between money and other economic goods, then neither can they help to explain why this ratio does not alter. The objective exchange value of money is determined in the market where money is exchanged for commodities and commodities for money. To explain its determination is the task of the theory of the value of money. But Wicksell is of the opinion that “the laws of the exchange of commodities contain in themselves nothing that could determine the absolute level of money prices.”40 This amounts to a denial of all possibility of scientific investigation in this sphere.
Helfferich also is of the opinion that there is an insurmountable obstacle in the way of applying the marginal-utility theory to the problem of money; for while the marginal-utility theory attempts to base the exchange value of goods on the degree of their utility to the individual, the degree of utility of money to the individual quite obviously depends on its exchange value, since money can have utility only if it has exchange value, and the degree of the utility is determined by the level of the exchange value. Money is valued subjectively according to the amount of consumable goods that can be obtained in exchange for it, or according to what other goods have to be given in order to obtain the money needed for making payments. The marginal utility of money to any individual, that is, the marginal utility derivable from the goods that can be obtained with the given quantity of money or that must be surrendered for the required money, presupposes a certain exchange value of the money; so the latter cannot be derived from the former.41
Those who have realized the significance of historically transmitted values in the determination of the objective exchange value of money will not find great difficulty in escaping from this apparently circular argument. It is true that valuation of the monetary unit by the individual is possible only on the assumption that an exchange ratio already exists in the market between the money and other economic goods. Nevertheless, it is erroneous to deduce from this that a complete and satisfactory explanation of the determination of the objective exchange value of money cannot be provided by the marginal-utility theory. The fact that this theory is unable to explain the objective exchange value of money entirely by reference to its monetary utility; that to complete its explanation, as we were able to show, it is obliged to go back to that original exchange value which was based not on a monetary function at all but on other uses of the object that was to be used as money—this must not in any way be reckoned to the discredit of the theory, for it corresponds exactly to the nature and origin of the particular objective exchange value under discussion. To demand of a theory of the value of money that it should explain the exchange ratio between money and commodities solely with reference to the monetary function, and without the assistance of the element of historical continuity in the value of money, is to make demands of it that run quite contrary to its nature and its proper task.
The theory of the value of money as such can trace back the objective exchange value of money only to that point where it ceases to be the value of money and becomes merely the value of a commodity. At this point the theory must hand over all further investigation to the general theory of value, which will then find no further difficulty in the solution of the problem. It is true that the subjective valuation of money presupposes an existing objective exchange value; but the value that has to be presupposed is not the same as the value that has to be explained; what has to be presupposed is yesterday’s exchange value, and it is quite legitimate to use it in an explanation of that of today. The objective exchange value of money which rules in the market today is derived from day’s under the influence of the subjective valuations of the individuals frequenting the market, just as yesterday’s in its turn was derived under the influence of subjective valuations from the objective exchange value possessed by the money the day before yesterday.
If in this way we continually go farther and farther back we must eventually arrive at a point where we no longer find any component in the objective exchange value of money that arises from valuations based on the function of money as a common medium of exchange; where the value of money is nothing other than the value of an object that is useful in some other way than as money. But this point is not merely an instrumental concept of theory; it is an actual phenomenon of economic history, making its appearance at the moment when indirect exchange begins.
Before it was usual to acquire goods in the market, not for personal consumption, but simply in order to exchange them again for the goods that were really wanted, each individual commodity was only accredited with that value given by the subjective valuations based on its direct utility. It was not until it became customary to acquire certain goods merely in order to use them as media of exchange that people began to esteem them more highly than before, on account of this possibility of using them in indirect exchange. The individual valued them in the first place because they were useful in the ordinary sense, and then additionally because they could be used as media of exchange. Both sorts of valuation are subject to the law of marginal utility. Just as the original starting point of the value of money was nothing but the result of subjective valuations, so also is the present-day value of money.
But Helfferich manages to bring forward yet another argument for the inapplicability of the marginal-utility theory to money. Looking at the economic system as a whole, it is clear that the notion of marginal utility rests on the fact that, given a certain quantity of goods, only certain wants can be satisfied and only a certain set of utilities provided. With given wants and a given set of means, the marginal degree of utility is determined also. According to the marginal-utility theory, this fixes the value of the goods in relation to the other goods that are offered as an equivalent in exchange, and fixes it in such a manner that that part of the demand that cannot be satisfied with the given supply is excluded by the fact that it is not able to offer an equivalent corresponding to the marginal utility of the good demanded. Now Helfferich objects that while the existence of a limited supply of any goods except money is in itself sufficient to imply the limitation of their utility also, this is not true of money. The utility of a given quantity of money depends directly upon the exchange value of the money, not only from the point of view of the individual, but also for society as a whole. The higher the value of the unit in relation to other goods, the greater will be the quantity of these other goods that can be paid for by means of the same sum of money. The value of goods in general results from the limitation of the possible utilities that can be obtained from a given supply of them, and while it is usually higher according to the degree of utility which is excluded by the limitation of supply, the total utility of the supply itself cannot be increased by an increase in its value; but in the case of money, the utility of a given supply can be increased at will by an increase in the value of the unit.42
The error in this argument is to be found in its regarding the utility of money from the point of view of the community instead of from that of the individual. Every valuation must emanate from somebody who is in a position to dispose in exchange of the object valued. Only those who have a choice between two economic goods are able to form a judgment as to value, and they do this by preferring the one to the other. If we start with valuations from the point of view of society as a whole, we tacitly assume the existence of a socialized economic organization in which there is no exchange and in which the only valuations are those of the responsible official body. Opportunities for valuation in such a society would arise in the control of production and consumption, as, for example, in deciding how certain production goods were to be used when there were alternative ways of using them. But in such a society there would be no room at all for money. Under such conditions, a common medium of exchange would have no utility and consequently no value either. It is therefore illegitimate to adopt the point of view of the community as a whole when dealing with the value of money. All consideration of the value of money must obviously presuppose a state of society in which exchange takes place and must take as its starting point individuals acting as independent economic agents within such a society,43 that is to say, individuals engaged in valuing things.
”Monetary” and “Nonmonetary” Influences Affecting the Objective Exchange Value of Money
Now, the first part of the problem of the value of money having been solved, it is at last possible for us to evolve a plan of further procedure. We no longer are concerned to explain the origin of the objective exchange value of money; this task has already been performed in the course of the preceding investigation. We now have to establish the laws which govern variations in existing exchange ratios between money and the other economic goods. This part of the problem of the value of money has occupied economists from the earliest times, although it is the other that ought logically to have been dealt with first. For this reason, as well as for many others, what has been done toward its elucidation does not amount to very much. Of course, this part of the problem is also much more complicated than the first part.
In investigations into the nature of changes in the value of money it is usual to distinguish between two sorts of determinants of the exchange ratio that connects money and other economic goods; those that exercise their effect on the money side of the ratio and those that exercise their effect on the commodity side. This distinction is extremely useful; without it, in fact, all attempts at a solution would have to be dismissed beforehand as hopeless. Nevertheless its true meaning must not be forgotten.
The exchange ratios between commodities—and the same is naturally true of the exchange ratios between commodities and money—result from determinants which affect both terms of the exchange ratio. But existing exchange ratios between goods may be modified by a change in determinants connected only with one of the two sets of exchanged objects. Although all the factors that determine the valuation of a good remain the same, its exchange ratio with another good may alter if the factors that determine the val uation of this second good alter. If of two persons I prefer A to B, this preference may be reversed, even though my feeling for A remains unchanged, if I contract a closer friendship with B. Similarly with the relationships between goods and human beings. He who today prefers the consumption of a cup of tea to that of a dose of quinine may make a contrary valuation tomorrow, even though his liking for tea has not diminished, if he has, say, caught a fever overnight. Whereas the factors that determine prices always affect both sets of the goods that are to be exchanged, those of them which merely modify existing prices may sometimes be restricted to one set of goods only.44
Fluctuations in the Objective Exchange Value of Money Evoked by Changes in the Ratio Between the Supply of Money and the Demand for It
The Quantity Theory
That the objective exchange value of money as historically transmitted (der geschichtlich überkommene objektive Tauschwert des Geldes) is affected not only by the industrial use of the material from which it is made, but also by its monetary use, is a proposition which hardly any economist would nowadays deny. It is true that lay opinion was molded entirely by the contrary belief until very recent times. To a naive observer, money made out of precious metal was “sound money” because the piece of precious metal was an “intrinsically” valuable object, while paper money was “bad money” because its value was only “artificial.” But even the layman who holds this opinion accepts the money in the course of business transactions, not for the sake of its industrial use-value, but for the sake of its objective exchange value, which depends largely upon its monetary employment. He values a gold coin not merely for the sake of its industrial use-value, say because of the possibility of using it as jewelry, but chiefly on account of its monetary utility. But, of course, to do something, and to render an account to oneself of what one does and why one does it, are quite different things.45
Judgment upon the shortcomings of popular views about money and its value must be lenient, for even the attitude of science toward this problem has not always been free from error. Happily, the last few years have seen a gradual but definite change in popular monetary theory. It is now generally recognized that the value of money depends partly on its monetary function. This is due to the increased attention that has been devoted to questions of monetary policy since the commencement of the great controversy about the standards. The old theories proved unsatisfactory; it was not possible to explain phenomena such as those of the Austrian or Indian currency systems without invoking the assumption that the value of money originates partly in its monetary function. The naivety of the numerous writings which attacked this opinion and their complete freedom from the restraining influence of any sort of knowledge of the theory of value may occasionally lead the economist to regard them as unimportant; but they may at least claim to have performed the service of shaking deep-rooted prejudices and stimulating a general interest in the problem of prices. No doubt they are a gratifying indication of a growing interest in economic questions; if this is kept in mind, it is possible to think more generously of many erroneous monetary theories.
It is true that there has been no lack of attempts to explain the peculiar phenomena of modern monetary systems in other ways. But they have all been unsuccessful. Thus, in particular, Laughlin’s theory comes to grief in failing to take account of the special aspects of the value of money that are associated with the specifically monetary function. Quite correctly, Laughlin stresses as the peculiar characteristic of money substitutes their constant and immediate convertibility into money.46 Nevertheless, he would seem to be mistaken on a fundamental point when he applies the name of token money to such currencies as the rupee from 1893 to 1899 and the Russian ruble and Austrian gulden at the time of the suspension of cash payments. He accounts for the fact that a piece of paper which is not immediately convertible into gold can have any value at all, by reference to the possibility that it will nevertheless someday be converted. He compares inconvertible paper money with the shares of a concern which is temporarily not paying any dividend but whose shares may nevertheless have a certain exchange value because of the possibility of future dividends. And he says that the fluctuations in the exchange value of such paper money are consequently based upon the varying prospects of its ultimate conversion.47
The error in this conclusion may be most simply demonstrated by means of an actual example. Let us select for this purpose the monetary history of Austria, which Laughlin also uses as an illustration. From 1859 onward the Austrian National Bank was released from the obligation to convert its notes on demand into silver, and nobody could tell when the state paper money issued in 1866 would be redeemed, or even if it would be redeemed at all. It was not until the later 1890s that the transition to metallic money was completed by the actual resumption of cash payments on the part of the Austro-Hungarian Bank.
Now Laughlin attempts to explain the value of the Austrian currency during this period by reference to the prospect of a future conversion of the notes into metallic commodity money. He finds the basis of its value, at first in an expectation that it would be converted into silver, and afterward in an expectation that it would be converted into gold, and traces the vicissitudes of its purchasing power to the varying chances of its ultimate conversion.48
The inadmissibility of this argument can be demonstrated in a striking fashion. In the year 1884—the year is chosen at random—the five percent Austrian government bonds were quoted on the Viennese Stock Exchange at an average rate of 95.81, or 4.19 percent below par. The quotation was in terms of Austrian paper gulden. The government bonds represented claims against the Austrian state bearing interest at five percent. Thus both the bonds and the notes were claims against the same debtor. It is true that these government bonds were not repayable, that is to say, not redeemable on the part of the creditor. Nevertheless, seeing that interest was paid on them, this could not prejudice their value in comparison with that of the non-interest-bearing currency notes, which also were not redeemable; furthermore, the interest on the bonds was payable in paper money, and, if the government redeemed them, it could do this also in paper money. In fact, the bonds in question were redeemed voluntarily in 1892, long before the currency notes were converted into gold. The question now arises: How could it come about that the government bonds, bearing interest at five percent, could be valued less highly than the non-interest-bearing currency notes? This could not possibly be attributed, say, to the fact that people hoped that the currency notes would be converted into gold before the bonds were redeemed. There was no suggestion of such an expectation. Quite another circumstance decided the matter.
The currency notes were common media of exchange—they were money—and consequently, besides the value that they possessed as claims against the state, they also had a value as money. It is beyond doubt that their value as claims alone would not have been an adequate basis even for a relatively large proportion of their actual exchange value. The date of repayment of the claims that were embodied in these notes was in fact quite uncertain, but in any case very distant. As claims, it was impossible for them to have a higher exchange value than corresponded to the then value of the expectation of their repayment. Now, after the cessation of free coinage of silver it was fairly obvious that the paper gulden (and incidentally the silver gulden) would not be converted at a rate appreciably in excess of the average rate at which it circulated in the period immediately preceding the conversion. In any case, after the legal determination of the conversion ratio by the Currency Regulation Law of August 2, 1892, it was settled that the conversion of the currency notes would not take place at any higher rate than this. How could it come about, then, that the gold value of the krone (the half-gulden) already fluctuated about this rate as early as the second half of the year 1892 although the date of conversion was then still quite unknown? Usually a claim to a fixed sum, the date of payment of which lies in the uncertain future, is valued considerably less highly than the sum to which it refers. To this question Laughlin’s theory cannot offer an answer; only by taking account of the fact that the monetary function also contributes toward value is it possible to find a satisfactory explanation.
The attempts that have so far been made, to determine the quantitative significance of the forces emanating from the side of money that affect the exchange ratio existing between money and other economic goods, have followed throughout the line of thought of the quantity theory. This is not to say that all the exponents of the quantity theory had realized that the value of money is not determined solely by its nonmonetary, industrial employment, but also or even solely by its monetary function. Many quantity theorists have been of another opinion on this point and have believed that the value of money depends solely on the industrial employment of the monetary material. The majority have had no clear conception of the question at all; very few have approached its true solution. It is often hard to decide in which class certain of these authors should be placed; their phraseology is often obscure and their theories not seldom contradictory. All the same, let us suppose that all quantity theorists had recognized the significance of the monetary function in the determination of the value of the monetary material, and criticize the usefulness of their theory from this point of view.
When the determinants of the exchange ratios between economic goods were first inquired into, attention was early devoted to two factors whose importance for the pricing process was not to be denied. It was impossible to overlook the well-known connection between variations in the available quantity of goods and variations in prices, and the proposition was soon formulated that a good would rise in price if the available quantity of it diminished. Similarly, the importance of the total volume of transactions in the determination of prices was also realized. Thus, a mechanical theory of price determination was arrived at—the doctrine of supply and demand, which until very recently held such a prominent position in our science. Of all explanations of prices it is the oldest. We cannot dismiss it offhand as erroneous; the only valid objection to it is that it does not go back to the ultimate determinants of prices. It is correct or incorrect, according to the content given to the words demand and supply. It is correct, if account is taken of all the factors that motivate people in buying and selling. It is incorrect, if supply and demand are interpreted and compared in a merely quantitative sense.49
It was an obvious step to take this theory, that had been constructed to explain the reciprocal exchange ratios of commodities, and apply it to fluctuations in the relative values of commodities and money also. As soon as people became conscious of the fact of variations in the value of money at all, and gave up the naive conception of money as an invariable measure of value, they began to explain these variations also by quantitative changes in supply and demand.
It is true that the usual criticism of the quantity theory (often expressed with more resentment than is consonant with that objectivity which alone should be the distinctive mark of scientific investigation) had an easy task so far as it was leveled against the older, incomplete, version. It was not difficult to prove that the supposition that changes in the value of money must be proportionate to changes in the quantity of money, so that for example a doubling of the quantity of money would lead to a doubling of prices also, was not in accordance with facts and could not be theoretically established in any way whatever.50 It was still simpler to show the untenability of the naive version of the theory which regarded the total quantity of money and the total stock of money as equivalent.
But all these objections do not touch the essence of the doctrine. Neither can any sort of refutation or limitation of the quantity theory be deduced from the fact that a number of writers claim validity for it only on the assumption ceteris paribus; not even though they state further that this supposition never is fulfilled and never could be fulfilled.51 The assumption ceteris paribus is the self-evident appendage of every scientific doctrine and there is no economic law that can dispense with it.
Against such superficial criticism the quantity theory has been well able to defend itself triumphantly, and through the centuries, condemned by some and exalted as an indisputable truth by others, it has always been in the very center of scientific discussion. It has been dealt with in an immense literature, far beyond the power of any one person to master. It is true that the scientific harvest of these writings is but small. The theory has been adjudged “right” or “wrong,” and statistical data (mostly incomplete and incorrectly interpreted) have been used both to “prove” and to “disprove” it—although sufficient care has seldom been taken to eliminate variations brought about by accidental circumstances. On the other hand, investigation on a basis of the theory of value has but seldom been attempted.
If we wish to arrive at a just appraisal of the quantity theory we must consider it in the light of the contemporary theories of value. The core of the doctrine consists in the proposition that the supply of money and the demand for it both affect its value. This proposition is probably a sufficiently good hypothesis to explain big changes in prices; but it is far from containing a complete theory of the value of money. It describes one cause of changes in prices; it is nevertheless inadequate for dealing with the problem exhaustively. By itself it does not comprise a theory of the value of money; it needs the basis of a general value theory. One after another, the doctrine of supply and demand, the cost-of-production theory, and the subjective theory of value have had to provide the foundations for the quantity theory.
If we make use in our discussion of only one fundamental idea contained in the quantity theory, the idea that a connection exists between variations in the value of money on the one hand and variations in the relations between the demand for money and the supply of it on the other hand, our reason is not that this is the most correct expression of the content of the theory from the historical point of view, but that it constitutes that core of truth in the theory which even the modern investigator can and must recognize as useful. Although the historian of economic theory may find this formulation inexact and produce quotations to refute it, he must nevertheless admit that it contains the correct expression of what is valuable in the quantity theory and usable as a cornerstone for a theory of the value of money.
Beyond this proposition, the quantity theory can provide us with nothing. Above all, it fails to explain the mechanism of variations in the value of money. Some of its expositors do not touch upon this question at all; the others employ an inadequate principle for dealing with it. Observation teaches us that certain relations of the kind suggested between the available stock of money and the need for money do in fact exist; the problem is to deduce these relations from the fundamental laws of value and so at last to comprehend their true significance.
The Stock of Money and the Demand for Money
The process, by which supply and demand are accommodated to each other until a position of equilibrium is established and both are brought into quantitative and qualitative coincidence, is the higgling of the market. But supply and demand are only the links in a chain of phenomena, one end of which has this visible manifestation in the market, while the other is anchored deep in the human mind. The intensity with which supply and demand are expressed, and consequently the level of the exchange ratio at which both coincide, depends on the subjective valuations of individuals. This is true, not only of the direct exchange ratios between economic goods other than money, but also of the exchange ratio between money on the one hand and commodities on the other.
For a long time it was believed that the demand for money was a quantity determined by objective factors and independently of subjective considerations. It was thought that the demand for money in an economic community was determined, on the one hand by the total quantity of commodities that had to be paid for during a given period, and on the other hand by the velocity of circulation of the money. There is an error in the very starting point of this way of regarding the matter, which was first successfully attacked by Menger.52 It is inadmissible to begin with the demand for money of the community. The individualistic economic community as such, which is the only sort of community in which there is a demand for money, is not an economic agent. It demands money only insofar as its individual members demand money. The demand for money of the economic community is nothing but the sum of the demands for money of the individual economic agents composing it. But for individual economic agents it is impossible to make use of the formula: total volume of transactions ÷ velocity of circulation. If we wish to arrive at a description of the demand for money of an individual we must start with the considerations that influence such an individual in receiving and paying out money.
Every economic agent is obliged to hold a stock of the common medium of exchange sufficient to cover his probable business and personal requirements. The amount that will be required depends upon individual circumstances. It is influenced both by the custom and habits of the individual and by the organization of the whole social apparatus of production and exchange.
But all of these objective factors always affect the matter only as motivations of the individual. They are never capable of a direct influence upon the actual amount of his demand for money. Here, as in all departments of economic life, it is the subjective valuations of the separate economic agents that alone are derisive. The store of purchasing power held by two such agents whose objective economic circumstances were identical might be quite different if the advantages and disadvantages of such a store were estimated differently by the different agents.
The cash balance held by an individual need by no means consist entirely of money. If secure claims to money, payable on demand, are employed commercially as substitutes for money, being tendered and accepted in place of money, then individuals’ stores of money can be entirely or partly replaced by a corresponding store of these substitutes. In fact, for technical reasons (such, for example, as the need for having money of various denominations on hand) this may sometimes prove an unavoidable necessity. It follows that we can speak of a demand for money in a broader and in a narrower sense. The former comprises the entire demand of an individual for money and money substitutes; the second, merely his demand for money proper. The former is determined by the will of the economic agent in question. The latter is fairly independent of individual influences, if we disregard the question of denomination referred to above. Apart from this, the question whether a greater or smaller part of the cash balance held by an individual shall consist of money substitutes is only of importance to him when he has the opportunity of acquiring money substitutes which bear interest, such as interest-bearing banknotes—a rare case—or bank deposits. In all other cases it is a matter of complete indifference to him.
The individual’s demand and stock of money are the basis of the demand and stock in the whole community. So long as there are no money substitutes in use, the social demand for money and the social stock of money are merely the respective sums of the individual demands and stocks. But this is changed with the advent of money substitutes. The social demand for money in the narrower sense is no longer the sum of the individual demands for money in the narrower sense, and the social demand for money in the broader sense is by no means the sum of the individual demands for money in the broader sense. Part of the money substitutes functioning as money in the cash holdings of individuals are “covered” by sums of money held as “redemption funds” at the place where the money substitutes are cashable, which is usually, although not necessarily, the issuing concern. We shall use the term money certificates for those money substitutes that are completely covered by the reservation of corresponding sums of money, and the term fiduciary media53 for those which are not covered in this way. The suitability of this terminology, which has been chosen with regard to the problem to be dealt with in the third part of the present work, must be demonstrated in that place. It is not to be understood in the light of banking technique or in a juristic sense; it is merely intended to serve the ends of economic argument.
Only in the rarest cases can any particular money substitutes be immediately assigned to the one or the other group. That is possible only for those money substitutes of which the whole species is either entirely covered by money or not covered by money at all. In the case of all other money substitutes, those the total quantity of which is partly covered by money and partly not covered by money, only an imaginary ascription of an aliquot part to each of the two groups can take place. This involves no fresh difficulty. If, for example, there are banknotes in circulation one-third of the quantity of which is covered by money and two-thirds not covered, then each individual note is to be reckoned as two-thirds fiduciary medium and one-third money certificate. It is thus obvious that a community’s demand for money in the broader sense cannot be the sum of the demands of individuals for money and money substitutes, because to reckon in the demand for money certificates as well as that for the money that serves as a cover for them as the banks and elsewhere is to count the same amount twice over. A community’s demand for money in the broader sense is the sum of the demands of the individual economic agents for money proper and fiduciary media (including the demand for cover). And a community’s demands for money in the narrower sense are the sum of the demands of the individual economic agents for money and money certificates (this time not including cover).
In this part we shall ignore the existence of fiduciary media and assume that the demands for money of individual economic agents can be satisfied merely by money and money certificates, and consequently that the demand for money of the whole economic community can be satisfied merely by money proper.54 The third part of this book is devoted to an examination of the important and difficult problems arising from the creation and circulation of fiduciary media.
The demand for money and its relations to the stock of money form the starting point for an explanation of fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money. Not to understand the nature of the demand for money is to fail at the very outset of any attempt to grapple with the problem of variations in the value of money. If we start with a formula that attempts to explain the demand for money from the point of view of the community instead of from that of the individual, we shall fail to discover the connection between the stock of money and the subjective valuations of individuals—the foundation of all economic activity. But on the other hand, this problem is solved without difficulty if we approach the phenomena from the individual agent’s point of view.
No longer explanation is necessary, of the way in which an individual will behave in the market when his demand for money exceeds his stock of it. He who has more money on hand than he thinks he needs, will buy, in order to dispose of the superfluous stock of money that lies useless on his hands. If he is an entrepreneur, he will possibly enlarge his business. If this use of the money is not open to him, he may purchase interest-bearing securities; or possibly he may decide to purchase consumption goods. But in any case, he expresses by a suitable behavior in the market the fact that he regards his reserve of purchasing power as too large.
And he whose demand for money is less than his stock of it will behave in an exactly contrary fashion. If an individual’s stock of money diminishes (his property or income remaining the same), then he will take steps to reach the desired level of reserve purchasing power by suitable behavior in making sales and purchases. A shortage of money means a difficulty in disposing of commodities for money. He who is obliged to dispose of a commodity by way of exchange will prefer to acquire some of the common medium of exchange for it, and only when this acquisition involves too great a sacrifice will he be content with some other economic good, which will indeed be more marketable than that which he wishes to dispose of but less marketable than the common medium of exchange. Under the present organization of the market, which leaves a deep gulf between the marketability of money on the one hand and the marketability of other economic goods on the other hand, nothing but money enters into consideration at all as a medium of exchange. Only in exceptional circumstances is any other economic good pressed into this service. In the case mentioned, therefore, every seller will be willing to accept a smaller quantity of money than he otherwise would have demanded, so as to avoid the fresh loss that he would have to suffer in again exchanging the commodity that he has acquired, which is harder to dispose of than money, for the commodity that he actually requires for consumption.
The older theories, which started from an erroneous conception of the social demand for money, could never arrive at a solution of this problem. Their sole contribution is limited to paraphrases of the proposition that an increase in the stock of money at the disposal of the community while the demand for it remains the same decreases the objective exchange value of money, and that an increase of the demand with a constant available stock has the contrary effect, and so on. By a flash of genius, the formulators of the quantity theory had already recognized this. We cannot by any means call it an advance when the formula giving the amount of the demand for money (volume of transactions ÷ velocity of circulation) was reduced to its elements, or when the attempt was made to give exact precision to the idea of a stock of money, so long as this occurred under a misapprehension of the nature of fiduciary media and of clearing transactions. No approach whatever was made toward the central problem of this part of the theory of money so long as theorists were unable to show the way in which subjective valuations are affected by variations in the ratio between the stock of money and the demand for money. But this task was necessarily beyond the power of these theories; they break down at the crucial point.55
Recently, Wieser has expressed himself against employing the “collective concept of the demand for money” as the starting point for a theory of fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money. He says that in an investigation of the value of money we are not concerned with the total demand for money. The demand for money to pay taxes with, for example, does not come into consideration, for these payments do not affect the value of money but only transfer purchasing power from those who pay the taxes to those who receive them. In the same way, capital and interest payments in loan transactions and the making of gifts and bequests merely involve a transference of purchasing power between persons and not an augmentation or diminution of it. A functional theory of the value of money must, in stating its problem, have regard only to those factors by which the value of money is determined. The value of money is determined in the process of exchange. Consequently the theory of the value of money must take account only of those quantifies which enter into the process of exchange.56
But these objections of Wieser’s are not only rebutted by the fact that even the surrender of money in paying taxes, in making capital and interest payments, and in giving presents and bequests, falls into the economic category of exchange. Even if we accept Wieser’s narrow definition of exchange, we must still oppose his argument. It is not a peculiarity of money that its value (Wieser obviously means its objective exchange value) is determined in the process of exchange; the same is true of all other economic goods. For all economic goods it must therefore be correct to say that the theory of value has to investigate only certain quantities, namely, only those that are involved in the process of exchange. But there is no such thing in economics as a quantity that is not involved in the process of exchange. From the economic point of view, a quantity has no other relationships than those which exercise some influence upon the valuations of individuals concerned in some process or other of exchange.
This is true, even if we admit that value only arises in connection with exchange in the narrow sense intended by Wieser. But those who participate in exchange transactions, and consequently desire to acquire or dispose of money do not value the monetary unit solely with regard to the fact that they can use it in other acts of exchange (in Wieser’s narrower sense of the expression), but also because they require money in order to pay taxes, to transfer borrowed capital and pay interest, and to make presents. They consider the level of their purchasing-power reserves with a view to the necessity of having money ready for all these purposes, and their judgment as to the extent of their requirements for money is what decides the demand for money with which they enter the market.
The Consequences of an Increase in the Quantity of Money While the Demand for Money Remains Unchanged or Does Not Increase to the Same Extent
Those variations in the ratio between the individual’s demand for money and his stock of it that arise from purely individual causes cannot as a rule have a very large quantitative influence in the market. In most cases they will be entirely, or at least partly, compensated by contrary variations emanating from other individuals in the market. But a variation in the objective exchange value of money can arise only when a force is exerted in one direction that is not canceled by a counteracting force in the opposite direction. If the causes that alter the ratio between the stock of money and the demand for it from the point of view of an individual consist merely in accidental and personal factors that concern that particular individual only, then, according to the law of large numbers, it is likely that the forces arising from this cause, and acting in both directions in the market, will counterbalance each other. The probability that the compensation will be complete is the greater, the more individual economic agents there are.
It is otherwise when disturbances occur in the community as a whole, of a kind to alter the ratio existing between the individual’s stock of money and his demand for it. Such disturbances, of course, cannot have an effect except by altering the subjective valuations of the individual; but they are social economic phenomena in the sense that they influence the subjective valuations of a large number of individuals, if not simultaneously and in the same degree, at least in the same direction, so that there must necessarily be some resultant effect on the objective exchange value of money.
In the history of money a particularly important part has been played by those variations in its objective exchange value that have arisen in consequence of an increase in the stock of money while the demand for it has remained unchanged or has at least not increased to the same extent. These variations, in fact, were what first attracted the attention of economists; it was in order to explain them that the quantity theory of money was first propounded. All writers have dealt most thoroughly with them. It is perhaps justifiable, therefore, to devote special attention to them and to use them to illuminate certain important theoretical points.
In whatever way we care to picture to ourselves the increase in the stock of money, whether as arising from increased production or importation of the substance of which commodity money is made, or through a new issue of fiat or credit money, the new money always increases the stock of money at the disposal of certain individual economic agents. An increase in the stock of money in a community always means an increase in the money incomes of a number of individuals; but it need not necessarily mean at the same time an increase in the quantity of goods that are at the disposal of the community, that is to say, it need not mean an increase in the national dividend. An increase in the amount of fiat or credit money is only to be regarded as an increase in the stock of goods at the disposal of society if it permits the satisfaction of a demand for money which would otherwise have been satisfied by commodity money instead, since the material for the commodity money would then have had to be procured by the surrender of other goods in exchange or produced at the cost of renouncing some other sort of production. If, on the other hand, the nonexistence of the new issue of fiat or credit money would not have involved an increase in the quantity of commodity money, then the increase of money cannot be regarded as an increase of the income or wealth of society.
An increase in a community’s stock of money always means an increase in the amount of money held by a number of economic agents, whether these are the issuers of fiat or credit money or the producers of the substance of which commodity money is made. For these persons, the ratio between the demand for money and the stock of it is altered; they have a relative superfluity of money and a relative shortage of other economic goods. The immediate consequence of both circumstances is that the marginal utility to them of the monetary unit diminishes. This necessarily influences their behavior in the market. They are in a stronger position as buyers. They will now express in the market their demand for the objects they desire more intensively than before; they are able to offer more money for the commodities that they wish to acquire. It will be the obvious result of this that the prices of the goods concerned will rise, and that the objective exchange value of money will fall in comparison.
But this rise of prices will by no means be restricted to the market for those goods that are desired by those who originally have the new money at their disposal. In addition, those who have brought these goods to market will have their incomes and their proportionate stocks of money increased and, in their turn, will be in a position to demand more intensively the goods they want, so that these goods will also rise in price. Thus the increase of prices continues, having a diminishing effect, until all commodities, some to a greater and some to a lesser extent, are reached by it.57
The increase in the quantity of money does not mean an increase of income for all individuals. On the contrary, those sections of the community that are the last to be reached by the additional quantity of money have their incomes reduced, as a consequence of the decrease in the value of money called forth by the increase in its quantity; this will be referred to later. The reduction in the income of these classes now starts a countertendency, which opposes the tendency to a diminution of the value of money due to the increase of income of the other classes, without being able to rob it completely of its effect.
Those who hold the mechanical version of the quantity theory will be the more inclined to believe that the increase in the quantity of money must eventually lead to a uniform increase in the prices of all economic goods, the less clear their concept is of the way in which the determination of prices is affected by it. Thorough comprehension of the mechanism by means of which the quantity of money affects the prices of commodities makes their point of view altogether untenable. Since the increased quantity of money is received in the first place by a limited number of economic agents only and not by all, the increase of prices at first embraces only those goods that are demanded by these persons; further, it affects these goods more than it afterward affects any others. When the increase of prices spreads farther, if the increase in the quantity of money is only a single transient phenomenon, it will not be possible for the differential increase of prices of these goods to be completely maintained; a certain degree of adjustment will take place. But there will not be such a complete adjustment of the increases that all prices increase in the same proportion. The prices of commodities after the rise of prices will not bear the same relation to each other as before its commencement; the decrease in the purchasing power of money will not be uniform with regard to different economic goods.
Hume, it may be remarked, bases his argument concerning this matter on the supposition that every Englishman is miraculously endowed with five pieces of gold during the night.58 Mill rightly remarks on this, that it would not lead to a uniform increase in the demand for separate commodities; the luxury articles of the poorer classes would rise more in price than the others. All the same, he believes that a uniform increase in the prices of all commodities, and this exactly in proportion to the increase in the quantity of money, would occur, if “the wants and inclinations of the community collectively in respect to consumption” remained the same. He assumes, no less artificially than Hume, that “to every pound, or shilling, or penny, in the possession of any one, another pound, shilling, or penny were suddenly added.”59 But Mill fails to see that even in this case a uniform rise of prices would not occur, even supposing that for each member of the community the proportion between stock of money and total wealth was the same, so that the addition of the supplementary quantity of money did not result in an alteration of the relative wealth of individuals. For, even in this quite impossible case, every increase in the quantity of money would necessarily cause an alteration in the conditions of demand, which would lead to a disparate increase in the prices of the individual economic goods. Not all commodities would be demanded more intensively, and not all of those that were demanded more intensively would be affected in the same degree.60
There is no justification whatever for the widespread belief that variations in the quantity of money must lead to inversely proportionate variations in the objective exchange value of money, so that, for example, a doubling of the quantity of money must lead to a halving of the purchasing power of money.
Even assuming that in some way or other—it is confessedly difficult to imagine in what way—very individual’s stock of money were to be increased so that his relative position as regards other holders of property was unaltered, it is not difficult to prove that the subsequent variation in the objective exchange value of money would not be proportioned to the variation in the quantity of money. For, in fact, the way in which an individual values a variation in the quantity of money at his disposal is by no means directly dependent on the amount of this variation; but we should have to assume that it was, if we wished to conclude that there would be a proportionate variation in the objective exchange value of money. If the possessor of a units of money receives b additional units, then it is not at all true to say that he will value the total stock a + b exactly as highly as he had previously valued the stock a alone. Because he now has disposal over a larger stock, he will now value each unit less than he did before; but how much less will depend upon a whole series of individual circumstances, upon subjective valuations that will be different for each individual. Two individuals who are equally wealthy and who each possess a stock of money a, will not by any means arrive at the same variation in their estimation of money after an increase of b units in each of their stocks of money. It is nothing short of absurdity to assume that, say, doubling the amount of money at the disposal of an individual must lead to a halving of the exchange value that he ascribes to each monetary unit. Let us, for example, imagine an individual who is in the habit of holding a stock of a hundred kronen and assume that a sum of a further hundred kronen is paid by somebody or other to this individual. Mere consideration of this example is sufficient to show the complete unreality of all the theories that ascribe to variations in the quantity of money a uniformly proportionate effect on the purchasing power of money. For it involves no essential modification of this example to assume that similar increases in the quantity of money are experienced by all the members of the community at once.
The mistake in the argument of those who suppose that a variation in the quantity of money results in an inversely proportionate variation in its purchasing power lies in its starting point. If we wish to arrive at a correct conclusion, we must start with the valuations of separate individuals; we must examine the way in which an increase or decrease in the quantity of money affects the value scales of individuals, for it is from these alone that variations in the exchange ratios of goods proceed. The initial assumption in the arguments of those who maintain the theory that changes in the quantity of money have a proportionate effect on the purchasing power of money is the proposition that if the value of the monetary unit were doubled, half of the stock of money at the disposal of the community would yield the same utility as that previously yielded by the whole stock. The correctness of this proposition is not disputed; nevertheless, it does not prove what it is meant to prove.
In the first place, it must be pointed out that the levels of the total stock of money and of the value of the money unit are matters of complete indifference as far as the utility obtained from the use of the money is concerned. Society is always in enjoyment of the maximum utility obtainable from the use of money. Half of the money at the disposal of the community would yield the same utility as the whole stock, even if the variation in the value of the monetary unit was not proportioned to the variation in the stock of money. But it is important to note that it by no means follows from this that doubling the quantity of money means halving the objective exchange value of money. It would have to be shown that forces emanate from the valuations of individual economic agents which are able to bring about such a proportionate variation. This can never be proved; in fact, its contrary is likely. We have already given a proof of this for the case in which an increase of the quantity of money held by individual economic agents involves at the same time an increase of their income or wealth. But even when the increase in the quantity of money does not affect the wealth or income of the individual economic agents, the effect is still the same.
Let us assume that a man gets half his income in the form of interest-bearing securities and half in the form of money; and that he is in the habit of saving three-quarters of his income, and does this by retaining the securities and using that half of his income which he receives in cash in equal parts for paying for current con sumption and for the purchase of further securities. Now let us assume that a variation in the composition of his income occurs, so that he receives three-quarters of it in cash and only one-quarter in securities. From now on this man will use two-thirds of his cash receipts for the purchase of interest-bearing securities. If the price of the securities rises or, which is the same thing, if their rate of interest falls, then in either case he will be less willing to buy and will reduce the sum of money that he would otherwise have employed for their purchase; he is likely to find that the advantage of a slightly increased reserve exceeds that which could be obtained from the acquisition of the securities. In the second case he will doubtless be inclined to pay a higher price, or more correctly, to purchase a greater quantity at the higher price, than in the first case. But he will certainly not be prepared to pay double as much for a unit of securities in the second case as in the first case.
As far as the earlier exponents of the quantity theory are concerned, the assumption that variations in the quantity of money would have an inversely proportionate effect on its purchasing power may nevertheless be excusable. It is easy to go astray on this point if the attempt is made to explain the value phenomena of the market by reference to exchange value. But it is inexplicable that those theorists also who suppose they are taking their stand on the subjective theory of value could fall into similar errors. The blame here can only be laid to the account of a mechanical conception of market processes. Thus even Fisher and Brown, whose concept of the quantity theory is a mechanical one, and who attempt to express in mathematical equations the law according to which the value of money is determined, necessarily arrive at the conclusion that variations in the ratio between the quantity of money and the demand for it lead to proportionate variations in the objective exchange value of money.61 How and through what channels this comes about is not disclosed by the formula, for it contains no reference at all to the only factors that are decisive in causing variations of the exchange ratios, that is, variations in the subjective valuations of individuals.
Fisher and Brown give three examples to prove the correctness of their conclusions. In the first, they start with the supposition that the government changes the denomination of the money, so that, for example, what was previously called a half-dollar is now called a whole dollar. It is obvious, they say, that this will cause an increase in the number of dollars in circulation and that prices reckoned in the new dollars will have to be twice as high as they were previously. Fisher and Brown may be right so far, but not in the conclusions that they proceed to draw. What their example actually deals with is not an increase in the quantity of money but merely an alteration in its name. What does the “money” referred to in this example really consist of? Is it the stuff of which dollars are made, the claim that lies behind a credit dollar, the token that is used as money, or is it the word dollar?
The second example given by Fisher and Brown is no less incorrectly interpreted. They start from the assumption that the government divides each dollar into two and mints a new dollar from each half. Here again all that occurs is a change of name.
In their third example they do at least deal with a real increase in the quantity of money. But this example is just as artificial and misleading as those of Hume and Mill which we have already dealt with in some detail. They suppose that the government gives everybody an extra dollar for each dollar that he already possesses. We have already shown that even in this case a proportionate change in the objective exchange value of money cannot follow.
One thing only can explain how Fisher is able to maintain his mechanical quantity theory. To him the quantity theory seems a doctrine peculiar to the value of money; in fact, he contrasts it outright with the laws of value of other economic goods. He says that if the world’s stock of sugar increases from a million pounds to a million hundredweight, it would not follow that a hundredweight would have the value that is now possessed by a pound. Money only is peculiar in this respect, according to Fisher. But he does not give a proof of this assertion. With as much justification as that of Fisher and Brown for their mechanical formula for the value of money, a similar formula could be set out for the value of any commodity, and similar conclusions drawn from it. That nobody attempts to do this is to be explained simply and solely by the circumstance that such a formula would so clearly contradict our experience of the demand curves for most commodities, that it could not be maintained even for a moment.
If we compare two static economic systems, which differ in no way from one another except that in one there is twice as much money as in the other, it appears that the purchasing power of the monetary unit in the one system must be equal to half that of the monetary unit in the other. Nevertheless, we may not conclude from this that a doubling of the quantity of money must lead to a halving of the purchasing power of the monetary unit; for every variation in the quantity of money introduces a dynamic factor into the static economic system. The new position of static equilibrium that is established when the effects of the fluctuations thus set in motion are completed cannot be the same as that which existed before the introduction of the additional quantity of money. Consequently, in the new state of equilibrium the conditions of demand for money, given a certain exchange value of the monetary unit, will also be different. If the purchasing power of each unit of the doubled quantity of money were halved, the unit would not have the same significance for each individual under the new conditions as it had in the static system before the increase in the quantity of money. All those who ascribe to variations in the quantity of money an inverse proportionate effect on the value of the monetary unit are applying to dynamic conditions a method of analysis that is only suitable for static conditions.
It is also entirely incorrect to think of the quantity theory as if the characteristics in question affecting the determination of value were peculiar to money. Most of both the earlier and the later adherents of the theory have fallen into this error, and the fierce and often unfair attacks that have been directed against it appear in a better light when we know of this and other errors of a like kind of which its champions have been guilty.
Criticism of Some Arguments Against the Quantity Theory
We have already examined one of the objections that have been brought against the quantity theory: the objection that it only holds good ceteris paribus. No more tenable as an objection against the determinateness of our conclusions is reference to the possibility that an additional quantity of money may be hoarded. This argument has played a prominent role in the history of monetary theory; it was one of the sharpest weapons in the armory of the opponents of the quantity theory. Among the arguments of the opponents of the currency theory it immediately follows the proposition relating to the elasticity of cash-economizing methods of payment, to which it also bears a close relation as far as its content is concerned. We shall deal with it here separately; nevertheless all that we can say about it in the present place needs to be set in its proper light by the arguments contained in the third part of this book, which is devoted to the doctrine of fiduciary media.
For Fullarton, hoards are the regular deus ex machina. They absorb the superfluous quantity of money and prevent it from flowing into circulation until it is needed.62 Thus they constitute a sort of reservoir which accommodates the ebb and flow of money in the market to the variations in the demand for money. The sums of money collected in hoards lie there idle, waiting for the moment when commerce needs them for maintaining the stability of the objective exchange value of money; and all those sums of money, that might threaten this stability when the demand for money decreases, flow back out of circulation into these hoards to slumber quietly until they are called forth again. This tacitly assumes63 the fundamental correctness of the arguments of the quantity theory, but asserts that there is nevertheless a principle inherent in the economic system that always prevents the working out of the processes that the quantity theory describes.
But Fullarton and his followers unfortunately neglected to indicate the way in which variations in the demand for money set in motion the mechanism of the hoards. Obviously they supposed this to proceed without the will of the transacting parties entering into the matter at all. Such a view surpasses the naivest versions of the quantity theory in its purely mechanical conception of market transactions. Even the most superficial investigation into the problem of the demand for money could not have failed to demonstrate the untenability of the doctrine of hoards.
In the first place, it must be recognized that from the economic point of view there is no such thing as money lying idle. All money, whether in reserves or literally in circulation (that is, in process of changing hands at the very moment under consideration), is devoted in exactly the same way to the performance of a monetary function.64 In fact, since money that is surrendered in an exchange is immediately transferred from the ownership of the one party to that of the other, and no period of time can be discovered in which it is actually in movement, all money must be regarded as at rest in the cash reserve of some individual or other The stock of money of the community is the sum of the stocks of individuals; there is no such thing as errant money, no money which even for a moment does not form part of somebody’s stock. All money, that is to say, lies in some individual’s stock, ready for eventual use. It is a matter of indifference how soon the moment occurs when a demand for money next arises and the sum of money in question is paid out. In every household or family the members of which are at least moderately prosperous there is a minimum reserve whose level is constantly maintained by replenishment. (The fact has already been mentioned, that besides objective conditions, subjective factors influencing the individual economic agent help to determine the amount of the individual demand for money.) What is called storing money is a way of using wealth. The uncertainty of the future makes it seem advisable to hold a larger or smaller part of one’s possessions in a form that will facilitate a change from one way of using wealth to another, or transition from the ownership of one good to that of another, in order to preserve the opportunity of being able without difficulty to satisfy urgent demands that may possibly arise in the future for goods that will have to be obtained by way of exchange. So long as the market has not reached a stage of development in which all, or at least certain, economic goods can be sold (that is, turned into money) at any time under conditions that are not too unfavorable, this aim can be achieved only by holding a stock of money of a suitable size. The more active the life of the market becomes, the more can this stock be diminished. At the present day, the possession of certain sorts of securities which have a large market so that they can be realized without delay and without very considerable loss, at least in normal times, may make the holding of large cash reserves to a certain extent unnecessary.
The demand for money for storage purposes is not separable from the demand for money for other purposes. Hoarding money is nothing but the custom of holding a greater stock of it than is usual with other economic agents, at other times, or in other places. The hoarded sums of money do not lie idle, whether they are regarded from the social or from the individual point of view. They serve to satisfy a demand for money just as much as any other money does. Now the adherents of the banking principle seem to hold the opinion that the demand for storing purposes is elastic and conforms to variations in the demand for money for other purposes in such a way that the total demand for money, that is, that for storing purposes and that for other purposes taken together, adjusts itself to the existing stock of money without any variation in the objective exchange value of the monetary unit. This view is entirely mistaken. In fact, the conditions of demand for money, including the demand for storage purposes, is independent of the circumstances of the supply of money. The contrary supposition can be supported only by supporting a connection between the quantity of money and the rate of interest,65 that is, by asserting that the variations arising from changes in the ratio between the demand for money and the supply of it, influence to a different degree the prices of goods of the first order and those of goods of higher orders, so that the proportion between the prices of these two classes of goods is altered. The question of the tenability of this proposition, which is based on the view that the rate of interest is dependent on the greater or lesser quantity of money, will have to be brought up again in part three. There the opportunity will also arise for showing that the cash reserves of the banks that issue fudiciary media no more act as a buffer in this way than these mythical hoards do. There is no such thing as a “reserve store” of money out of which commerce can at any time supply its extra requirements or into which it can direct its surpluses.
The doctrine of the importance of hoards for stabilizing the objective exchange value of money has gradually lost its adherents with the passing of time. Nowadays its supporters are few. Even Diehl’s membership of this group is only apparent. He agrees, it is true, with the criticism directed by Fullarton against the currency theory. On the other hand, he concedes that Fullarton’s expressions inert and dormant are erroneously applied to reserves of money; since these reserves are not idle but merely serve a different purpose from that served by circulating money; he also agrees that sums of money in such reserves and sums used for purposes of payment are not sharply distinguishable, and that the same sums serve now one purpose and now the other. In spite of this, however, he supports Fullarton as against Ricardo. He says that, even if the sums taken out of the reserves must again be replaced out of the stocks of money present in the community; this need not occur immediately; a long period may elapse before it is necessary; and that in any case it follows that the mechanical connection which Ricardo assumes to exist between the quantity of money in circulation and the prices of commodities cannot be accepted, even with regard to hoards.66 Diehl does not show in greater detail why a long period may elapse before the sums supposed to be taken from the reserves are replaced. But he does admit the fundamental correctness of the criticism leveled at Fullarton’s arguments; it is possible to grant the sole reservation that he makes if we interpret it as meaning that time may and must elapse before changes in the quantity of money express themselves all over the market in a variation of the objective exchange value of money. For that the increase in individuals’ stocks of money which results from the inflow of the additional quantity of money must bring about a change in the subjective valuations of the individuals, and that this occurs immediately and begins immediately to have an effect in the market, can hardly be denied. On the other hand, an increase in an individual’s demand for money while his stock remains the same, or a decrease of his stock while his demand remains the same, must lead at once to changes in subjective valuations which must be expressed in the market, even if not all at once, in an increase of the objective exchange value of money. It may be admitted that every variation in the quantity of money will impel the individual to check his judgment as to the extent of his requirements for money and that this may result in a reduction of his demand in the case of a diminishing stock of money and an augmentation of it in the case of an increasing stock, but the assumption that such a limitation or extension must occur has no logical foundation, not to speak of the assumption that it must occur in such a degree as to keep the objective exchange value of money stable.
A weightier objection is the denial of the practical importance of the quantity theory, that is implied in the attribution to the present organization of the money, payment, and credit system of a tendency to cancel out variations in the quantity of money and prevent them from becoming effective. It is said that the fluctuating velocity of circulation of money, and the elasticity of methods of payment made possible by the credit system and the progressive improvement of banking organization and technique, that is, the facility with which methods of payment can be adjusted to expanded or contracted business, have made the movement of prices as far as is possible independent of variations in the quantity of money, especially since there exists no quantitative relation between money and its substitutes, that is, between the stock of money and the volume of transactions and payments. It is said that if in such circumstances we still wish to preserve the quantity theory we must not base it merely upon current money but “extend it to embrace all money whatever, including not only all the tangible money substitutes that are capable of circulation, but also every transaction of the banking system or agreement between two parties to a contract that replaces a payment of money.” It is admitted that this would make the theory quite useless in practice, but it would secure its theoretical universality. And it is not denied that this raises an almost insoluble problem—that of the conditions under which credit comes into being and of the manner in which it affects the determination of values and prices.67
The answer to this is contained in the third part of the present work, where the problem of the alleged elasticity of credit is discussed.68
Further Applications of the Quantity Theory
In general the quantity theory has not been used for investigating the consequences that would follow a decrease in the demand for money while the stock of money remained the same. There has been no historical motive for such an investigation. The problem has never been a live one; for there has never been even a shadow of justification for attempting to solve controversial questions of economic policy by answering it. Economic history shows us a continual increase in the demand for money. The characteristic feature of the development of the demand for money is its intensification; the growth of division of labor and consequently of exchange transactions, which have constantly become more and more indirect and dependent on the use of money, have helped to bring this about, as well as the increase of population and prosperity. The tendencies which result in an increase in the demand for money became so strong in the years preceding the war that even if the increase in the stock of money had been very much greater than it actually was, the objective exchange value of money would have been sure to increase. Only the circumstance that this increase in the demand for money was accompanied by an extraordinarily large expansion of credit, which certainly exceeded the increase in the demand for money in the broader sense, can serve to explain the fact that the objective exchange value of money during this period not only failed to increase, but actually decreased. (Another factor that was concerned in this is referred to later in this chapter.)
If we were to apply the mechanical version of the quantity theory to the case of a decrease in the demand for money while the stock of money remained unaltered, we should have to conclude that there would be a uniform increase in all commodity prices, arithmetically proportional to the change in the ratio between the stock of money and the demand for it. We should expect the same results as would follow upon an increase of the stock of money while the demand for it remained the same. But the mechanical version of the theory, based as it is upon an erroneous transference of static law to the dynamic sphere, is just as inadequate in this case as in the other It cannot satisfy us because it does not explain what we want to have explained. We must build up a theory that will show us how a decrease in the demand for money while the stock of it remains the same affects prices by affecting the subjective valuations of money on the part of individual economic agents. A diminution of the demand for money while the stock remained the same would in the first place lead to the discovery by a number of persons that their cash reserves were too great in relation to their needs. They would therefore enter the market as buyers with their surpluses. From this point, a general rise in prices would come into operation, a diminution of the exchange value of money. More detailed explanation of what would happen then is unnecessary.
Very closely related to this case is another, whose practical significance is incomparably greater. Even if we think of the demand for money as constantly increasing it may happen that the demand for particular kinds of money diminishes, or even ceases altogether so far as it depends upon their characteristics as general media of exchange, and this is all we have to deal with here. If any given kind of money is deprived of its monetary characteristics, then naturally it also loses the special value that depends on its use as a common medium of exchange, and only retains that value which depends upon its other employment. In the course of history this has always occurred when a good has been excluded from the constantly narrowing circle of common media of exchange. Generally speaking, we do not know much about this process, which to a large extent took place in times about which our information is scanty. But recent times have provided an outstanding example: the almost complete demonetization of silver. Silver, which previously was widely used as money, has been almost entirely expelled from this position, and there can be no doubt that at a time not very far off, perhaps even in a few years only, it will have played out its part as money altogether. The result of the demonetization of silver has been a diminution of its objective exchange value. The price of silver in London fell from 60 9/10d. on an average in 1870 to 23 12/16d. on an average in 1909. Its value was bound to fall, because the sphere of its employment had contracted. Similar examples can be provided from the history of credit money also. For instance, the notes of the southern states in the American Civil War may be mentioned, which as the successes of the northern states increased, lost pari passu their monetary value as well as their value as claims.69
More deeply than with the problem of the consequences of a diminishing demand for money while the stock of it remains the same, which possesses only a small practical importance, the adherents of the quantity theory have occupied themselves with the problem of a diminishing stock of money while the demand for it remains the same and with that of an increasing demand for money while the stock of it remains the same. It was believed that complete answers to both questions could easily be obtained in accordance with the mechanical version of the quantity theory, if the general formula, which appeared to embrace the essence of the problems, was applied to them. Both cases were treated as inversions of the case of an increase in the quantity of money while the demand for it remained the same; and from this the corresponding conclusions were drawn. Just as the attempt was made to explain the depreciation of credit money simply by reference to the enormous increase in the quantity of money, so the attempt was made to explain the depression of the seventies and eighties by reference to an increase of the demand for money while the quantity of money did not increase sufficiently. This proposition lay at the root of most of the measures of currency policy of the nineteenth century. The aim was to regulate the value of money by increasing or diminishing the quantity of it. The effects of these measures appeared to provide an inductive proof of the correctness of this superficial version of the quantity theory, and incidentally concealed the weaknesses of its logic. This supposition alone can explain why no attempt was ever made to exhibit the mechanism of the increase of the value of money as a result of the decrease in the volume of circulation. Here again the old theory needs to be supplemented, as has been done in our argument above.
Normally the increase in the demand for money is slow, so that any effect on the exchange ratio between money and commodities is discernible only with difficulty. Nevertheless, cases do occur in which the demand for money in the narrower sense increases suddenly and to an unusually large degree, so that the prices of commodities drop suddenly. Such cases occur when the public loses faith in an issuer of fiduciary media at a time of crisis, and the fiduciary media cease to be capable of circulation. Many examples of this sort are known to history (one of them is provided by the experiences of the United States in the late autumn of 1907), and it is possible that similar cases may occur in the future.
A Special Cause of Variations in the Objective Exchange Value of Money Arising from the Peculiarities of Indirect Exchange
”Dearness of Living”
Those determinants of the objective exchange value of money that have already been considered exhibit no sort of special peculiarity. So far as they are concerned, the exchange value of money is determined no differently from the exchange value of other economic goods. But there are other determinants of variations in the objective exchange value of money which obey a special law.
No complaint is more widespread than that against “dearness of living.” There has been no generation that has not grumbled about the “expensive times” that it lives in. But the fact that “everything” is becoming dearer simply means that the objective exchange value of money is falling. It is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to subject such assertions as this to historical and statistical tests. The limits of our knowledge in this direction will have to be referred to in the chapter dealing with the problem of the measurability of variations in the value of money. Here we must be content to anticipate the conclusions of this chapter and state that we can expect no support from investigations into the history of prices or from the methods employed in such investigations. The statements of the average man, even though it may very easily happen that these are founded on self-deception and even though they are so much at the mercy of variations in the subjective valuations of the individual, would almost form a better substantiation of the fact of a progressive fall in the objective exchange value of money than can be provided by all the contents of voluminous statistical publications. Certainty can be afforded only by demonstration that chains of causes exist, which are capable of evoking this sort of movement in the objective exchange value of money and would evoke it unless they were cancelled by some counteracting force. This path, which alone can lead to the desired goal, has already been trodden by many investigators-with what success, we shall see.
Wagner’s Theory: The Influence of the Permanent Predominance of the Supply Side over the Demand Side on the Determination of Prices
With many others, and in agreement with general popular opinion, Wagner assumes the predominance of a tendency toward the diminution of the objective exchange value of money. He holds that this phenomenon can be explained by the fact that the supply side is almost invariably the stronger and the most capable of pursuing its own acquisitive interest. Even apart from actual cartels, rings, and combinations, and in spite of all the competition of individual sellers among themselves, he claims that the supply side has more solidarity than the opposing demand side. He argues further that the tradesmen engaged in retail trade are more interested in an increase of prices than their customers are in the continuance of the old prices or in price reductions; for the amount of the tradesmen’s earnings, and consequently their whole economic and social position, depends largely on the prices they obtain, while as a rule only special, and therefore relatively unimportant, interests of the customers are involved. Hence the growth on the supply side of a tendency toward the maintenance and raising of prices, which acts as a kind of permanent pressure in the direction of higher prices, more energetically and more universally than the opposing tendency on the demand side. Prices certainly are kept down and re duced in retail trade with the object of maintaining and expanding sales and increasing total profits, and competition may, and often does, make this necessary. But neither influence, according to Wagner, is in the long run so generally and markedly effective as the interest in and striving for higher prices, which is in fact able to compete with and overcome their resistance. In this permanent predominance of the supply side over the demand side, Wagner sees one of the causes of the general increases in prices.70
Wagner, that is to say, attributes the progressive fall in the objective exchange value of money to a series of factors which have no effect on the determination of wholesale prices but only in the determination of retail prices. Now it is a well-known phenomenon that the retail prices of consumption goods are affected by numerous influences which prevent them from responding rapidly and completely to movements of wholesale prices. And, among the peculiar determinants of retail prices, those predominate which tend to keep them above the level corresponding to wholesale prices. It is, for instance, well known that retail prices adapt themselves more slowly to decreases in wholesale prices than to increases. But it must not be overlooked that the adjustment must eventually take place, all the same, and that the retail prices of consumption goods always participate in the movements of the prices of production goods, even if they lag behind them; and that it is only small, transient movements in wholesale trade that have no effect on retail trade.
Even if we were willing to admit the existence of a permanent predominance of the supply side over the demand side, it would still be decidedly questionable whether we could deduce a tendency toward a general increase of dearness from it. If no further cause could be shown to account for an increase of wholesale prices—and Wagner does not attempt this at all—then we can argue a progressive increase of retail prices only if we are prepared to assume that the time lag between the movements of retail and of wholesale prices is continually increasing. But Wagner makes no such assumption; and it would be very difficult to support it, if he did. It may be said, in fact, that modern commercial development has brought about a tendency toward a more rapid adjustment of retail prices to wholesale and manufacturers’ prices. Multiple and chain stores and cooperative societies follow the movements of wholesale prices much more closely than peddlers and small shopkeepers.
It is entirely incomprehensible why Wagner should connect this tendency to a general rise of prices, arising from the predominance of the supply side over the demand side, with the individualistic system of free competition or freedom of trade, and declare that it is under such a system that the tendency is clearest and operates with the greatest force and facility. No proof is given of this assertion, which is probably a consequence of Wagner’s antipathy to economic liberalism; neither could one easily be devised. The more developed the freedom of trade, the more easily and quickly are movements in wholesale prices reflected in retail prices, especially downward movements. Where legislative and other limitations on freedom of trade place small producers and retailers in a favored position, the adjustment is slower and sometimes complete adjustment may even be prevented altogether.
A striking example of this is afforded by the Austrian attempts during the last generation to favor craftsmen and small shopkeepers in their competition against factories and large stores, together with the subsequent considerable rise in prices between 1890 and 1914. It is not under free competition that the conditions which Wagner calls the permanent predominance of the supply side over the demand side are most strongly in evidence, but in those circumstances where the development of free competition is opposed by the greatest obstacles.
Wieser’s Theory: The Influence on the Value of Money Exerted by a Change in the Relations Between Natural Economy and Money Economy
Wieser’s attempt71 to explain an increase in the money prices of goods unaccompanied by any considerable change in their value in terms of other goods, is not entirely satisfactory either. He holds the opinion that most of the changes in the value of money that have actually occurred are to be attributed to changes in the relations between the “natural economy” (Naturalwirtschaft) and the “money economy” (Geldwirtschaft). When the money economy flourishes, the value of money is reduced; when it decays, the value of money rises again. In the early stages of a money economy most wants are still satisfied by the methods of the natural economy. The family is self-supporting; it lives in its own house, and itself produces the greater part of what it needs; the sale of its products constitutes only a supplementary source of income. Consequently, the cost of living of the producer, or, what comes to the same thing, the value of his labor, is not fully allowed for or not allowed for at all in the cost of the products that are sold; all that is included is the cost of the raw materials used and the wear and tear of those tools or other instruments that have had to be specially constructed, which in any case do not amount to much under conditions of extensive production. So it is with the buyer also; the wants that he satisfies by purchase are not among his more important wants and the use-values that he has to estimate are not very great.
Then gradually all this changes. The extension of the sphere of the money economy introduces into cost calculations factors that were not included before but were dealt with on “natural economic” principles. The list of the costs that are reckoned in monetary terms grows longer, and each new element in the cost calculation is estimated by comparison with the factors already expressed in money, and added to them, with the effect of raising prices. Thus a general rise of prices occurs, but this is not interpreted as a consequence of changes in supply conditions, but as a fall in the value of money.
According to Wieser, if it is not possible to explain the increasing rise in the prices of commodities as originating in monetary factors alone (that is, in variations in the relations between the supply of money and the demand for it), then we must seek another reason for these changes in the general level of prices. Now it is impossible to find the reason by reference to such fluctuations in the values of commodities as are caused by factors belonging to the commodity side of the price ratio; for nowadays we are not worse supplied with goods than our forefathers were. But, to Wieser, no other explana tion seems more natural than that which attributes the diminution of the purchasing power of money to the extension of the money economy which was its historical accompaniment. For Wieser, in fact, it is this very inertia of prices which has helped to bring about the change in the value of money during each period of fresh progress; it must have been this that caused the older prices to be raised by the amount of the additional values involved whenever new factors were co-opted into that part of the process of production that was regulated by the money economy. But the higher the money prices of commodities rise, the lower must the value of money fall in comparison. Increasing dearness thus appears as an inevitable symptom of the development of a growing money economy.
It cannot be denied that this argument of Wieser’s reveals important points in connection with the market and the determination of prices, which, if followed up, have important bearings on the determination of the exchange ratios between the various economic goods other than money. Nevertheless, so far as Wieser’s conclusions relate to the determination of money prices, they exhibit serious shortcomings. In any case, before his argument could be accepted as correct, it would have to be proved that, not forces emanating from the money side, but only forces emanating from the commodity side, are here involved. Not the valuation of money, but only that of the commodities, could have experienced the transformation supposed to be manifested in the alteration of the exchange ratio.
But the chain of reasoning as a whole must be rejected. The development of facilities for exchanging means that the new recruits to the economy increase their subjective valuations of those goods which they wish to dispose of. Goods which they previously valued solely as objects of personal use are now valued additionally on account of their exchangeability for other goods. This necessarily involves a rise in their subjective value in the eyes of those who possess them and are offering them for exchange. Goods which are to be disposed of in exchange are now no longer valued in terms of the use-value that they would have had for their owners if consumed by them, but in terms of the use-value of the goods that may be obtained in exchange for them. The latter value is always higher than the former, for exchanges only occur when they are profitable to both of the parties concerned.
But on the other hand—and Wieser does not seem to have thought of this—the subjective value of the goods acquired in exchange sinks. The individuals acquiring them no longer ascribe to them the significance corresponding to their position in a subjective scale of values (Wertskala) or utilities (Nutzenskala), they ascribe to them only the smaller significance that belongs to the other goods that have to be surrendered in order to get them.
Let us suppose that the scale of values of the possessor of an apple, a pear, and a glass of lemonade, is as follows:
1. An apple
2. A piece of cake
3. A glass of lemonade
4. A pear
If now this man is given the opportunity of exchanging his pear for a piece of cake, this opportunity will increase the significance that he attaches to the pear. He will now value the pear more highly than the lemonade. If he is given the choice between relinquishing either the pear or the lemonade, he will regard the loss of the lemonade as the lesser evil. But this is balanced by his reduced valuation of the cake. Let us assume that our man possesses a piece of cake, as well as the pear, the apple, and the lemonade. Now if he is asked whether he could better put up with the loss of the cake or of the lemonade, he will in any case prefer to lose the cake, because he can make good this loss by surrendering the pear, which ranks below the lemonade in his scale of values. The possibility of exchange introduces considerations of the objective exchange value of goods into the economic decisions of every individual; the original primary scale of use-values is replaced by the derived secondary scale of exchange values and use-values, in which economic goods are ranked not only with regard to their use-values, but also according to the value of the goods that can be obtained for them in exchange. There has been a transposition of the goods; the order of their significance has been altered. But if one good is placed higher, then—there can be no question of it—some other must be placed lower. This arises simply from the very nature of the scale of values, which constitutes nothing but an arrangement of the subjective valuations in order of the significance of the objects valued.
The extension of the sphere of exchange has the same effects on objective exchange values as on subjective values. Here also every increase of value on the one side must be opposed by a decrease of value on the other side. In fact the alteration of an exchange ratio between two goods in such a way that both become dearer is inconceivable. And this cannot be avoided by the interposition of money. When it is asserted that the objective exchange value of money has experienced an alteration, some special cause for this must be demonstrated, apart from the bare fact of the extension of the sphere of exchange. But nobody has ever provided this demonstration.
Wieser commences by contrasting, after the fashion of economic historians, the natural economy and the money economy. These terms fail to provide that scientific abstraction of concepts that is the indispensable basis of all theoretical investigation. It remains uncertain whether the contrast of an exchangeless state with an order of society based upon exchange is intended, or a contrast between conditions of direct exchange and of indirect exchange based upon the use of money. It seems most likely that Wieser intends to contrast an exchangeless state with one of exchange through money. This is certainly the sense in which the expressions natural economy and money economy are used by economic historians; and this definition corresponds to the actual course of economic history after the full development of the institution of money. Nowadays, when new geographical areas or new spheres of consumption are brought within the scope of exchange, there is a direct transition from the exchangeless state to that of the money economy; but this has not always been so. And in any case the economist must make a clear distinction.
Wieser speaks of the townsman who is in the habit of spending his summer holiday in the country and of always finding cheap prices there. One year, when this townsman goes on holiday he finds that prices have suddenly become higher all round; the village has meanwhile been brought within the scope of the money economy. The farmers now sell their milk and eggs and poultry in the town and demand from their summer visitors the prices that they can hope to get at market. But what Wieser describes here is only half the process. The other half is worked out in the town, where the milk, eggs, and poultry coming on the market from the newly tapped sources of supply in the village exhibit a tendency toward a reduction of price. The inclusion of what has hitherto been a natural economy within the scope of an exchange system involves no one-sided rise of prices, but a leveling of prices. The contrary effect would be evoked by any contraction of the scope of the exchange system; it would have an inherent tendency to increase the differences between prices. Thus we should not use this phenomenon, as Wieser does, to substantiate propositions about variations in the objective exchange value of money.
The Mechanism of the Market as a Force Affecting the Objective Exchange Value of Money
Nevertheless, the progressive rise of prices and its complement, the fall in the value of money, may quite well be explained from the monetary side, by reference to the nature of money and monetary transactions.
The modern theory of prices has stated all its propositions with a view to the case of direct exchange. Even where it does include indirect exchange within the scope of its considerations, it does not take sufficient account of the peculiarity of that kind of exchange which is dependent upon the help of the common medium of exchange, or money. This, of course, does not constitute an objection to the modern theory of prices. The laws of price determination which it has established for the case of direct exchange are also valid for the case of indirect exchange, and the nature of an exchange is not altered by the use of money. Nevertheless, the monetary theorist has to contribute an important addition to the general theory of prices.
If a would-be buyer thinks that the price demanded by a would be seller is too high, because it does not correspond to his subjective valuations of the goods in question, a direct exchange will not be feasible unless the would-be seller reduces his demands. But by indirect exchange, with money entering into the case, even without such a reduction there is still a possibility that the transaction may take place. In certain circumstances the would-be buyer may decide to pay the high price demanded, if he can hope similarly to obtain a better price than he had reckoned upon for those goods and services that he himself has to dispose of. In fact, this would very often be the best way for the would-be buyer to obtain the greatest possible advantage from the transaction. Of course, this will not be true, as in the case of transactions like those of the stock exchange, or in individual bargaining, when both parties cooperate immediately in the determination of prices and consequently are able to give direct expression to their subjective estimates of commodity and medium of exchange. But there are cases in which prices appear to be determined one-sidedly by the seller, and the buyer is obliged to abstain from purchase when the price demanded is too high. In such a case, when the abstention of the purchaser indicates to the seller that he has overreached his demand, the seller may reduce his price again (and, of course, in so doing, may possibly go too far, or not far enough). But under certain conditions a different procedure may be substituted for this roundabout process. The buyer may agree to the price demanded and attempt to recoup himself elsewhere by screwing up the prices of the goods that he himself has for sale. Thus a rise in the price of food may cause the laborers to demand higher wages. If the entrepreneurs agree to the laborers’ demands, then they in turn will raise the prices of their products, and then the food producers may perhaps regard this rise in the price of manufactured goods as a reason for a new rise in the price of food. Thus increases in prices are linked together in an endless chain, and nobody can indicate where the beginning is and where the end, or which is cause and which effect.
In modern selling policies “fixed prices” play a large part. It is customary for cartels and trusts and in fact all monopolists, including the state, to fix the prices of their products independently, without consulting the buyers; they appear to prescribe prices to the buyer. The same is often true in retail trade. Now this phenomenon is not accidental. It is an inevitable phenomenon of the unorganized market. In the unorganized market, the seller does not come into contact with all of the buyers, but only with single individuals or groups. Bargaining with these few persons would be useless, for it is not their valuations alone but those of all the would-be purchasers of the good in question that are decisive for price determination. Consequently the seller fixes a price that in his opinion corresponds approximately to what the price ought to be (in which it is understandable that he is more likely to aim too high than too low), and waits to see what the buyers will do. In all of those cases in which he alone appears to fix prices, he lacks exact knowledge of the buyers’ valuations. He can make more or less correct assumptions about them, and there are merchants who by close observation of the market and of the psychology of buyers have become quite remarkably expert at this; but there can be no certainty. In fact, estimates often have to be made of the effects of uncertain and future processes. The sole way by which sellers can arrive at reliable knowledge about the valuations of consumers is the way of trial and error Therefore they raise prices until the abstention of the buyers shows them that they have gone too far. But even though the price may seem too high, given the current value of money the buyer may still pay it if he can hope in the same way to raise the price which he “fixes” and believes that this will lead more quickly to his goal than abstention from purchasing, which might not have its full effect for a long time and might also involve a variety of inconveniences to him. In such circumstances the seller is deprived of his sole reliable check upon the reasonableness of the prices he demands. He sees that these prices are paid, thinks that the profits of his business are increasing proportionately, and only gradually discovers that the fall in the purchasing power of money deprives him of part of the advantage he has gained. Those who have carefully traced the history of prices must agree that this phenomenon repeats itself a countless number of times. It cannot be denied that much of this passing on of price increases has indeed reduced the value of money, but has by no means altered the exchange ratios between other economic goods in the intended degree.
In order to guard against any possible misunderstanding, it should be explicitly stated that there is no justification for drawing the conclusion from this that all increases of prices can be passed on in this way, and so perhaps for assuming that there is a fixed exchange ratio between the different economic goods and human efforts. To be consistent, we should then have to ascribe the rise in the money prices of goods to the vain efforts of human greed. A rise in the money price of a commodity does as a rule modify its exchange ratio to the other commodities, although not always in the same degree as that in which its exchange ratio to money has been altered.
The champions of the mechanical version of the quantity theory may perhaps admit the fundamental correctness of this line of argument, but still object that every variation in the objective exchange value of money that does not start from changes in the relations between the supply of money and the demand for it must be automatically self-correcting. If the objective exchange value of money falls, then the demand for money must necessarily increase, since in order to cope with the volume of transactions a larger sum of money is necessary. If it were permissible to regard a community’s demand for money as the quotient obtained by dividing the volume of transactions by the velocity of circulation, this objection would be justified. But the error in it has already been exposed. The dependence of the demand for money on objective conditions, such as the number and size of the payments that have to be coped with, is only an indirect dependence through the medium of the subjective valuations of individuals. If the money prices of commodities have risen and each separate purchase now demands more money than before, this need not necessarily cause individuals to increase their stocks of money. It is quite possible, despite the rise of prices, that individuals will form no intention of increasing their reserves, that they will not increase their demand for money. They will probably endeavor to increase their money incomes; in fact this is one way in which the general rise of prices expresses itself. But increase of money incomes is by no means identical with increase of money reserves. It is of course possible that individuals’ demands for money may rise with prices; but there is not the least ground for assuming that this will occur, and in particular for assuming that such an increase will occur in such a degree that the effect of the decrease in the purchasing power of money is completely canceled. Quite as justifiably, the contrary assumption might also be hazarded, name1y that the avoidance of unnecessary expenditure forced upon the individual by the rise of prices would lead to a revision of views concerning the necessary level of cash reserves and that the resultant decision would certainly be not for an increase, but rather for even a decrease, in the amount of money to be held.
But here again it must be observed that this is a matter of a variation brought about through dynamic agencies. The static state, for which the contention attributed to the adherents of the mechanical version of the quantity theory would be valid, is disturbed by the fact that the exchange ratios between individual commodities are necessarily modified. Under certain conditions, the technique of the market may have the effect of extending this modification to the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods also.72
The Influence of the Size of the Monetary Unit and Its Subdivisions on the Objective Exchange Value of Money
The assertion is often encountered that the size of the monetary unit exerts a certain influence on the determination of the exchange ratio between money and the other economic goods. In this connection the opinion is expressed that a large monetary unit tends to raise the money prices of commodities while a small monetary unit is likely to increase the purchasing power of money. Considerations of this sort played a notable part in Austria at the time of the currency regulation of the year 1892 and were decisive in causing the new krone, or half-gulden, to be substituted for the previous, larger, unit, the gulden. So far as this assertion touches the determination of wholesale prices, it can hardly be seriously maintained. But in retail trade the size of the monetary unit admittedly has a certain significance, which, however, must not be overestimated.73
Money is not indefinitely divisible. Even with the assistance of money substitutes for expressing fractional sums that for technical reasons cannot conveniently be expressed in the actual monetary material (a method that has been brought to perfection in the modern system of token coinage), it seems entirely impossible to provide commerce with every desired fraction of the monetary unit in a form adapted to the requirements of a rapid and safe transaction of business. In retail trade, rounding off must necessarily be resorted to. The retail prices of the less valuable commodities—and among these are the prices of the most important articles of daily use and those of certain services such as the carriage of letters and passenger transport on railways and tramways—must be adjusted in some way to the available coinage. The coinage can only be disregarded in the case of commodities whose nature allows them to be subdivided to any desired extent. In the case of commodities that are not so divisible, the prices of the smallest quantity of them that is offered for independent sale must coincide with the value of one or more of the available coins. But in the case of both groups of commodities, continual subdivision of quantities for retail sale is hindered by the fact that small values cannot be expressed in the available coinage. If the smallest available fractional coin is too large to express exactly the price of some commodity, then the matter may be adjusted by exchanging several units of the commodity on the one hand against one or more coins on the other. In the retail market for fruit, vegetables, eggs, and other similar commodities, prices such as two for three heller, five for eight heller, and so on, are everyday phenomena. But in spite of this there remain a large number of fine shades of value that are inexpressible. Ten pfennigs of the currency of the German Reich (equivalent to 1/27900 kg. of gold) could not be expressed in coins of the Austrian krone currency; eleven heller (equivalent to 11/328000 kg. of gold) were too little, twelve heller (equivalent to 3/82000 kg. of gold) were too much. Consequently there had to be small differences between prices which otherwise would have been kept equal in both countries.74
This tendency is intensified by the circumstance that the prices of particularly common goods and services are usually expressed, not merely in such fractions of the monetary unit as can be expressed in coins, but in amounts corresponding as nearly as possible to the denominations of the coinage. Everybody is familiar with the tendency toward “rounding off” which retail prices exhibit, and this is based almost entirely on the denominations of money and money substitutes. Still greater is the significance of the denominations of the coinage in connection with certain prices for which custom prescribes payment “in round figures.” The chief examples of this are tips, fees, and the like.
A Methodological Comment
In a review devoted to the first edition of this book,75 Professor Walter Lotz deals with the criticism that I have brought forward against Laughlin’s explanation of the value of the Austrian silver gulden in the years 1879-92.76 His arguments are particularly interesting, inasmuch as they offer an excellent opportunity of exemplifying the difference that exists between the conception and solution of problems in modern economic theory based on the subjective theory of value on the one hand, and under the empirico-realistic treatment of the historically and sociopolitically oriented schools of Schmoller and Brentano on the other.
According to Professor Lotz it is “a question of taste” whether my arguments are “recognized as having any value.” He does not “find them impressive.” He says that he himself was not at first able to agree with Laughlin’s view, until “Laughlin mentioned information, which makes his arguments at least very probable.” Laughlin, in fact, told him that “in the eighties he received the information from the leading house of Viennese high finance, that people were reckoning with the fact that the paper gulden would be eventually converted at some rate or other.” Professor Lotz adds to this: “Certainly it was also of importance that the circulation of paper gulden and silver gulden was quantitatively very moderate, and that these means of payment were accepted by the public banks at their nominal value. All the same, the expectations for the future that the leading house of Viennese high finance had reason to nurse cannot have been quite without effect on the international valuation of the Austrian paper gulden. Consequently it may be justifiable in view of this information to ascribe some weight to Laughlin’s argument, in spite of von Mises.”
The mysterious communication made to Laughlin by “the leading house of Viennese high finance,” and handed on by him to Professor Lotz, was a secret de Polichinelle. The innumerable articles devoted to the question of the standard that appeared during the eighties in the Austrian and Hungarian papers, especially in the Neue Freie Presse, always assumed that Austria-Hungary would go over to the gold standard. Preparation for this step had been made as early as 1879 by the suspension of the free coinage of silver All the same, proof of this fact, which is denied by nobody (or at least not by me), in no way solves the problem we are concerned with, as Professor Lotz apparently supposes it to do. It merely indicates the problem that we have to solve. The fact that the gulden was “eventually” to be converted into gold “at some rate or other” does not explain why it was at that time valued at a certain amount and not higher or lower. If the gulden were to be converted into gold, and the national debt certificates into gulden, how did it come about that the interest-bearing national debt bonds were valued less highly than the gulden notes and coined gulden which did not bear interest? That is what we have to explain. It is obvious that our problem is only just beginning at the point where it is finished with for Professor Lotz.
It is true that Professor Lotz is prepared to admit that it was “also of importance” that the circulation of paper gulden and silver gulden was “quantitatively very moderate”; and he grants the validity of yet a third explanation in addition, namely that this means of payment was accepted by the Treasury at its nominal value. But the relationship of these explanations to each other remains obscure. Possibly it has not occurred to Professor Lotz that the first and second are difficult to reconcile. For if the gulden was valued only in consideration of its eventual conversion into gold, it is fair to assume that it could have made no difference whether more or fewer gulden were in circulation, so long, say, as the funds available for conversion were not limited to a given amount. The third attempt at an explanation is altogether invalid, since the “nominal value” of the gulden was only the “gulden” over again and the very point at issue is to account for the purchasing power of the gulden.
The sort of procedure that Professor Lotz adopts here for solving a problem of economic science must necessarily end in failure. It is not enough to collect the opinions of businessmen—even if they are “leading” men or belong to “leading” houses—and then serve them up to the public, garnished with a few on the one hand’s and on the other hand’s, an admittedly or so, and a sprinkling of all the same’s. The collection of “facts” is not science, by a long way. There are no grounds for ascribing authoritative significance to the opinions of businessmen; for economics, these opinions are nothing more than material, to be worked upon and evaluated. When the businessman tries to explain anything he becomes as much a “theorist” as anybody else; and there is no reason for giving a preference to the theories of the practical merchant or farmer. It is, for instance, impossible to prove the cost-of-production theory of the older school by invoking the innumerable assertions of businessmen that “explain” variations in prices by variations in costs of production.
Nowadays there are many who, busied with the otiose accumulation of material, have lost their understanding for the specifically economic in the statement and solution of problems. It is high time to remember that economics is something other than the work of the reporter whose business it is to ask X the banker and Y the commercial magnate what they think of the economic situation.
The Problem of the Existence of Local Differences in the Objective Exchange Value of Money
Interlocal Price Relations
Let us at first ignore the possibility of various kinds of money being employed side by side, and assume that in a given district one kind of money serves exclusively as the common medium of exchange. The problem of the reciprocal exchange ratios of different kinds of money will then form the subject matter of the next chapter In this chapter, however, let us imagine an isolated geographical area of any size whose inhabitants engage in mutual trade and use a single good as common medium of exchange. It makes no immediate difference whether we think of this region as composed of several states, or as part of one large state, or as a particular individual state. It will not be necessary until a later stage in our argument to mention certain incidental modifications of the general formula which result from differences in the legal concepts of money in different states.
It has already been mentioned that two economic goods, which are of similar constitution in all other respects, are not to be regarded as members of the same species if they are not both ready for consumption at the same place. For many purposes it seems more convenient to regard them as goods of different species related to one another as goods of higher and lower orders.77 Only in the case of money is it permissible in certain circumstances to ignore the factor of position in space. For the utility of money, in contrast to that of other economic goods, is to a certain extent free from the limitations of geographical distance. Checks and clearing systems, and similar institutions, have a tendency to make the use of money more or less independent of the difficulties and costs of transport. They have had the effect of permitting gold stored in the cellars of the Bank of England, for instance, to be used as a common medium of exchange anywhere in the world. We can easily imagine a monetary organization which, by the exclusive use of notes or clearinghouse methods, allows all transfers to be made with the instrumentality of sums of money that never change their position in space. If we assume, further, that the costs associated with every transaction are not influenced by the distance between the two parties to the contract and between each of them and the place where the money is (it is well known that this condition is already realized in some cases; for example, in the charges made for postal and money-order services), then there is sufficient justification for ignoring differences in the geographical situation of money. But a corresponding abstraction with regard to other economic goods would be inadmissible. No institution can make it possible for coffee in Brazil to be consumed in Europe. Before the consumption good “coffee in Europe” can be made out of the production good “coffee in Brazil,” this production good must first be combined with the complementary good “means of transport.”
If differences due to the geographical position of money are disregarded in this way, we get the following law for the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods: every economic good, that is ready for consumption (in the sense in which that phrase is usually understood in commerce and technology), has a subjective use-value qua consumption good at the place where it is and qua production good at those places to which it may be brought for consumption. These valuations originate independently of each other; but, for the determination of the exchange ratio between money and commodities, both are equally important. The money price of any commodity in any place, under the assumption of completely unrestricted exchange and disregarding the differences arising from the time taken in transit, must be the same as the price at any other place, augmented or diminished by the money cost of transport.
Now there is no further difficulty in including in this formula the cost of transport of money, or a further factor, on which the banker and exchange dealer lay great weight, namely, the costs arising from the recoinage which may be necessary. All these factors, which it is not necessary to enumerate in further detail, have a combined effect on the foreign exchange rate (cable rate, etc.) the resultant of which must be included in our calculation as a positive or negative quantity. To prevent any possible misunderstanding, it should once more be explicitly remarked that we are concerned here only with the rate of exchange between places in which the same kind of money is in use, although it is a matter of indifference whether the same coins are legal tender in both places. The essentially different problems of the rate of exchange between different kinds of money will not occupy us until the following chapter.
Alleged Local Differences in the Purchasing Power of Money
In contrast to the law of interlocal price relations that has just been explained is the popular belief in local variations in the purchasing power of money. The assertion is made again and again that the purchasing power of money may be different in different markets at the same time, and statistical data are continually being brought forward to support this assertion. Few economic opinions are so firmly rooted in the lay mind as this. Travelers are in the habit of bringing it home with them, usually as a piece of knowledge gained by personal observation. Few visitors to Austria from Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century had any doubts that the value of money was higher in Germany than in Austria. That the objective exchange value of gold, our commodity money κατ ὲξοχὴν, stood at different levels in different parts of the world, passed for established truth in even economic literature.78
We have seen where the fallacy lies in this, and may spare ourselves unnecessary repetition. It is the leaving out of account of the positional factor in the nature of economic goods, a relic of the crudely materialist conception of the economic problem, that is to blame for this confusion of ideas. All the alleged local differences in the purchasing power of money can easily be explained in this way. It is not permissible to deduce a difference in the purchasing power of money in Germany and in Russia from the fact that the price of wheat is different in these countries, for wheat in Russia and wheat in Germany represent two different species of goods. To what absurd conclusions should we not come if we regarded goods lying in bond in a customs or excise warehouse and goods of the same technological species on which the duty or tax had already been paid as belonging to the same species of goods in the economic sense? We should then apparently have to suppose that the purchasing power of money could vary from building to building or from district to district within a single town. Of course, if there are those who prefer to retain commercial terminology, and think it better to distinguish species of goods merely by their external characteristics, we cannot say that they shall not do this. To contend over terminological questions would be an idle enterprise. We are not concerned with words, but with facts. But if this form of expression, in our opinion the less appropriate, is employed, care must be taken in some way to make full allowance for distinctions based on differences in the places at which the commodities are situated ready for consumption. It is not sufficient merely to take account of costs of transport and of customs duties and indirect taxes. The effect of direct taxes, for example, the burden of which is to a large extent transferable also, must be included in the calculation.
It seems better to us to use the terminology suggested above, which stresses with greater clearness that the purchasing power of money shows a tendency to come to the same level throughout the world, and that the alleged differences in it are almost entirely explicable by differences in the quality of the commodities offered and demanded, so that there is only a small and almost negligible remainder left over, that is due to differences in the quality of the offered and demanded money.
The existence of the tendency itself is hardly questioned. But the force which it exerts, and hence its importance also, are estimated variously, and the old classical proposition, that money like every other commodity always seeks out the market in which it has the highest value, is said to be mistaken. Wieser has said in this connection that the monetary transactions involved in exchange are induced by the commodity transactions; that they constitute an auxiliary movement, which proceeds only so far as is necessary to permit the completion of the principal movement. But the international movement of commodities, Wieser declares, is even nowadays noticeably small in comparison with domestic trade. The transmitted national equilibrium of prices is broken through for relatively few commodities whose prices are world prices. Consequently, the transmitted value of money is still for the most part as significant as ever. It will not be otherwise until, in place of the national organization of production and labor which still prevails today, a complete world organization has been established; but it will be a long while before this happens. At present the chief factor of production, labor, is still subject to national limitations everywhere; a nation adopts foreign advances in technique and organization only to the degree permitted by its national characteristics, and, in general, does not very easily avail itself of opportunities of work abroad, whereas within the nation entrepreneurs and wage laborers move about to a considerable extent. Consequently, wages everywhere retain the national level at which they have been historically determined, and thus the most important element in costs remains nationally determined at this historical level; and the same is true of most other cost elements. On the whole, the transmitted value of money forms the basis of further social calculations of costs and values. Meanwhile, the international contacts are not yet strong enough to raise national methods of production on to a single world level and to efface the differences in the transmitted national exchange values of money.79
It is hardly possible to agree with these arguments, which smack a little too much of the cost-of-production theory of value and are certainly not to be reconciled with the principles of the subjective theory. Nobody would wish to dispute the fact that costs of production differ greatly from one another in different localities. But it must be denied that this exercises an influence on the price of commodities and on the purchasing power of money. The contrary follows too clearly from the principles of the theory of prices, and is too clearly demonstrated day by day in the market, to need any special proof in addition. The consumer who seeks the cheapest supply and the producer who seeks the most paying sale concur in the endeavor to liberate prices from the limitations of the local market. Intending buyers do not bother much about the national costs of production when those abroad are lower (And because this is so, the producer working with higher costs of production calls for protective duties.) That differences in the wages of labor in different countries are unable to influence the price levels of commodities is best shown by the circumstance that even the countries with high levels of wages are able to supply the markets of the countries with low levels of wages. Local differences in the prices of commodities whose natures are technologically identical are to be explained on the one hand by differences in the cost of preparing them for consumption (expenses of transport, cost of retailing, etc.) and on the other hand by the physical and legal obstacles that restrict the mobility of commodities and human beings.
Alleged Local Differences in the Cost of Living
There is a certain connection between the assertion of local differences in the purchasing power of money and the widespread belief in local differences in the cost of living. It is supposed to be possible “to live” more cheaply in some places than in others. It might be supposed that both statements come to the same thing, and that it makes no difference whether we say that the Austrian crown was “worth” less in 1913 than the eighty-five pfennigs which corresponded to its gold value, or that “living” was dearer in Austria than in Germany. But this is not correct. The two propositions are by no means identical. The opinion that living is more expensive in one place than in another in no way implies the proposition that the purchasing power of money is different. Even with complete equality of the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods it may happen that an individual is involved in unequal costs in securing the same level of satisfaction in different places. This is especially likely to be the case when residence in a certain place awakens wants which the same individual would not have been conscious of elsewhere. Such wants may be social or physical in nature. Thus, the Englishman of the richer classes is able to live more cheaply on the Continent, because he is obliged to fulfill a series of social duties at home that do not exist for him abroad. Again, living in a large town is dearer than in the country if only because the immediate propinquity in town of so many possibilities of enjoyment stimulates desires and calls forth wants that are unknown to the provincial. Those who often visit theaters, concerts, art exhibitions, and similar places of entertainment, naturally spend more money than those who live in otherwise similar circumstances, but have to go without these pleasures. The same is true of the physical wants of human beings. In tropical areas, Europeans have to take a series of precautions for the protection of health which would be unnecessary in the temperate zones. All those wants whose origin is dependent on local circumstances demand for their satisfaction a certain stock of goods which would otherwise be used for the satisfaction of other wants, and consequently they diminish the degree of satisfaction that a given stock of goods can afford.
Hence, the statement that the cost of living is different in different localities only means that the same individual cannot secure the same degree of satisfaction from the same stock of goods in different places. We have just given one reason for this phenomenon. But, besides this, the belief in local differences in the cost of living is also supported by reference to local differences in the purchasing power of money. It would be possible to prove the incorrectness of this view. It is no more appropriate to speak of a difference between the purchasing power of money in Germany and in Austria than it would be justifiable to conclude from differences between the prices charged by hotels on the peaks and in the valleys of the Alps that the objective exchange value of money is different in the two situations and to formulate some such proposition as that the purchasing power of money varies inversely with the height above sea level. The purchasing power of money is the same everywhere; only the commodities offered are not the same. They differ in a quality that is eco nomically significant—the position in space of the place at which they are ready for consumption.
But although the exchange ratios between money and economic goods of completely similar constitution in all parts of a unitary market area in which the same sort of money is employed are at any time equal to one another, and all apparent exceptions can be traced back to differences in the spatial quality of the commodities, it is nevertheless true that price differentials evoked by the difference in position (and hence in economic quality) of the commodities may under certain circumstances constitute a subjective justification of the assertion that there are differences in the cost of living. He who voluntarily visits Karlsbad on account of his health would be wrong in deducing from the higher price of houses and food there that it is impossible to get as much enjoyment from a given sum of money in Karlsbad as elsewhere and that consequently living is dearer there. This conclusion does not allow for the difference in quality of the commodities whose prices are being compared. It is just because of this difference in quality, just because it has a certain value for him, that the visitor comes to Karlsbad. If he has to pay more in Karlsbad for the same quantity of satisfactions, this is due to the fact that in paying for them he is also paying the price of being able to enjoy them in the immediate neighborhood of the medicinal springs. The case is different for the businessman and laborer and official who are merely tied to Karlsbad by their occupations. The propinquity of the waters has no significance for the satisfaction of their wants, and so their having to pay extra on account of it for every good and service that they buy will, since they obtain no additional satisfaction from it, appear to them as a reduction of the possibilities of the enjoyment that they might otherwise have. If they compare their standard of living with that which they could achieve with the same expenditure in a neighboring town, they will arrive at the conclusion that living is really dearer at the spa than elsewhere. They will then only transfer their activity to the dearer spa if they believe that they will be able to secure there a sufficiently higher money income to enable them to achieve the same standard of living as elsewhere. But in comparing the standards of satisfaction attainable they will leave out of account the advantage of being able to satisfy their wants in the spa itself because this circumstance has no value in their eyes. Every kind of wage will therefore, under the assumption of complete mobility, be higher in the spa than in other, cheaper, places. This is generally known as far as it applies to contract wages; but it is also true of official salaries. The government pays a special bonus to those of its employees who have to take up their duties in “dear” places, in order to put them on a level with those functionaries who are able to live in cheaper places. The laborers too have to be compensated by higher wages for the higher cost of living.
This also is the clue to the meaning of the sentence, “Living is dearer in Austria than in Germany,” a sentence which has a certain meaning even though there is no difference between the purchasing power of money in the two countries. The differences in prices in the two areas do not refer to commodities of the same nature; what are supposed to be identical commodities really differ in an essential point; they are available for consumption in different places. Physical causes on the one hand, social causes on the other, give to this distinction a decisive importance in the determination of prices. He who values the opportunity of working in Austria as an Austrian among Austrians, who has been brought up to work and earn money in Austria, and cannot get a living anywhere else on account of language difficulties, national customs, economic conditions, and the like, would nevertheless be wrong in concluding from a comparison of domestic and foreign commodity prices that living was dearer at home. He must not forget that part of every price he pays is for the privilege of being able to satisfy his wants in Austria. An independent rentier with a free choice of domicile is in a position to decide whether he prefers a life of apparently limited satisfactions in his native country among his own kindred to one of apparently more abundant satisfaction among strangers in a foreign land. But most people are spared the trouble of such a choice; for most, staying at home is a matter of necessity, emigration an impossibility.
To recapitulate: the exchange ratio subsisting between commodities and money is everywhere the same. But men and their wants are not everywhere the same, and neither are commodities. Only if these distinctions are ignored is it possible to speak of local differences in the purchasing power of money or to say that living is dearer in one place than in another.
The Exchange Ratio Between Money of Different Kinds
The Twofold Possibility of the Coexistence of Different Kinds of Money
The existence of an exchange ratio between two sorts of money is dependent upon both being used side by side, at the same time, by the same economic agents, as common media of exchange. We could perhaps conceive of two economic areas, not connected in any other way, being linked together only by the fact that each exchanged the commodity it used for money against that used for money by the other, in order then to use the acquired monetary commodity otherwise than as money. But this would not be a case of an exchange ratio between different kinds of money simply arising from their monetary employment. If we wish successfully to conduct our investigation as an investigation into the theory of money, then even in the present chapter we must disregard the nonmonetary uses of the material of which commodity money is made; or, at least, take account of them only where this is necessary for the complete clarification of all the processes connected with our problem. Now the assertion that, apart from the effects of the industrial use of the monetary material, an exchange ratio can be established between two sorts of money only when both are used as money simultaneously and side by side, is not the usual view. That is to say, prevailing opinion distinguishes two cases: that in which two or more domestic kinds of money exist side by side in the parallel standard, and that in which the money in exclusive use at home is of a kind different from the money used abroad. Both cases are dealt with separately, although there is no theoretical difference between them as far as the determination of the exchange ratio between the two sorts of money is concerned.
If a gold-standard country and a silver-standard country have business relations with each other and constitute a unitary market for certain economic goods, then it is obviously incorrect to say that the common medium of exchange consists of gold only for the inhabitants of the gold-standard country, and of silver only for those of the silver-standard country. On the contrary, from the economic point of view both metals must be regarded as money for each area. Until 1873, gold was just as much a medium of exchange for the German buyer of English commodities as silver was for the English buyer of German commodities. The German farmer who wished to exchange corn for English steel goods could not do so without the instrumentality of both gold and silver. Exceptional cases might arise, where a German sold in England for gold and bought again with gold, or where an Englishman sold in Germany for silver and bought with silver; but this merely demonstrates more clearly still the monetary characteristic of both metals for the inhabitants of both areas. Whether the case is one of an exchange through the instrumentality of money used once or used more than once, the only important point is that the existence of international trade relations results in the consequence that the money of each of the single areas concerned is money also for all the other areas
It is true that there are important differences between that money which plays the chief part in domestic trade, is the instrument of most exchanges, predominates in the dealings between consumers and sellers of consumption goods, and in loan transactions, and is recognized by the law as legal tender, and that money which is employed in relatively few transactions, is hardly ever used by consumers in their purchases, does not function as an instrument of loan operations, and is not legal tender. In popular opinion, the former money only is domestic money, the latter foreign money. Although we cannot accept this if we do not want to close the way to an understanding of the problem that occupies us, we must nevertheless emphasize that it has great significance in other connections. We shall have to come back to it in the chapter which deals with the social effects of fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money.
The Static or Natural Exchange Ratio Between Different Kinds of Money
For the exchange ratio between two or more kinds of money, whether they are employed side by side in the same country (the parallel standard) or constitute what is popularly called foreign money and domestic money, it is the exchange ratio between individual economic goods and the individual kinds of money that is decisive. The different kinds of money are exchanged in a ratio corresponding to the exchange ratios existing between each of them and the other economic goods. If 1 kg. of gold is exchanged for m kg. of a particular sort of commodity, and 1 kg. of silver for m/15 1/2 kg. of the same sort of commodity, then the exchange ratio between gold and silver will be established at 15 1/2. If some disturbance tends to alter this ratio between the two sorts of money, which we shall call the static or natural ratio, then automatic forces will be set in motion that will tend to reestablish it.80
Let us consider the case of two countries each of which carries on its domestic trade with the aid of one sort of money only, which is different from that used in the other country. If the inhabitants of two areas with different currencies who have previously exchanged their commodities directly without the intervention of money begin to make use of money in the transaction of their business, they will base the exchange ratio between the two kinds of money on the exchange ratio between each kind of money and the commodities. Let us assume that a gold-standard country and a silver-standard country had exchanged cloth directly for wheat on such terms that one meter of cloth was given for one bushel of wheat. Let the price of cloth in the country of its origin be one gram of gold per meter; that of wheat, 15 grams of silver per bushel. If international trade is now put on a monetary basis, then the price of gold in terms of silver must be established at 15. If it were established higher, say at 16, then indirect exchange through the instrumentality of money would be disadvantageous from the point of view of the owners of the wheat as compared with direct exchange; in indirect exchange for a bushel of wheat they would obtain only fifteen-sixteenths of a meter of cloth as against a whole meter in direct exchange. The same disadvantage would arise for the owners of the cloth if the price of gold was established at anything lower, say at 14 grams of silver. This, of course, does not imply that the exchange ratios between the different kinds of money have actually developed in this manner. It is to be understood as a logical, not a historical, explanation. Of the two precious metals gold and silver it must especially be remarked that their reciprocal exchange ratios have slowly developed with the development of their monetary position.
If no other relations than those of barter exist between the inhabitants of two areas, then balances in favor of one party or the other cannot arise. The objective exchange values of the quantities of commodities and services surrendered by each of the contracting parties must be equal, whether present goods or future goods are involved. Each constitutes the price of the other. This fact is not altered in any way if the exchange no longer proceeds directly but indirectly through the intermediaryship of one or more common media of exchange. The surplus of the balance of payments that is not settled by the consignment of goods and services but by the transmission of money was long regarded merely as a consequence of the state of international trade. It is one of the great achievements of Classical political economy to have exposed the fundamental error involved in this view. It demonstrated that international movements of money are not consequences of the state of trade; that they constitute not the effect, but the cause, of a favorable or unfavorable trade balance. The precious metals are distributed among individuals and hence among nations according to the extent and intensity of their demands for money. No individual and no nation need fear at any time to have less money than it needs. Government measures designed to regulate the international government of money in order to ensure that the community shall have the amount it needs, are just as unnecessary and inappropriate as, say intervention to ensure a sufficiency or corn or iron or the like. This argument dealt the Mercantilist theory its death blow.81
Nevertheless statesmen are still greatly exercised by the problem of the international distribution of money. For hundreds of years, the Midas theory, systematized by Mercantilism, has been the rule followed by governments in taking measures of commercial policy. In spite of Hume, Smith, and Ricardo, it still dominates men’s minds more than would be expected. Phoenixlike, it rises again and again from its own ashes. And indeed it would hardly be possible to overcome it with objective argument; for it numbers its disciples among that great host of the half-educated who are proof against any argument, however simple, if it threatens to rob them of longcherished illusions that have become too dear to part with. It is only regrettable that these lay opinions not only predominate in discussions of economic policy on the part of legislators, the press—even the technical journals—and businessmen, but still occupy much space even in scientific literature. The blame for this must again be laid to the account of obscure notions concerning the nature of fiduciary media and their significance as regards the determination of prices. The reasons which, first in England and then in all other countries, were urged in favor of the limitation of the fiduciary note issue have never been understood by modern writers, who know them only at secondhand or thirdhand. That they in general plead for their retention, or only demand such modifications as leave the principle untouched, merely expresses their reluctance to replace an institution which on the whole has indubitably justified itself by a system whose effects they, to whom the phenomena of the market constitute an insoluble riddle, are naturally least of all able to foresee. When these writers seek for a motive in present-day banking policy, they can find none but that characterized by the slogan, “Protection of the national stock of the precious metals.” We can pass the more lightly over these views in the present place since we shall have further opportunity in part three to discuss the true meaning of the bank laws that limit the note issue.
Money does not flow to the place where the rate of interest is highest; neither is it true that it is the richest nations that attract money to themselves. The proposition is as true of money as of every other economic good, that its distribution among individual economic agents depends on its marginal utility. Let us first completely abstract from all geographical and political concepts, such as country and state, and imagine a state of affairs in which money and commodities are completely mobile within a unitary market area. Let us further assume that all payments, other than those cancelled out by offsetting or mutual balancing of claims, are made by transferring money, and not by the cession of fiduciary media; that is to say, that uncovered notes and deposits are unknown. This supposition, again, is similar to that of the “purely metallic currency” of the English Currency School, although with the help of our precise concept of fiduciary media we are able to avoid the obscurities and shortcomings of their point of view. In a state of affairs corresponding to these suppositions of ours, all economic goods, including of course money, tend to be distributed in such a way that a position of equilibrium between individuals is reached, when no further act of exchange that any individual could undertake would bring him any gain, any increase of subjective value. In such a position of equilibrium, the total stock of money, just like the total stocks of commodities, is distributed among individuals according to the intensity with which they are able to express their demand for it in the market. Every displacement of the forces affecting the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods brings about a corresponding change in this distribution, until a new position of equilibrium is reached. This is true of individuals, but it is also true of all the individuals in a given area taken together. For the goods possessed and the goods demanded by a nation are only the sums of the goods possessed and the goods demanded by all the economic agents, private as well as public, which make up the nation, among which the state as such admittedly occupies an important position, but a very far from dominant one.
Trade balances are not causes but merely concomitants of move ments of money. For if we look beneath the veil with which the forms of monetary transactions conceal the nature of exchanges of goods, then it is clear that, even in international trade, commodities are exchanged for commodities, through the instrumentality of money. Just as the single individual does, so also all the individuals in an economic community taken together, wish in the last analysis to acquire not money, but other economic goods. If the state of the balance of payments is such that movements of money would have to occur from one country to the other, independently of any altered estimation of money on the part of their respective inhabitants, then operations are induced which reestablish equilibrium. Those persons who receive more money than they need will hasten to spend the surplus again as soon as possible, whether they buy production goods or consumption goods. On the other hand, those persons whose stock of money falls below the amount they need will be obliged to increase their stock of money, either by restricting their purchases or by disposing of commodities in their possession. The price variations, in the markets of the countries in question, that occur for these reasons, give rise to transactions which must always reestablish the equilibrium of the balance of payments. A credit or debit balance of payments that is not dependent upon an alteration in the conditions of demand for money can only be transient.82
Thus international movements of money, so far as they are not of a transient nature and consequently soon rendered ineffective by movements in the contrary direction, are always called forth by variations in the demand for money. Now it follows from this that a country in which fiduciary media are not employed is never in danger of losing its stock of money to other countries. Shortage of money and superabundance of money can no more be a permanent experience for a nation than for an individual. Ultimately they are spread out uniformly among all economic agents using the same economic good as common medium of exchange, and naturally their effects on the objective exchange value of money which bring about the adjustment between the stock of money and the demand for it are finally uniform for all economic agents. Measures of economic policy which aim at increasing the quantity of money circulating in a country could be successful so far as the money circulates in other countries also, only if they brought about a displacement in relative demands for money. Nothing is fundamentally altered in all this by the employment of fiduciary media. So far as there remains a demand for money in the narrower sense despite the use of fiduciary media, it will express itself in the same way.
There are many gaps in the Classical doctrine of international trade. It was built up at a time when international exchange relations were largely limited to dealings in present goods. No wonder, then, that its chief reference was to such goods or that it left out of account the possibility of an international exchange of services, and of present goods for future goods. It remained for a later generation to undertake the expansion and correction here necessary, a task that was all the easier since all that was wanted was a consistent expansion of the same doctrine to cover these phenomena as well. The classical doctrine had further restricted itself to that part of the problem presented by international metallic money. The treatment with which credit money had to be content was not satisfactory, and this shortcoming has not been entirely remedied yet. The problem has been regarded too much from the point of view of the technique of the monetary system and too little from that of the theory of exchange of goods. If the latter point of view had been adopted, it would have been impossible to avoid commencing the investigation with the proposition that the balance of trade between two areas with different currencies must always be in equilibrium, without the emergence of a balance needing to be corrected by the transport of money.83 If we take a gold-standard and a silver-standard country as an example, then there still remains the possibility that the money of the one country will be put to a nonmonetary use in the other. Such a possibility must naturally be ruled out of account. The relations between two countries with fiat money would be the best example to take; if we merely make our example more general by supposing that metallic money may be in use, then only the monetary use of the metallic money must be considered. It is then immediately clear that goods and services can only be paid for with other goods and services; that in the last analysis there can be no question of payment in money.
The Problem of Measuring the Objective Exchange Value of Money and Variations in It
The History of the Problem
The problem of measuring the objective exchange value of money and its variations has attracted much more attention than its significance warrants. If all the columns of figures and tables and curves that have been prepared in this connection could perform what has been promised of them, then we should certainly have to agree that the tremendous expenditure of labor upon their construction would not have been in vain. In fact, nothing less has been hoped from them than the solution of the difficult questions connected with the problem of the objective exchange value of money. But it is very well known, and has been almost ever since the methods were discovered, that such aids cannot avail here.
The fact that, in spite of all this, the improvement of methods of calculating index numbers is still worked at most zealously, and that they have even been able to achieve a certain popularity that is otherwise denied to economic investigation, may well appear puzzling. It becomes explicable if we take into account certain peculiarities of the human mind. Like the king in Rückert’s Weisheit des Brahmanen, the layman always tends to seek for formulae that sum up the results of scientific investigation in a few words. But the briefest and most pregnant expression for such summaries is in figures. Simple numerical statement is sought for even where the nature of the case excludes it. The most important results of research in the social sciences leave the multitude apathetic, but any set of figures awakens its interest. Its history becomes a series of dates, its economics a collection of statistical data. No other objection is more often brought against economics by laymen than that there are no economic laws; and if an attempt is made to meet this objection, then almost invariably the request is made that an example of such a law should be named and expounded—as if fragments of systems, whose study demands years of thought on the part of the expert, could be made intelligible to the novice in a few minutes. Only by letting fall morsels of statistics is it possible for the economic theorist to maintain his prestige in the face of questions of this sort.
Great names in the history of economics are associated with various systems of index numbers. Indeed, it was but natural that the best brains should have been the most attracted by this extraordinarily difficult problem. But in vain. Closer investigation shows us how little the inventors of the various index-number methods themselves thought of their attempts, how justly, as a rule, they were able to estimate their importance. He who cares to go to the trouble of demonstrating the uselessness of index numbers for monetary theory and the concrete tasks of monetary policy will be able to select a good proportion of his weapons from the writings of the very men who invented them.
The Nature of the Problem
The objective exchange value of the monetary unit can be expressed in units of any individual commodity. Just as we are in the habit of speaking of a money price of the other exchangeable goods, so we may conversely speak of the commodity price of money, and have then so many expressions for the objective exchange value of money as there are commercial commodities that are exchanged for money. But these expressions tell us little; they leave unanswered the questions that we want to solve. There are two parts to the problem of measuring the objective exchange value of money. First we have to obtain numerical demonstration of the fact of variations in the objective exchange value of money; then the question must be decided whether it is possible to make a quantitative examination of the causes of particular price movements, with special reference to the question whether it would be possible to produce evidence of such variations in the purchasing power of money as lie on the monetary side of the ratio.84
So far as the first-named problem is concerned, it is self-evident that its solution must assume the existence of a good, or complex of goods, of unchanging objective exchange value. The fact that such goods are inconceivable needs no further elucidation. For a good of this sort could exist only if all the exchange ratios between all goods were entirely free from variations. With the continually varying foundations on which the exchange ratios of the market ultimately rest, this presumption can never be true of a social order based upon the free exchange of goods.85
To measure is to determine the ratio of one quantity to another which is invariable or assumed to be invariable. Invariability in respect of the property to be measured, or at least the legitimacy of assuming such invariability, is a sine qua non of all measurement. Only when this assumption is admissible is it possible to determine the variations that are to be measured. Then, if the ratio between the measure and the object to be measured alter, this can only be referred to causes directly affecting the latter. Thus the problems of measuring the two kinds of variation in the objective exchange value of money go together. If the one is proved to be soluble, then so also is the other; and proof of the insolubility of the one is also proof of the insolubility of the other.
Methods of Calculating Index Numbers
Nearly all the attempts that have hitherto been made to solve the problem of measuring the objective exchange value of money have started from the idea that if the price movements of a large number of commodities were combined by a particular method of calculation, the effects of those determinants of the price movements which lie on the side of the commodities would largely cancel one another out, and consequently, that such calculations would make it possible to discover the direction and extent of the effects of those determinants of price movements that lie on the monetary side. This assumption would prove correct, and the inquiries instituted with its help could led to the desired results, if the exchange ratios between the other economic goods were constant among themselves. Since this assumption does not hold good, refuge must be taken in all sorts of artificial hypotheses in order to obtain at least some sort of an idea of the significance of the results gained. But to do this is to abandon the safe ground of statistics and enter into a territory in which, in the absence of any reliable guidance (such as could be provided only by a complete understanding of all the laws governing the value of money), we must necessarily go astray. So long as the determinants of the objective exchange value of money are not satisfactorily elucidated in some other way, the sole possible reliable guide through the tangle of statistical material is lacking. But even if investigation into the determinants of prices and their fluctuations, and the separation Of these determinants into single factors, could be achieved with complete precision, statistical investigation of prices would still be thrown on its own resources at the very point where it most needs support. That is to say, in monetary theory, as in every other branch of economic investigation, it will never be possible to determine the quantitative importance of the separate factors. Examination of the influence exerted by the separate determinants of prices will never reach the stage of being able to undertake numerical imputation among the different factors. All determinants of prices have their effect only through the medium of the subjective estimates of individuals; and the extent to which any given factor influences these subjective estimates can never be predicted. Consequently, the evaluation of the results of statistical investigations into prices, even if they could be supported by established theoretical conclusions, would still remain largely dependent on the rough estimates of the investigator, a circumstance that is apt to reduce their value considerably. Under certain conditions, index numbers may do very useful service as an aid to investigation into the history and statistics of prices; for the extension of the theory of the nature and value of money they are unfortunately not very important.
Wieser’s Refinement of the Methods of Calculating Index Numbers
Very recently Wieser has made a new suggestion which constitutes an improvement of the budgetary method of calculating index numbers, notably employed by Falkner.86 This is based on the view that when nominal wages change but continue to represent the same real wages, then the value of money has changed, because it expresses the same real quantity of value differently from before, or because the ratio of the monetary unit to the unit of real value has changed. On the other hand, the value of money is regarded as unchanged when nominal wages go up or down, but real wages move exactly parallel with them. If the contrast between money income and real income is substituted for that between nominal and real wages and the whole sum of the individuals in the community substituted for the single individual, then it is said to follow that such variations of the total money income as are accompanied by corresponding variations of the total real income do not indicate variations in the value of money at all, even if at the same time the prices of goods have changed in accordance with the altered conditions of supply. Only when the same real income is expressed by a different money income has the specific value of money changed. Thus to measure the value of money, a number of typical kinds of income should be chosen and the real expenditure corresponding to each determined, that is, the quantity of each kind of thing on which the incomes are spent. The money expenditure corresponding to this real expenditure is also to be shown, all for a particular base year; and then for each year the sums of money are to be evaluated in which the same quantities of real value were represented, given the prices ruling at the time. The result, it is claimed, would be the possibility of working out an average which would give for the whole country the monetary expression, as determined year by year in the market, of the real income taken as base. Thus it would be discovered whether a constant real value had a constant, a higher, or a lower, money expression year by year, and so a measure would be obtained of variations in the value of money.87
The technical difficulties in the way of employing this method, which is the most nearly perfect and the most deeply thought out of all methods of calculating index numbers, are apparently insurmountable. But even if it were possible to master them, this method could never fulfill the purpose that it is intended to serve. It could attain its end only under the same supposition that would justify all other methods; namely, the supposition that the exchange ratios between the individual economic goods excluding money are constant, and that only the exchange ratio between money and each of the other economic goods is liable to fluctuation. This would naturally involve an inertia of all social institutions, of population, of the distribution of wealth and income, and of the subjective valuations of individuals. Where everything is in a state of flux the supposition breaks down completely.
It was impossible for this to escape Wieser, who insists on allowance for the fact that the types of income and the classes into which the community is divided gradually alter, and that in the course of time certain kinds of consumption are discontinued and new kinds begun. For short periods, Wieser is of the opinion that this involves no particular difficulty; that it would be easy to retain the comparability of the totals by eliminating expenditures that did not enter into both sets of budgets. For long periods, he recommends Marshall’s chain method of always including a sufficient number of transitional types and restricting comparisons to any given type and that immediately preceding or following it. This hardly does away with the difficulty. The farther we went back in history, the more we should have to eliminate; ultimately it seems that only those portions of real income would remain that serve to satisfy the most fundamental needs of existence. Even within this limited scope, comparisons would be impossible, as, say, between the clothing of the twentieth century and that of the tenth century. It is still less possible to trace back historically the typical incomes, which would necessarily involve consideration of the existing division of society into classes. The progress of social differentiation constantly increases the number of types of income. And this is by no means simply due to the splitting up of single types; the process is much more complicated. Members of one group break off and intermingle with other groups or portions of other groups in a most complicated manner. With what type of income of the past can we compare that, say, of the modern factory worker?
But even if we were to ignore all these considerations, other difficulties would arise. It is quite possible, even most probable, that subjective valuations of equal portions of real income have altered in the course of time. Changes in ways of living, in tastes, in opinions concerning the objective use value of individual economic goods, evoke quite extraordinarily large fluctuations here, even in short periods. If we do not take account of this in estimating the variations of the money value of these portions of income, then new sources of error arise that may fundamentally affect our results. On the other hand, there is no basis at all for taking account of them.
All index-number systems, so far as they are intended to have a greater significance for monetary theory than that of mere playing with figures, are based upon the idea of measuring the utility of a certain quantity of money.88 The object is to determine whether a gram of gold is more or less useful today than it was at a certain time in the past. As far as objective use value is concerned, such an investigation may perhaps yield results. We may assume the fiction, if we like, that, say, a loaf of bread is always of the same utility in the objective sense, always comprises the same food value. It is not necessary for us to enter at all into the question of whether this is permissible or not. For certainly this is not the purpose of index numbers; their purpose is the determination of the subjective significance of the quantity of money in question. For this, recourse must be had to the quite nebulous and illegitimate fiction of an eternal human with invariable valuations. In Wieser’s typical incomes that have to be traced back through the centuries may be seen an attempt to refine this fiction and to free it from its limitations. But even this attempt cannot make the impossible possible, and was necessarily bound to fail. It represents the most perfect conceivable development of the index-number system, and the fact that this also leads to no practical result condemns the whole business. Of course, this could not escape Wieser. If he neglected to lay particular stress upon it, this is probably due solely to the circumstance that his concern was not so much to indicate a way of solving this insoluble problem, as to extract from a usual method all that could be got from it.
The Practical Utility of Index Numbers
The inadmissibility of the methods proposed for measuring variations in the value of money does not obtrude itself too much if we only want to use them for solving practical problems of economic policy. Even if index numbers cannot fulfill the demands that theory has to make, they can still, in spite of their fundamental shortcomings and the inexactness of the methods by which they are actually determined, perform useful workaday services for the politician.
If we have no other aim in view than the comparison of points of time that lie close to one another, then the errors that are involved in every method of calculating numbers may be so far ignored as to allow us to draw certain rough conclusions from them. Thus, for example, it becomes possible to a certain extent to span the temporal gap that lies, in a period of variation in the value of money, between movements of stock exchange rates and movements of the purchasing power that is expressed in the prices of commodities.89
In the same way we can follow statistically the progress of variations in purchasing power from month to month. The practical utility of all these calculations for certain purposes is beyond doubt; they have proved their worth in quite recent events. But we should beware of demanding more from them than they are able to perform.
The Social Consequences of Variations in the Objective Exchange Value of Money
The Exchange of Present Goods for Future Goods
Variations in the objective exchange value of money evoke displacements in the distribution of income and property, on the one hand because individuals are apt to overlook the variability of the value of money, and on the other hand because variations in the value of money do not affect all economic goods and services uniformly and simultaneously.
For hundreds, even thousands, of years, people completely failed to see that variations in the objective exchange value of money could be induced by monetary factors. They tried to explain all variations of prices exclusively from the commodity side. It was Bodin’s great achievement to make the first attack upon this assumption, which then quickly disappeared from scientific literature. It long continued to dominate lay opinion, but nowadays it appears to be badly shaken even here. Nevertheless, when individuals are exchanging present goods against future goods they do not take account in their valuations of variations in the objective exchange value of money. Lenders and borrowers are not in the habit of allowing for possible future fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money.
Transactions in which present goods are exchanged for future goods also occur when a future obligation has to be fulfilled, not in money, but in other goods. Still more frequent are transactions in which the contracts do not have to be fulfilled by either party until a later point of time. All such transactions involve a risk, and this fact is well known to all contractors. When anybody buys (or sells) corn, cotton, or sugar futures, or when anybody enters into a long-term contract for the supply of coal, iron, or timber, he is well aware of the risks that are involved in the transaction. He will carefully weigh the chances of future variations in prices, and often take steps, by means of insurance or hedging transactions such as the technique of the modern exchange has developed, to reduce the aleatory factor in his dealings.
In making long-term contracts involving money, the contracting parties are generally unconscious that they are taking part in a speculative transaction. Individuals are guided in their dealings by the belief that money is stable in value, that its objective exchange value is not liable to fluctuations, at least so far as its monetary determinants are concerned. This is shown most clearly in the attitude assumed by legal systems with regard to the problem of the objective exchange value of money.
In law, the objective exchange value of money is stable. It is sometimes asserted that legal systems adopt the fiction of the stability of the exchange value of money; but this is not true. In setting up a fiction, the law requires us to take an actual situation and imagine it to be different from what it really is, either by thinking of nonexistent elements as added to it or by thinking of existing elements as removed from it, so as to permit the application of legal maxims which refer only to the situation as thus transformed. Its purpose in doing this is to make it possible to decide cases according to analogy when a direct ruling does not apply. The whole nature of legal fictions is determined by this purpose, and they are sustained only so far as it requires. The legislator and the judge always remain aware that the fictitious situation does not correspond to reality. So it is also with the so-called dogmatic fiction that is employed in jurisprudence to permit legal facts to be systematically classified and related to each other. Here again, the situation is thought of as existing, but it is not assumed to exist.90
The attitude of the law to money is quite a different matter. The jurist is totally unacquainted with the problem of the value of money; he knows nothing of fluctuations in its exchange value. The naive popular belief in the stability of the value of money has been admitted, with all its obscurity, into the law, and no great historical cause of large and sudden variations in the value of money has ever provided a motive for critical examination of the legal attitude toward the subject. The system of civil law had already been completed when Bodin set the example of attempting to trace back variations in the purchasing power of money to causes exerting their influence from the monetary side. In this matter, the discoveries of more modern economists have left no trace on the law. For the law, the invariability of the value of money is not a fiction, but a fact.
All the same, the law does devote its attention to certain incidental questions of the value of money. It deals thoroughly with the question of how existing legal obligations and indebtednesses should be reckoned as affected by a transition from one currency to another. In earlier times, jurisprudence devoted the same attention to the royal debasement of the coinage as it was later to devote to the problems raised by the changing policies of states in choosing first between credit money and metallic money and then between gold and silver. Nevertheless, the treatment that these questions have received at the hands of the jurists has not resulted in recognition of the fact that the value of money is subject to continual fluctuation. In fact, the nature of the problem, and the way in which it was dealt with, made this impossible from the very beginning. It was treated, not as a question of the attitude of the law toward variations in the value of money, but as a question of the power of the prince or state arbitrarily to modify existing obligations and thus to destroy existing rights. At one time, this gave rise to the question whether the legal validity of the money was determined by the stamp of the ruler of the country or by the metal content of the coin; later, to the question whether the command of the law or the free usage of business was to settle if the money was legal tender or not. The answer of public opinion, grounded on the principles of private property and the protection of acquired rights, ran the same in both cases: “Prout quidque contractum est, ita et solvi debet; ut cum re contraximus, re solvi debet, veluti cum mutuum dedimus, ut retro pecuniae tantundem solvi debeat.”91 The proviso in this connection, that nothing was to be regarded as money except what passed for such at the time when the transaction was entered into and that the debt must be repaid not merely in the metal but in the currency that was specified in the contract, followed from the popular view, regarded as the only correct one by all classes of the community but especially by the tradesmen, that what was essential about a coin was its metallic content, and that the stamp had no other significance than as an authoritative certificate of weight and fineness. It occurred to nobody to treat coins in business transactions any differently from other pieces of metal of the same weight and fineness. In fact, it is now removed beyond doubt that the standard was a metallic one.
The view that in the fulfillment of obligations contracted in terms of money the metallic content alone of the money was to be taken into account prevailed against the nominalistic doctrine expounded by the minting authorities. It is manifested in the legal measures taken for stabilizing the metal content of the coinage, and since the end of the seventeenth century when currencies developed into systematic monetary standards it has provided the criterion for determining the ratio between different coins of the same metal (when current simultaneously or successively), and for the attempts, admittedly unsuccessful, to combine the two precious metals in a uniform monetary system.
Even the coming of credit money, and the problems that it raised, could not direct the attention of jurisprudence to the question of the value of money. A system of paper money was thought of as according with the spirit of the law only if the paper money remained constantly equivalent to the metallic money to which it was originally equivalent and which it had replaced or if the metal content or metal value of the claims remained decisive in contracts of indebtedness. But the fact that the exchange value of even metallic money is liable to variation has continued to escape explicit legal recognition and public opinion, at least as far as gold is concerned (and no other metal need nowadays be taken into consideration); there is not a single legal maxim that takes account of it, although it has been well known to economists for more than three centuries.
In its naive belief in the stability of the value of money the law is in complete harmony with public opinion. When any sort of difference arises between law and opinion, a reaction must necessarily follow; a movement sets in against that part of the law that is felt to be unjust. Such conflicts always tend to end in a victory of opinion over the law; ultimately the views of the ruling class become embodied in the law. The fact that it is nowhere possible to discover a trace of opposition to the attitude of the law on this question of the value of money shows clearly that its provisions relating to this matter cannot possibly be opposed to general opinion. That is to say, not only the law but public opinion also has never been troubled with the slightest doubt whatever concerning the stability of the value of money; in fact, so free has it been from doubts on this score that for an extremely long period money was regarded as the measure of value. And so when anybody enters into a credit transaction that s to be fulfilled in money it never occurs to him to take account of future fluctuations in the purchasing power of money.
Every variation in the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods shifts the position initially assumed by the parties to credit transactions in terms of money. An increase in the purchasing power of money is disadvantageous to the debtor and advantageous to the creditor; a decrease in its purchasing power has the contrary significance. If the parties to the contract took account of expected variations in the value of money when they exchanged present goods against future goods, these consequences would not occur. (But it is true that neither the extent nor the direction of these variations can be foreseen.)
The variability of the purchasing power of money is only taken into account when attention is drawn to the problem by the co-existence of two or more sorts of money whose exchange ratio is liable to big fluctuations. It is generally known that possible future variations in foreign-exchange rates are fully allowed for in the terms of credit transactions of all kinds. The part played by considerations of this sort, both in trade within countries where more than one sort of money is in use and in trade between countries with different currencies, is well known. But the allowance for the variability of the value of money in such cases is made in a fashion that is still not incompatible with the supposition that the value of money is stable. The fluctuations in value of one kind of money are measured by the equivalent of one of its units in terms of units of another kind of money, but the value of this other kind of money is for its part assumed to be stable. The fluctuations of the currency whose stability is in question are measured in terms of gold; but the fact that gold currencies are also liable to fluctuation is not taken into account. In their dealings individuals allow for the variability of the objective exchange value of money, so far as they are conscious of it; but they are conscious of it only with regard to certain kinds of money, not with regard to all. Gold, the principal common medium of exchange nowadays, is thought of as stable in value.92
So far as variations in the objective exchange value of money are foreseen, they influence the terms of credit transactions. If a future fall in the purchasing power of the monetary unit has to be reckoned with, lenders must be prepared for the fact that the sum of money which a debtor repays at the conclusion of the transaction will have a smaller purchasing power than the sum originally lent. Lenders, in fact, would do better not to lend at all, but to buy other goods with their money. The contrary is true for debtors. If they buy commodities with the money they have borrowed and sell them again after a time, they will retain a surplus over and above the sum that they have to pay back. The credit transaction results in a gain for them. Consequently it is not difficult to understand that, so long as continued depreciation is to be reckoned with, those who lend money demand higher rates of interest and those who borrow money are willing to pay the higher rates. If, on the other hand, it is expected that the value of money will increase, then the rate of interest will be lower than it would otherwise have been.93
Thus if the direction and extent of variations in the exchange value of money could be foreseen, they would not be able to affect the relations between debtor and creditor; the coming alterations in purchasing power could be sufficiently allowed for in the original terms of the credit transaction.94 But since this assumption, even so far as fluctuations in credit money or fiat money relatively to gold money are concerned, never holds good except in a most imperfect manner, the allowance made in debt contracts for future variations in the value of money is necessarily inadequate; while even nowadays, after the big and rapid fluctuations in the value of gold that have occurred since the outbreak of the world war, the great majority of those concerned in economic life (one might, in fact, say all of them, apart from the few who are acquainted with theoretical economics) are completely ignorant of the fact that the value of gold is variable. The value of gold currencies is still regarded as stable.
Those economists who have recognized that the value of even the best money is variable have recommended that in settling the terms of credit transactions, that is to say, the terms on which present goods are exchanged for future goods, the medium of exchange should not be one good alone, as is usual nowadays, but a “bundle” of goods; it is possible in theory if not in practice to include all economic goods in such a bundle. If this proposal were adopted, money would still be used as a medium for the exchange of present goods; but in credit transactions the outstanding obligation would be discharged, not by payment of the nominal sum of money specified in the contract, but by payment of a sum of money with the purchasing power that the original sum had at the time when the contract was made. Thus, if the objective exchange value of money rises during the period of the contract, a correspondingly smaller sum of money will be payable; if it falls, a correspondingly larger sum.
The arguments devoted above to the problem of measuring variations in the value of money show the fundamental inadequacy of these recommendations. If the prices of the various economic goods are given equal weight in the determination of the parity coefficients without consideration of their relative quantities, then the evils for which a remedy is sought may merely be aggravated. If variations in the prices of such commodities as wheat, rye, cotton, coal, and iron are given the same significance as variations in the prices of such commodities as pepper, opium, diamonds, or nickel, then the establishment of the tabular standard would have the effect of making the content of long-term contracts even more uncertain than at present. If what is called a weighted average is used, in which individual commodities have an effect proportioned to their significance,95 then the same consequences will still follow as soon as the conditions of production and consumption alter. For the subjective values attached by human beings to different economic goods are just as liable to constant fluctuation as are the conditions of production; but it is impossible to take account of this fact in determining the parity coefficients, because these must be invariable in order to permit connection with the past.
It is probable that the immediate associations of any mention nowadays of the effects of variations in the value of money on existing debt relations will be in terms of the results of the monstrous experiments in inflation that have characterized the recent history of Europe. In all countries, during the latter part of this period, the jurists have thoroughly discussed the question of whether it would have been possible or even whether it was still possible, by means of the existing law, or by creating new laws, to offset the injury done to creditors. In these discussions it was usually overlooked that the variations in the content of debt contracts that were consequent upon the depreciation of money were due to the attitude toward the problem taken by the law itself. It is not as if the legal system were being invoked to remedy an inconvenience for which it was not responsible. It was just its own attitude that was felt to be an inconvenience—the circumstance that the government had brought about depreciation. For the legal maxim by which an inconvertible banknote is legal tender equally with the gold money that was in circulation before the outbreak of the war, with which it has nothing in common but the name mark, is a part of the whole system of legal rules which allow the state to exploit its power to create new money as a source of income. It can no more be dissociated from this system than can the laws canceling the obligation of the banks to convert their notes and obliging them to make loans to the government by the issue of new notes.
When jurists and businessmen assert that the depredation of money has a very great influence on all kinds of debt relations, that it makes all kinds of business more difficult, or even impossible, that it invariably leads to consequences that nobody desires and that everybody feels to be unjust, we naturally agree with them. In a social order that is entirely founded on the use of money and in which all accounting is done in terms of money, the destruction of the monetary system means nothing less than the destruction of the basis of all exchange. Nevertheless, this evil cannot be counteracted by ad hoc laws designed to remove the burden of the depreciation from single persons, or groups of persons, or classes of the community, and consequently to impose it all the more heavily on others. If we do not desire the pernicious consequences of depreciation, then we must make up our minds to oppose the inflationary policy by which the depreciation is created.
It has been proposed that monetary liabilities should be settled in terms of gold and not according to their nominal amount. If this proposal were adopted, for each mark that had been borrowed that sum would have to be repaid that could at the time of repayment buy the same weight of gold as one mark could at the time when the debt contract was entered into.96 The fact that such proposals are now put forward and meet with approval shows that etatism has already lost its hold on the monetary system and that inflationary policies are inevitably approaching their end.97 Even only a few years ago, such a proposal would either have been ridiculed or else branded as high treason. (It is, by the way, characteristic that the first step toward enforcing the idea that the legal tender of paper money should be restricted to its market value was taken without exception in directions that were favorable to the national exchequer.)
To do away with the consequences of unlimited inflationary policy one thing only is necessary—the renunciation of all inflationary measures. The problem which the proponents of the tabular standard seek to solve by means of a “commodity currency” supplementing the metallic currency, and which Irving Fisher seeks to solve by his proposals for stabilizing the purchasing power of money, is a different one—that of dealing with variations in the value of gold.
Economic Calculation and Accountancy
The naive conception of money as stable in value or as a measure of value is also responsible for economic calculation being carried out in terms of money.
Even in other respects, accountancy is not perfect. The precision of its statements is only illusory. The valuations of goods and rights with which it deals are always based on estimates depending on more or less uncertain and unknown factors. So far as this uncertainty arises from the commodity side of the valuations, commercial practice, sanctioned by the law, attempts to get over the difficulty by the exercise of the greatest possible caution. With this purpose it demands conservative estimates of assets and liberal estimates of liabilities, so that the merchant may be preserved from self-deceit about the success of his enterprises and his creditors protected.
But there are also shortcomings in accountancy that are due to the uncertainty in its valuations that results from the liability to variation of the value of money itself. Of this, the merchant, the accountant, and the commercial court are alike unsuspicious. They hold money to be a measure of price and value, and they reckon as freely in monetary units as in units of length, area, capacity, and weight. And if an economist happens to draw their attention to the dubious nature of this procedure, they do not even understand the point of his remarks.98
This disregard of variations in the value of money in economic calculation falsities accounts of profit and loss. If the value of money falls, ordinary bookkeeping, which does not take account of monetary depreciation, shows apparent profits, because it balances against the sums of money received for sales a cost of production calculated in money of a higher value, and because it writes off from book values originally estimated in money of a higher value items of money of a smaller value. What is thus improperly regarded as profit, instead of as part of capital, is consumed by the entrepreneur or passed on either to the consumer in the form of price reductions that would not otherwise have been made or to the laborer in the form of higher wages, and the government proceeds to tax it as income or profits. In any case, consumption of capital results from the fact that monetary depreciation falsities capital accounting. Under certain conditions the consequent destruction of capital and increase of consumption may be partly counteracted by the fact that the depreciation also gives rise to genuine profits, those of debtors, for example, which are not consumed but put into reserves. But this can never more than partly balance the destruction of capital induced by the depreciation.99
The consumers of the commodities that are sold too cheaply as a result of the false reckoning induced by the depreciation need not be inhabitants of the territory in which the depreciating money is used as the national currency. The price reductions brought about by currency depreciation encourage export to countries the value of whose money is either not falling at all or at least falling less rapidly. The entrepreneur who is reckoning in terms of a currency with a stable value is unable to compete with the entrepreneur who is prepared to make a quasi-gift of part of his capital to his customers. In 1920 and 1921, Dutch traders who had sold commodities to Austria could buy them back again after a while much more cheaply than they had originally sold them, because the Austrian traders completely failed to see that they were selling them for less than they had cost.
So long as the true state of the case is not recognized, it is customary to rejoice in a naive Mercantilistic fashion over the increase of exports and to see in the depreciation of money a welcome “export premium.” But once it is discovered that the source whence this premium flows is the capital of the community, then the “selling off” procedure is usually regarded less favorably. Again, in importing countries the public attitude wavers between indignation against “dumping” and satisfaction with the favorable conditions of purchase.
Where the currency depreciation is a result of government inflation carried out by the issue of notes, it is possible to avert its disastrous effect on economic calculation by conducting all bookkeeping in a stable money instead. But so far as the depreciation is a depreciation of gold, the world money, there is no such easy way out.100
Social Consequences of Variations in the Value of Money When Only One Kind of Money Is Employed
If we disregard the exchange of present goods for future goods, and restrict our considerations for the time being to those cases in which the only exchanges are those between present goods and present money, we shall at once observe a fundamental difference between the effects of an isolated variation in a single commodity price, emanating solely from the commodity side, and the effects of a variation in the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods in general, emanating from the monetary side. Variations in the price of a single commodity influence the distribution of goods among individuals primarily because the commodity in question, if it plays a part in exchange transactions at all, is ex definitione not distributed among individuals in proportion to their demands for it .There are economic agents who produce it (in the broadest sense of the word, so as to include dealers) and sell it, and there are economic agents who merely buy it and consume it. And it is obvious what effects would result from a displacement of the exchange ratio between this particular good and the other economic goods (including money); it is clear who would be likely to benefit by them and who to be injured.
The effects in the case of money are different. As far as money is concerned, all economic agents are to a certain extent dealers.101 Every separate economic agent maintains a stock of money that corresponds to the extent and intensity with which he is able to express his demand for it in the market. If the objective exchange value of all the stocks of money in the world could be instantaneously and in equal proportion increased or decreased, if all at once the money prices of all goods and services could rise or fall uniformly, the relative wealth of individual economic agents would not be affected. Subsequent monetary calculation would be in larger or smaller figures; that is all. The variation in the value of money would have no other significance than that of a variation of the calendar or of weights and measures.
The social displacements that occur as consequences of variations in the value of money result solely from the circumstance that this assumption never holds good. In the chapter dealing with the determinants of the objective exchange value of money it was shown that variations in the value of money always start from a given point and gradually spread out from this point through the whole community. And this alone is why such variations have an effect on the social distribution of income.
It is true that the variations in market exchange ratios that emanate from the commodity side are also not as a rule completed all at once; they also start at some particular point and then spread with greater or less rapidity. And because of this, price variations of this sort too are followed by consequences that are due to the fact that the variations in prices do not occur all at once but only gradually. But these are consequences that are encountered in a marked degree by a limited number of economic agents only namely, those who, as dealers or producers, are sellers of the commodity in question. And further, this is not the sum of the consequences of variations in the objective exchange value of a commodity. When the price of coal falls because production has increased while demand has remained unaltered, then, for example, those retailers are involved who have taken supplies from the wholesale dealers at the old higher price but are now able to dispose of them only at the new and lower price. But this alone will not account for all the social changes brought about by the increase of production of coal. The increase in the supply of coal will have improved the economic position of the community. The fall in the price of coal does not merely amount to a rearrangement of income and property between producer and consumer; it also expresses an increase in the national dividend and national wealth. Many have gained what none have lost. The case of money is different.
The most important of the causes of a diminution in the value of money of which we have to take account is an increase in the stock of money while the demand for it remains the same, or tails off, or, if it increases, at least increases less than the stock. This increase in the stock of money, as we have seen, starts with the original owners of the additional quantity of money and then transfers itself to those that deal with these persons, and so forth. A lower subjective valuation of money is then passed on from person to person because those who come into possession of an additional quantity of money are inclined to consent to pay higher prices than before. High prices lead to increased production and rising wages, and, because all of this is generally regarded as a sign of economic prosperity, a fall in the value of money is, and always has been, considered an extraordinarily effective means of increasing economic welfare.102 This is a mistaken view, for an increase in the quantity of money results in no increase of the stock of consumption goods at people’s disposal. Its effect may well consist in an alteration of the distribution of economic goods among human beings but in no case, apart from the incidental circumstance referred to on page 161 above, can it directly increase the total amount of goods possessed by human beings, or their welfare. It is true that this result may be brought about indirectly, in the way in which any change in distribution may affect production as well; that is, by those classes in whose favor the redistribution occurs using their additional command of money to accumulate more capital than would have been accumulated by those people from whom the money was withdrawn. But this does not concern us here. What we are concerned with is whether the variation in the value of money has any other economic significance than its effect on distribution. If it. has no other economic significance, then the increase of prosperity can only be apparent; for it can only benefit a part of the community at the cost of a corresponding loss by the other part. And thus in fact the matter is. The cost must be borne by those classes or countries that are the last to be reached by the fall in the value of money.
Let us, for instance, suppose that a new gold mine is opened in an isolated state. The supplementary quantity of gold that streams from it into commerce goes at first to the owners of the mine and then by turns to those who have dealings with them. If we schematically divide the whole community into four groups, the mine owners, the producers of luxury goods, the remaining producers, and the agriculturalists, the first two groups will be able to enjoy the benefits resulting from the reduction in the value of money the former of them to a greater extent than the latter. But even as soon as we reach the third group, the situation is altered. The profit obtained by this group as a result of the increased demands of the first two will already be offset to some extent by the rise in the prices of luxury goods which will have experienced the full effect of the depreciation by the time it begins to affect other goods. Finally for the fourth group, the whole process will result in nothing but loss. The farmers will have to pay dearer for all industrial products before they are compensated by the increased prices of agricultural products. It is true that when at last the prices of agricultural products do rise, the period of economic hardship for the farmers is over; but it will no longer be possible for them to secure profits that will compensate them for the losses they have suffered. That is to say, they will not be able to use their increased receipts to purchase commodities at prices corresponding to the old level of the value of money; for the increase of prices will already have gone through the whole community. Thus the losses suffered by the farmers at the time when they still sold their products at the old low prices but had to pay for the products of others at the new and higher prices remain uncompensated. It is these losses of the groups that are the last to be reached by the variation in the value of money which ultimately constitute the source of the profits made by the mine owners and the groups most closely connected with them.
There is no difference between the effects on the distribution of income and wealth that are evoked by the fact that variations in the objective exchange value of money do not affect different goods and services at the same time and in the same degree, whether the case is that of metallic money or that of fiat or credit money. When the increase of money proceeds by way of issue of currency notes or inconvertible banknotes, at first only certain economic agents benefit and the additional quantity of money only spreads gradually through the whole community. If, for example, there is an issue of paper money in time of war, the new notes will first go into the pockets of the war contractors. “As a result, these persons’ demands for certain articles will increase and so also the price and the sale of these articles, but especially in so far as they are luxury articles. Thus the position of the producers of these articles will be improved, their demand for other commodities will also increase, and thus the increase of prices and sales will go on, distributing itself over a constantly augmented number of articles, until at last it has reached them all.”103 In this case, as before, there are those who gain by inflation and those who lose by it. The sooner anybody is in a position to adjust his money income to its new value, the more favorable will the process be for him. Which persons, groups, and classes fare better in this, and which worse, depends upon the actual data of each individual case, without knowledge of which we are not in a position to form a judgment.
Let us now leave the example of the isolated state and turn our attention to the international movements that arise from a fall in the value of money due to an increase in its amount. Here, again, the process is the same. There is no increase in the available stock of goods; only its distribution is altered. The country in which the new mines are situated and the countries that deal directly with it have their position bettered by the fact that they are still able to buy commodities from other countries at the old lower prices at a time when depreciation at home has already occurred. Those countries that are the last to be reached by the new stream of money are those which must ultimately bear the cost of the increased welfare of the other countries. Thus Europe made a bad bargain when the newly discovered gold fields of America, Australia, and South Africa evoked a tremendous boom in these countries. Palaces rose over night where there was nothing a few years before but virgin forest and wilderness; the prairies were intersected with railways; and anything and everything in the way of luxury goods that could be produced by the Old World found markets in territories which a little earlier had been populated by naked nomads and among people who in many cases had previously been without even the barest necessaries of existence. All of this wealth was imported from the old industrial countries by the new colonists, the fortunate diggers, and paid for in gold that was spent as freely as it had been received. It is true that the prices paid for these commodities were higher than would have corresponded to the earlier purchasing power of money; nevertheless, they were not so high as to make full allowance for the changed circumstances. Europe had exported ships and rails, metal goods and textiles, furniture and machines, for gold which it little needed or did not need at all, for what it had already was enough for all its monetary transactions.
A diminution of the value of money brought about by any other kind of cause has an entirely similar effect. For the economic consequences of variations in the value of money are determined, not by their causes, but by the nature of their slow progress, from person to person, from class to class, and from country to country. If we consider in particular those variations in the value of money which arise from the action of sellers in increasing prices, as described in the second chapter of this part, we shall find that the resultant gradual diminution of the value of money constitutes one of the motives of the groups which apparently dictate the rise of prices. The groups which begin the rise have it turned to their own disadvantage when the other groups eventually raise their prices too; but the former groups receive their higher prices at a time when the prices of the things they buy are still at the lower level. This constitutes a permanent gain for them. It is balanced by the losses of those groups who are the last to raise the prices of their goods or services; for these already have to pay the higher prices at a time when they are still receiving only the lower prices for what they sell. And when they eventually raise their prices also, being the last to do this they can no longer offset their earlier losses at the expense of other classes of the community. Wage laborers used to be in this situation, because as a rule the price of labor did not share in the earlier stages of upward price movements. Here the entrepreneurs gained what the laborers lost. For a long time, civil servants were in the same situation. Their multitudinous complaints were partly based on the fact that, since their money incomes could not easily be increased, they had largely to bear the cost of the continual rise in prices. But recently this state of affairs has been changed through the organization of the civil servants on trade-union lines, which has enabled them to secure a quicker response to demands for increases of salaries.
The converse of what is true of a depreciation in the value of money holds for an increase in its value. Monetary appreciation, like monetary depreciation, does not occur suddenly and uniformly throughout a whole community, but as a rule starts from single classes and spreads gradually. If this were not the case, and if the increase in the value of money took place almost simultaneously in the whole community, then it would not be accompanied by the special kind of economic consequences that interest us here. Let us assume, for instance, that bankruptcy of the credit-issuing institutions of a country leads to a panic and that everybody is ready to sell commodities at any price whatever in order to put himself in possession of cash, while on the other hand buyers cannot be found except at greatly reduced prices. It is conceivable that the increase in the value of money that would arise in consequence of such a panic would reach all persons and commodities uniformly and simultaneously. As a rule, however, an increase in the value of money spreads only gradually. The first of those who have to con tent themselves with lower prices than before for the commodities they sell, while they still have to pay the old higher prices for the commodities they buy, are those who are injured by the increase in the value of money. Those, however, who are the last to have to reduce the prices of the commodities they sell, and have meanwhile been able to take advantage of the fall in the prices of other things, are those who profit by the change.
The Consequences of Variations in the Exchange Ratio Between Two Kinds of Money
Among the consequences of variations in the value of money it is those of variations in the exchange ratio between two different kinds of money in which economic science has been chiefly interested. This interest has been aroused by the events of monetary history. In the course of the nineteenth century international trade developed in a hitherto undreamed-of manner, and the economic connections between countries became extraordinarily close. Now just at this time when commercial relations were beginning to grow more active, the monetary standards of the individual states were becoming more diverse. A number of countries went over for a shorter or longer period to credit money and the others, which were partly on gold and partly on silver, were soon in difficulties, because the ratio between the values of these two precious metals, which had changed but slowly during centuries, suddenly began to exhibit sharp variations. And in recent years this problem has been given a much greater practical significance still by monetary happenings in the war and postwar periods.
Let us suppose that one kilogram of silver had been exchangeable for ten quintals of wheat, and that upon the objective exchange value of silver being halved, owing, say, to the discovery of new and prolific mines, one kilogram of it was no longer able to purchase more than five bushels of wheat. From what has been said on the natural exchange ratio of different kinds of money, it follows that the objective exchange value of silver in terms of other kinds of money would now also be halved. If it had previously been possible to purchase one kilogram of gold with fifteen kilograms of silver, thirty kilograms would now be needed to make the same purchase; for the objective exchange value of gold in relation to commodities would have remained unchanged, while that of silver had been halved. Now this change in the purchasing power of silver over commodities will not occur all at once, but gradually. A full account has been given of the way in which it will start from a certain point and gradually spread outward, and of the consequences of this process. Until now we have investigated these consequences only so far as they occur within an area with a uniform monetary standard; but now we must trace up the further consequences involved in commercial relations with areas in which other sorts of money are employed. One thing that was found to be true of the former case can be predicated of this also: if the variations in the objective exchange value of the money occurred uniformly and simultaneously throughout the whole community then such social consequences could not appear at all. The fact that these variations always occur one after another is the sole reason for their remarkable economic effects.
Variations in the objective exchange value of a given kind of money do not affect the determination of the exchange ratio between this and other kinds of money until they begin to affect commodities that either are already objects of commercial relations between the two areas or at least are able to become such upon a moderate change in prices. The point of time at which this situation arises determines the effects upon the commercial relations of the two areas that will result from variations in the objective exchange value of money. These vary according as the prices of the commodities concerned in international trade are adjusted to the new value of money before or after those of other commodities. Under the modern organization of the monetary system this adjustment is usually first made on the stock exchanges. Speculation on the foreign-exchange and security markets anticipates coming variations in the exchange ratios between the different kinds of money at a time when the variations in the value of money have by no means completed their course through the community, perhaps when they have only just begun it, but in any case before they have reached the commodities that play a decisive part in foreign trade. He would be a poor speculator who did not grasp the course of events in time and act accordingly. But as soon as the variation in the foreign-exchange rate has been brought about, it reacts upon foreign trade in a peculiar manner until the prices of all goods and services have been adjusted to the new objective exchange value of money. During this interval the margins between the different prices and wages constitute a fund that somebody must receive and somebody surrender. In a word, we are here again confronted with a redistribution, which is noteworthy in that its influence extends beyond the are where the good whose objective exchange value is changing is employed as domestic money. It is clear that this is the only sort of consequence that can follow from variations in the value of money. The social stock of goods has in no way been increased; the total quantity that can be distributed has remained the same.
As soon as an uncompleted change in the objective exchange value of any particular kind if money becomes expressed in the foreign-exchange rates, a new opportunity of making a profit is opened up, either for exporters or for importers according as the purchasing power of money is decreasing or increasing. Let us take the former case, that of the diminution in the value of money. Since, according to our assumptions, the changes in domestic prices are not yet finished, exporters derive an advantage from the circumstance that the commodities that they market already fetch the new higher prices whereas the commodities and services that they want themselves and, what is of particular importance, the material and personal factors of production that they employ, are still obtainable at the old lower prices. Who the “exporter” is who pockets this gain, whether it is the producer or the dealer, is impertinent to our present inquiry; all that we need to know is that in the given circumstances transactions will result in profit for some and loss for others.
In any case the exporter shares his profit with the foreign importer and foreign consumer And it is even possible—this depends upon the organization of the export trade—that the profits which the exporter retains are only apparent, not real.
Thus the result is always that the gains of foreign buyers, which in certain cases are shared with home exporters, are counterbalanced by losses that are borne entirely at home. It is clear that what was said of the promotion of exportation by the falsification of monetary accounting applies also to the “export premium” arising from a diminution of the value of money.
Monetary Policy Defined104
The economic consequences of fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money have such important bearings on the life of the community and of the individual that as soon as the state had abandoned the attempt to exploit for fiscal ends its authority in monetary matters, and as soon as the large-scale development of the modern economic community had enabled the state to exert a decisive influence on the kind of money chosen by the market, it was an obvious step to think of attaining certain sociopolitical aims by influencing these consequences in a systematic manner Modern currency policy is something essentially new; it differs fundamentally from earlier state activity in the monetary sphere. Previously, good government in monetary matters—from the point of view of the citizen—consisted in conducting the business of minting so as to furnish commerce with coins which could be accepted by everybody at their face value; and bad government in monetary matters—again from the point of view of the citizen—amounted to the betrayal by the state of the general confidence in it. But when states did debase the coinage, it was always from purely fiscal motives. The government needed financial help, that was all; it was not concerned with questions of currency policy.
Questions of currency policy are questions of the objective exchange value of money. The nature of the monetary system affects a currency policy only insofar as it involves these particular problems of the value of money; it is only insofar as they bear upon these questions that the legal and technical characteristics of money are pertinent. Measures of currency policy are intelligible only in the light of their intended influence on the objective exchange value of money. They consequently comprise the antithesis of those acts of economic policy which aim at altering the money prices of single commodities or groups of commodities.
Not every value problem connected with the objective exchange value of money is a problem of currency policy. In conflicts of currency policy there are also interests involved which are not primarily concerned with the alteration of the value of money for its own sake. In the great struggle that was involved in the demonetization of silver and the consequent movement of the relative exchange ratio of the two precious metals gold and silver, the owners of the silver mines and the other protagonists of the double standard or of the silver standard were not actuated by the same motives. While the latter wanted a change in the value of money in order that there might be a general rise in the prices of commodities, the former merely wished to raise the price of silver as a commodity by securing, or more correctly regaining, an extensive market for it. Their interests were in no way different from those of producers of iron or oil in trying to extend the market for iron or oil so as to increase the profitability of their businesses. It is true that this is a value problem, but it is a commodity-value problem—that of increasing the exchange value of the metal silver—and not a problem of the value of money.105
But although this motive has played a part in currency controversy, it has been a very subordinate part. Even in the United States, the most important silver-producing area, it has been of significance only inasmuch as the generous practical encouragement of the silver magnates has been one of the strongest supports of the bimetallistic agitation. But most of the recruits to the silver camp were attracted, not by the prospect of an increase in the value of the mines, which was a matter of indifference to them, but by the hope of a fall in the purchasing power of money, from which they promised themselves miraculous results. If the increase in the price of silver could have been brought about in any other way than through the extension of its use as money, say by the creation of a new industrial demand, then the owners of the mines would have been just as satisfied; but the farmers and industrialists who advocated a silver currency would not have benefited from it in any way. And then they would undoubtedly have transferred their allegiance to other currency policies. Thus, in many states, paper inflationism was advocated, partly as a forerunner of bimetallism and partly in combination with it.
But even though questions of currency policy are never more than questions of the value of money, they are sometimes disguised so that their true nature is hidden from the uninitiated. Public opinion is dominated by erroneous views on the nature of money and its value, and misunderstood slogans have to take the place of clear and precise ideas. The fine and complicated mechanism of the money and credit system is wrapped in obscurity, the proceedings on the stock exchange are a mystery, the function and significance of the banks elude interpretation. So it is not surprising that the arguments brought forward in the conflict of the different interests often missed the point altogether. Counsel was darkened with cryptic phrases whose meaning was probably hidden even from those who uttered them. Americans spoke of “the dollar of our fathers” and Austrians of “our dear old gulden note”; silver, the money of the common man, was set up against gold, the money of the aristocracy. Many a tribune of the people, in many a passionate dis course, sounded the loud praises of silver, which, hidden in deep mines, lay awaiting the time when it should come forth into the light of day to ransom miserable humanity languishing in its wretchedness. And while some thus regarded gold as nothing less than the embodiment of the very principle of evil, all the more enthusiastically did others exalt the glistening yellow metal which alone was worthy to be the money of rich and mighty nations. It did not seem as if men were disputing about the distribution of economic goods; rather it was as if the precious metals were contending among themselves and against paper for the lordship of the market. All the same, it would be difficult to claim that these Olympic struggles were engendered by anything but the question of altering the purchasing power of money.
The Instruments of Monetary Policy
The principal instrument of monetary policy at the disposal of the state is the exploitation of its influence on the choice of the kind of money. It has been shown above that the position of the state as controller of the mint and as issuer of money substitutes has allowed it in modern times to exert a decisive influence over individuals in their choice of the common medium of exchange. If the state uses this power systematically in order to force the community to accept a particular sort of money whose employment it desires for reasons of monetary policy then it is actually carrying through a measure of monetary policy. The states which completed the transition to a gold standard a generation ago, did so from motives of monetary policy. They gave up the silver standard or the credit-money standard because they recognized that the behavior of the value of silver or of credit money was unsuited to the economic policy they were following. They adopted the gold standard because they regarded the behavior of the value of gold as relatively the most suitable for carrying out their monetary policies.
If a country has a metallic standard, then the only measure of currency policy that it can carry out by itself is to go over to another kind of money. It is otherwise with credit money and fiat money. Here the state is able to influence the movement of the objective exchange value of money by increasing or decreasing its quantity. It is true that the means is extremely crude, and that the extent of its consequences can never be foreseen. But it is easy to apply and popular on account of its drastic effects.
Inflationism is that monetary policy that seeks to increase the quantity of money.
Other inflationists realize very well that an increase in the quantity of money reduces the purchasing power of the monetary unit. But they endeavor to secure inflation nonetheless, because of its effect on the value of money; they want depreciation, because they want to favor debtors at the expense of creditors and because they want to encourage exportation and make importation difficult. Others, again, recommend depreciation for the sake of its supposed property of stimulating production and encouraging the spirit of enterprise.
Depreciation of money can benefit debtors only when it is unforeseen. If inflationary measures and a reduction of the value of money are expected, then those who lend money will demand higher interest in order to compensate their probable loss of capital, and those who seek loans will be prepared to pay the higher interest because they have a prospect of gaining on capital account. Since, as we have shown, it is never possible to foresee the extent of monetary depreciation, creditors in individual cases may suffer losses and debtors make profits, in spite of the higher interest exacted. Nevertheless, in general it will not be possible for any inflationary policy, unless it takes effect suddenly and unexpectedly, to alter the relations between creditor and debtor in favor of the latter by increasing the quantity of money.107 Those who lend money will feel obliged, in order to avoid losses, either to make their loans in a currency that is more stable in value than the currency of their own country, or to include in the rate of interest they ask, over and above the compensation that they reckon for the probable depreciation of money and the loss to be expected on that account, an additional premium for the risk of a less probable further depreciation. And if those who were seeking credit were inclined to refuse to pay this additional compensation, the diminution of supply in the loan market would force them to it. During the inflation after the war it was seen how savings deposits decreased because savings banks were not inclined to adjust interest rates to the altered conditions of the variations in the purchasing power of money.
It has already been shown in the preceding chapter that it is a mistake to think that the depreciation of money stimulates production. If the particular conditions of a given case of depreciation are such that wealth is transferred to the rich from the poor, then admittedly saving (and consequently capital accumulation) will be encouraged, production will consequently be stimulated, and so the welfare of posterity increased. In earlier epochs of economic history a moderate inflation may sometimes have had this effect. But the more the development of capitalism has made money loans (bank and savings-bank deposits and bonds, especially bearer bonds and mortgage bonds) the most important instruments of saving, the more has depreciation necessarily imperiled the accumulation of capital, by decreasing the motive for saving. How the depreciation of money leads to capital consumption through falsification of economic calculation, and how the appearance of a boom that it creates is an illusion, and how the depreciation of the money really reacts on foreign trade have similarly been explained already in the preceding chapter
A third group of inflationists do not deny that inflation involves serious disadvantages. Nevertheless, they think that there are higher and more important aims of economic policy than a sound monetary system. They hold that although inflation may be a great evil, yet it is not the greatest evil, and that the state might under certain circumstances find itself in a position where it would do well to oppose greater evils with the lesser evil of inflation. When the defense of the fatherland against enemies, or the rescue of the hungry from starvation is at stake, then, it is said, let the currency go to ruin whatever the cost.
Sometimes this sort of conditional inflation is supported by the argument that inflation is a kind of taxation that is advisable in certain circumstances. Under some conditions, according to this argument, it is better to meet public expenditure by a fresh issue of notes than by increasing the burden of taxation or by borrowing. This was the argument put forward during the war when the expenditure on the army and navy had to be met; and this was the argument put forward in Germany and Austria after the war when a part of the population had to be provided with cheap food, the losses on the operation of the railways and other public undertakings met, and reparations payments made. The assistance of inflation is invoked whenever a government is unwilling to increase taxation or unable to raise a loan; that is the truth of the matter The next step is to inquire why the two usual methods of raising money for public purposes cannot or will not be employed.
It is only possible to levy high taxes when those who bear the burden of the taxes assent to the purpose for which the resources so raised are to be expended. It must be observed here that the greater the total burden of taxation becomes, the harder it is to deceive public opinion as to the impossibility of placing the whole burden of taxation upon the small richer class of the community. The taxation of the rich or of property affects the whole community, and its ultimate consequences for the poorer classes are often more severe than those of taxation levied throughout the community. These implications may perhaps be harder to grasp when taxation is low; but when it is high they can hardly fail to be recognized. There can, moreover, be no doubt that it is scarcely possible to carry the system of relying chiefly upon “taxation of ownership” any farther than it has been carried by the inflating countries, and that the incidence of further taxation could not have been concealed in the way necessary to guarantee continued popular support.
Who has any doubt that the belligerent peoples of Europe would have tired of war much more quickly if their governments had clearly and candidly laid before them at the time the account of their war expenditure? In no European country did the war party dare to impose taxation on the masses to any considerable extent for meeting the cost of the war. Even in England, the classical country of “sound money,” the printing presses were set in motion. Inflation had the great advantage of evoking an appearance of economic prosperity and of increase of wealth, of falsifying calculations made in terms of money, and so of concealing the consumption of capital. Inflation gave rise to the pseudo-profits of the entrepreneur and capitalist which could be treated as income and have specially heavy taxes imposed upon them without the public at large—or often even the actual taxpayers themselves—seeing that portions of capital were thus being taxed away. Inflation made it possible to divert the fury of the people to “speculators” and “profiteers.” Thus it proved itself an excellent psychological resource of the destructive and annihilist war policy.
What war began, revolution continued. The socialistic or semi-socialistic state needs money in order to carry on undertakings which do not pay, to support the unemployed, and to provide the people with cheap food. It also is unable to secure the necessary resources by means of taxation. It dare not tell the people the truth. The state-socialist principle of running the railways as a state institution would soon lose its popularity if it was proposed, say, to levy a special tax for covering their running losses. And the German and Austrian people would have been quicker in realizing where the resources came from that made bread cheaper if they themselves had to supply them in the form of a bread tax. In the same way, the German government that decided for the “policy of fulfillment” in opposition to the majority of the German people, was unable to provide itself with the necessary means except by printing notes. And when passive resistance in the Ruhr district gave rise to a need for enormous sums of money, these, again for political reasons, were only to be procured with the help of the printing press.
A government always finds itself obliged to resort to inflationary measures when it cannot negotiate loans and dare not levy taxes, because it has reason to fear that it will forfeit approval of the policy it is following if it reveals too soon the financial and general economic consequences of that policy. Thus inflation becomes the most important psychological resource of any economic policy whose consequences have to be concealed; and so in this sense it can be called an instrument of unpopular, that is, of antidemocratic, policy, since by misleading public opinion it makes possible the continued existence of a system of government that would have no hope of the consent of the people if the circumstances were clearly laid before them. That is the political function of inflation. It explains why inflation has always been an important resource of policies of war and revolution and why we also find it in the service of socialism. When governments do not think it necessary to accommodate their expenditure to their revenue and arrogate to themselves the right of making up the deficit by issuing notes, their ideology is merely a disguised absolutism.
The various aims pursued by inflationists demand that the inflationary measures shall be carried through in various special ways. If depreciation is wanted in order to favor the debtor at the expense of the creditor, then the problem is to strike unexpectedly at creditor interests. As we have shown, to the extent to which it could be foreseen, an expected depreciation would be incapable of altering the relations between creditors and debtors. A policy aiming at a progressive diminution of the value of money does not benefit debtors.
If, on the other hand, the depreciation is desired in order to “stimulate production” and to make exportation easier and importation more difficult in relation to other countries, then it must be borne in mind that the absolute level of the value of money—its purchasing power in terms of commodities and services and its exchange ratio against other kinds of money—is without significance for external (as for internal) trade; the variations in the objective exchange value of money have an influence on business only so long as they are in progress. The “beneficial effects” on trade of the depreciation of money only last so long as the depreciation has not affected all commodities and services. Once the adjustment is completed, then these “beneficial effects” disappear. If it is desired to retain them permanently, continual resort must be had to fresh diminutions of the purchasing power of money. It is not enough to reduce the purchasing power of money by one set of measures only, as is erroneously supposed by numerous inflationist writers; only the progressive diminution of the value of money could permanently achieve the aims which they have in view.108 But a monetary system that corresponds to these requirements can never be actually realized.
Of course, the real difficulty does not lie in the fact that a progressive diminution of the value of money must soon reach amounts so small that they would no longer meet the requirements of commerce. Since the decimal system of calculation is customary in the majority of present-day monetary systems, even the more stupid sections of the public would find no difficulty in the new reckoning when a system of higher units was adopted. We could quite easily imagine a monetary system in which the value of money was constantly falling at the same proportionate rate. Let us assume that the purchasing power of this money, through variations in the determinants that lie on the side of money, sinks in the course of a year by one-hundredth of its amount at the beginning of the year The levels of the value of the money at each new year then constitute a diminishing geometrical series. If we put the value of the money at the beginning of the first year as equivalent to 100, then the ratio of diminution is equivalent to 0.99, and the value of money at the end of the nth year is equivalent to 100 × 0.99n-1. Such a convergent geometrical progression gives an infinite series, any member of which is always to the next following member in the ratio of 100 : 99. We could quite easily imagine a monetary system based on such a principle; perhaps even more easily still if we increased the ratio, say, to 0.995 or even 0.9975.
But however clearly we may be able to imagine such a monetary system, it certainly does not lie in our power actually to create one like it. We know the determinants of the value of money, or think we know them. But we are not in a position to bend them to our will. For we lack the most important prerequisite for this; we do not so much as know the quantitative significance of variations in the quantity of money. We cannot calculate the intensity with which definite quantitative variations in the ratio of the supply of money and the demand for it operate upon the subjective valuations of individuals and through these indirectly upon the market. This remains a matter of very great uncertainty. In employing any means to influence the value of money we run the risk of giving the wrong dose. This is all the more important since in fact it is not possible even to measure variations in the purchasing power of money. Thus even though we can roughly tell the direction in which we should work in order to obtain the desired variation, we still have nothing to tell us how far we should go, and we can never find out where we are already, what effects our intervention has had, or how these are proportioned to the effects we desire.
Now the danger involved in overdoing an arbitrary influence—a political influence; that is, one arising from the conscious intervention of human organizations—upon the value of money must by no means be underestimated, particularly in the case of a diminution of the value of money. Big variations in the value of money give rise to the danger that commerce will emancipate itself from the money which is subject to state influence and choose a special money of its own. But without matters going so far as this it is still possible for all the consequences of variations in the value of money to be eliminated if the individuals engaged in economic activity clearly recognize that the purchasing power of money is constantly sinking and act accordingly. If in all business transactions they allow for what the objective exchange value of money will probably be in the future, then all the effects on credit and commerce are finished with. In proportion as the Germans began to reckon in terms of gold, so was further depreciation rendered incapable of altering the relationship between creditor and debtor or even of influencing trade. By going over to reckoning in terms of gold, the community freed itself from the inflationary policy, and eventually even the government was obliged to acknowledge gold as a basis of reckoning.
A danger necessarily involved in all attempts to carry out an inflationary policy is that of excess. Once the principle is admitted that it is possible, permissible, and desirable, to take measures for “cheapening” money, then immediately the most violent and bitter controversy will break out as to how far this principle is to be carried. The interested parties will differ not merely about the steps still to be taken, but also about the results of the steps that have been taken already. It would be impossible for any inflationary measures to be taken without violent controversy. It would be practically impossible so much as to consider counsels of moderation. And these difficulties arise even in the case of an attempt to secure what the inflationists call the beneficial effects of a single and isolated depreciation. Even in the case, say, of assisting “production” or debtors after a serious crisis by a single depreciation of the value of money, the same problems remain to be solved. They are difficulties that have to be reckoned with by every policy aiming at a reduction of the value of money.
Consistently and uninterruptedly continued inflation must eventually lead to collapse. The purchasing power of money will fall lower and lower, until it eventually disappears altogether. It is true that an endless process of depreciation can be imagined. We can imagine the purchasing power of money getting continually lower without ever disappearing altogether, and prices getting continually higher without it ever becoming impossible to obtain commodities in exchange for notes. Eventually this would lead to a situation in which even retail transactions were in terms of millions and billions and even higher figures; but the monetary system itself would remain.
But such an imaginary state of affairs is hardly within the bounds of possibility. In the long run, a money which continually fell in value would have no commercial utility. It could not be used as a standard of deferred payments. For all transactions in which com modities or services were not exchanged for cash, another medium would have to be sought. In fact, a money that is continually depreciating becomes useless even for cash transactions. Everybody attempts to minimize his cash reserves, which are a source of continual loss. Incoming money is spent as quickly as possible, and in the purchases that are made in order to obtain goods with a stable value in place of the depreciating money even higher prices will be agreed to than would otherwise be in accordance with market conditions at the time. When commodities that are not needed at all or at least not at the moment are purchased in order to avoid the holding of notes, then the process of extrusion of the notes from use as a general medium of exchange has already begun. It is the beginning of the “demonetization” of the notes. The process is hastened by its paniclike character. It may be possible once, twice, perhaps even three or four times, to allay the fears of the public; but eventually the affair must run its course and then there is no longer any going back. Once the depreciation is proceeding so rapidly that sellers have to reckon with considerable losses even if they buy again as quickly as is possible, then the position of the currency is hopeless.
In all countries where inflation has been rapid, it has been observed that the decrease in the value of the money has occurred faster than the increase in its quantity. If m represents the nominal amount of money present in the country before the beginning of the inflation, P the value of the monetary unit then in terms of gold, M the nominal amount of money at a given point of time during the inflation, and p the value in gold of the monetary unit at this point of time; then, as has often been shown by simple statistical investigations, mP > Mp. It has been attempted to prove from this that the money has depreciated “too rapidly” and that the level of the rate of exchange is not “justified.” Many have drawn from it the conclusion that the quantity theory is obviously not true and that depreciation of money cannot be a result of an increase in its quantity. Others have conceded the truth of the quantity theory in its primitive form and argued the permissibility or even the necessity of continuing to increase the quantity of money in the country until its total gold value is restored to the level at which it stood before the beginning of the inflation, that is, until Mp = mP.
The error that is concealed in all of this is not difficult to discover. We may completely ignore the fact already referred to that the exchange rates (including the bullion rate) move in advance of the purchasing power of the money unit as expressed in the prices of commodities, so that the gold value must not be taken as a basis of operations, but purchasing power in terms of commodities, which as a rule will not have decreased to the same extent as the gold value. For this form of calculation too, in which P and p do not represent value in terms of gold but purchasing power in terms of commodities, would still as a rule give the result mP > Mp. But it must be observed that as the depreciation of money proceeds, the demand for money (that is, for the kind of money in question) gradually begins to fall. When loss of wealth is suffered in proportion to the length of time money is kept on hand, endeavors are made to reduce cash holdings as much as possible. Now if every individual, even if his circumstances are otherwise unchanged, no longer wishes to maintain his cash holding at the same level as before the beginning of the inflation, the demand for money in the whole community, which can only be the sum of the individuals’ demands, decreases too. There is also the additional fact that as commerce gradually begins to use foreign money and actual gold in place of notes, individuals begin to hold part of their reserves in foreign money and in gold and no longer in notes.
An expected fall in the value of money is anticipated by speculation so that the money has a lower value in the present than would correspond to the relationship between the immediate supply of it and demand for it. Prices are asked and given that are not related to the present amount of money in circulation nor to present demands for money, but to future circumstances. The panic prices paid when the shops are crowded with buyers anxious to pick up something or other while they can, and the panic rates reached on the exchange when foreign currencies and securities that do not represent a claim to fixed sums of money rise precipitously, anticipate the march of events. But there is not enough money available to pay the prices that correspond to the presumable future supply of money and demand for it. And so it comes about that commerce suffers from a shortage of notes, that there are not enough notes on hand for fulfilling commitments that have been entered into. The mechanism of the market that adjusts the total demand and the total supply to each other by altering the exchange ratio no longer functions as far as the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods is concerned. Business suffers sensibly from a shortage of notes. This bad state of affairs, once matters have gone as far as this, can in no way be helped. Still further to increase the note issue (as many recommend) would only make matters worse. For, since this would accelerate the growth of the panic, it would also accentuate the maladjustment between depredation and circulation. Shortage of notes for transacting business is a symptom of an advanced stage of inflation; it is the reverse aspect of panic purchases and panic prices, the reflection of the “bullishness” of the public that will finally lead to catastrophe.
The emancipation of commerce from a money which is proving more and more useless in this way begins with the expulsion of the money from hoards. People begin at first to hoard other money instead so as to have marketable goods at their disposal for unforeseen future needs—perhaps precious-metal money and foreign notes, and sometimes also domestic notes of other kinds which have a higher value because they cannot be increased by the state (for example, the Romanoff ruble in Russia or the “blue” money of com munist Hungary); then ingots, precious stones, and pearls; even pictures, other objects of art, and postage stamps. A further step is the adoption of foreign currency or metallic money (that is, for all practical purposes, gold) in credit transactions. Finally, when the domestic currency ceases to be used in retail trade, wages as well have to be paid in some other way than in pieces of paper which are then no longer good for anything.
The collapse of an inflation policy carried to its extreme—as in the United States in 1781 and in France in 1796—does not destroy the monetary system, but only the credit money or fiat money of the state that has overestimated the effectiveness of its own policy. The collapse emancipates commerce from etatism and establishes metallic money again.
It is not the business of science to criticize the political aims of inflationism. Whether the favoring of the debtor at the expense of the creditor, whether the facilitation of exports and the hindrance of imports, whether the stimulation of production by transferring wealth and income to the entrepreneur, are to be recommended or not, are questions which economics cannot answer. With the instruments of monetary theory alone, these questions cannot even be elucidated as far as is possible with other parts of the apparatus of economics. But there are nevertheless three conclusions that seem to follow from our critical examination of the possibilities of inflationary policy.
In the first place, all the aims of inflationism can be secured by other sorts of intervention in economic affairs, and secured better, and without undesirable incidental effects. If it is desired to relieve debtors, moratoria may be declared or the obligation to repay loans may be removed altogether; if it is desired to encourage exportation, export premiums may be granted; if it is desired to render importation more difficult, simple prohibition may be resorted to, or import duties levied. All these measures permit discrimination between classes of people, branches of production, and districts, and this is impossible for an inflationary policy. Inflation benefits all debtors, including the rich, and injures all creditors, including the poor; adjustment of the burden of debts by special legislation allows of differentiation. Inflation encourages the exportation of all commodities and hinders all importation; premiums, duties, and prohibitions can be employed discriminatingly.
Second, there is no kind of inflationary policy the extent of whose effects can be foreseen. And finally, continued inflation must lead to a collapse.
Thus we see that, considered purely as a political instrument, inflationism is inadequate. It is, technically regarded, bad policy, because it is incapable of fully attaining its goal and because it leads to consequences that are not, or at least are not always, part of its aim. The favor it enjoys is due solely to the circumstance that it is a policy concerning whose aims and intentions public opinion can be longest deceived. Its popularity, in fact, is rooted in the difficulty of fully understanding its consequences.
Restrictionism or Deflationism
That policy which aims at raising the objective exchange value of money is called, after the most important means at its disposal, restrictionism or deflationism. This nomenclature does not really embrace all the policies that aim at an increase in the value of money. The aim of restrictionism may also be attained by not increasing the quantity of money when the demand for it increases, or by not increasing it enough. This method has quite often been adopted as a way of increasing the value of money in face of the problems of a depreciated credit-money standard; further increase of the quantity of money has been stopped, and the policy has been to wait for the effects on the value of money of an increasing demand for it. In the following discussion, following a widespread custom, we shall use the terms restrictionism and deflationism to refer to all policies directed to raising the value of money.
The existence and popularity of inflationism is due to the circumstance that it taps new sources of public revenue. Governments had inflated from fiscal motives long before it occurred to anybody to justify their procedure from the point of view of monetary policy. Inflationistic arguments have always been well supported by the fact that inflationary measures not only do not impose any burden on the national exchequer, but actually bring resources to it. Looked at from the fiscal point of view, inflationism is not merely the cheapest economic policy; it is also at the same time a particularly good remedy for a low state of the public finances. Restrictionism, however, demands positive sacrifices from the national exchequer when it is carried out by the withdrawal of notes from circulation (say through the issue of interest-bearing bonds or through taxation) and their cancellation; and at the least it demands from it a renunciation of potential income by forbidding the issue of notes at a time when the demand for money is increasing. This alone would suffice to explain why restrictionism has never been able to compete with inflationism.
Nevertheless, the unpopularity of restrictionism has other causes as well. Attempts to raise the objective exchange value of money, in the circumstances that have existed, have necessarily been limited either to single states or to a few states and at the best have had only a very small prospect of simultaneous realization throughout the whole world. Now as soon as a single country or a few countries go over to a money with a rising purchasing power, while the other countries retain a money with a falling or stationary exchange value, or one which although it may be rising in value is not rising to the same extent, then, as has been demonstrated above, the conditions of international trade are modified. In the country whose money is rising in value, exportation becomes more difficult and importation easier. But the increased difficulty of exportation and the increased facility of importation, in brief the deterioration of the balance of trade, have usually been regarded as an unfavorable situation and consequently been avoided. This alone would provide an adequate explanation of the unpopularity of measures intended to raise the purchasing power of money.
But furthermore, quite apart from any consideration of foreign trade, an increase in the value of money has not been to the advantage of the ruling classes. Those who get an immediate benefit from such an increase are all those who are entitled to receive fixed sums of money. Creditors gain at the expense of debtors. Taxation, it is true, becomes more burdensome as the value of money rises; but the greater part of the advantage of this is secured, not by the state, but by its creditors. Now policies favoring creditors at the expense of debtors have never been popular. Lenders of money have been held in odium, at all times and among all peoples.109
Generally speaking, the class of persons who draw their income exclusively or largely from the interest on capital lent to others has not been particularly numerous or influential at any time in any country. A not insignificant part of the total income from the lending of capital is received by persons whose incomes chiefly arise from other sources, and in whose budgets it plays only a subordinate part. This is the case, for instance, not only of the laborers, peasants, small industrialists, and civil servants, who possess savings that are invested in savings deposits or in bonds, but also of the numerous big industrialists, wholesalers, or shareholders, who also own large amounts of bonds. The interests of all of these as lenders of money are subordinate to their interests as landowners, merchants, manufacturers, or employees. No wonder, then, that they are not very enthusiastic about attempts to raise the level of interest.110
Restrictionistic ideas have never met with any measure of popular sympathy except after a time of monetary depreciation when it has been necessary to decide what should take the place of the abandoned inflationary policy. They have hardly ever been seriously entertained except as part of the alternative: “Stabilization of money at the present value or revaluation at the level that it had before the inflation.”
When the question arises in this form, the reasons that are given for the restoration of the old metal parity start from the assumption that notes are essentially promises to pay so much metallic money. Credit money has always originated in a suspension of the convertibility into cash of Treasury notes or banknotes (sometimes the suspension was even extended to token coins or to bank deposits) that were previously convertible at any time on the demand of the bearer and were already in circulation. Now whether the original obligation of immediate conversion was expressly laid down by the law or merely founded on custom, the suspension of conversion has always taken on the appearance of a breach of the law that could perhaps be excused, but not justified; for the coins or notes that became credit money through the suspension of cash payment could never have been put into circulation otherwise than as money substitutes, as secure claims to a sum of commodity money payable on demand. Consequently, the suspension of immediate convertibility has always been decreed as a merely temporary measure, and a prospect held out of its future rescission. But if credit money is thought of only as a promise to pay, “devaluation” cannot be regarded as anything but a breach of the law, or as meaning anything less than national bankruptcy.
Yet credit money is not merely an acknowledgment of indebtedness and a promise to pay. As money, it has a different standing in the transactions of the market. It is true that it could not have become a money-substitute unless it had constituted a claim. Nevertheless, at the moment when it became actual money—credit money—(even if through a breach of the law), it ceased to be valued with regard to the more or less uncertain prospect of its future full conversion and began to be valued for the sake of the monetary function that it performed. Its far lower value as an uncertain claim to a future cash payment has no significance so long as its higher value as a common medium of exchange is taken into account.
It is therefore quite beside the point to interpret devaluation as national bankruptcy. The stabilization of the value of money at its present—lower—level is, even when regarded merely with a view to its effects on existing debt relations, something other than this; it is both more and less than national bankruptcy. It is more, for it affects not merely public debts, but also all private debts; it is less, for one thing because it also affects those claims of the state that are in terms of credit money while not affecting such of its obligations as are in terms of cash (metallic money) or foreign currency, and for another thing because it involves no modification of the relations of the parties to any contract of indebtedness in terms of credit money made at a time when the currency stood at a low level, without the parties having reckoned on an increase of the value of money. When the value of money is increased, then those are enriched who at the time possess credit money or claims to credit money. Their enrichment must be paid for by debtors, among them the state (that is, the taxpayers). Yet those who are enriched by the increase in the value of money are not the same as those who were injured by the depreciation of money in the course of the inflation; and those who must bear the cost of the policy of raising the value of money are not the same as those who benefited by its depreciation. To carry out a deflationary policy is not to do away with the consequences of inflation. You cannot make good an old breach of the law by committing a new one. And as far as debtors are concerned, restriction is a breach of the law.
If it is desired to make good the injury which has been suffered by creditors during the inflation, this can certainly not be done by restriction. In the simpler circumstances of an undeveloped credit system, the attempt has been made to find a way out of the difficulty by conversion of the debts contracted before and during the period of inflation, every debt being recalculated in the devaluated money according to the value of the credit money in terms of metallic money on the day of origin. Supposing, for instance, that the metallic money had been depreciated to one-fifth of its former value, a borrower of 100 gulden before the inflation would have to pay back after the stabilization, not 100 gulden, but 500, together with interest on the 500; and a borrower of 100 gulden at a time when the credit money had already sunk to half of its nominal value, would have to pay interest on and pay back 250 gulden.111 This, however, only covers debt obligations which are still current; the debts which have already been settled in the depreciated money are not affected. No notice is taken of sales and purchases of bonds and other claims to fixed sums of money; and, in an age of bearer bonds, this is a quite particularly serious shortcoming. Finally, this sort of regulation is inapplicable to current-account transactions.
It is not our business here to discuss whether something better than this could have been thought of. In fact, if it is possible to make any sort of reparation of the damage suffered by creditors at all, it must clearly be sought by way of some such methods of recalculation. But in any case, increasing the purchasing power of money is not a suitable means to this end.
Considerations of credit policy also are adduced in favor of increasing the value of money to the metal parity that prevailed before the beginning of the period of inflation. A country that has injured its creditors through depreciation brought about by inflation, it is said, cannot restore the shattered confidence in its credit otherwise than by a return to the old level of prices. In this way alone can those from whom it wishes to obtain new loans be satisfied as to the future security of their claims; the bondholders will be able to assume that any possible fresh inflation would not ultimately reduce their claims, because after the inflation was over the original metal parity would presumably be returned to. This argument has a peculiar significance112 for England, among whose most important sources of income is the position of the city of London as the world’s banker. All those who availed themselves of the English banking system, it is said, ought to be satisfied as to the future security of the English deposits, in order that the English banking business should not be diminished by mistrust in the future of the English currency. As always in the case of considerations of credit policy like this, a good deal of rather dubious psychology is assumed in this argument. It may be there are more effectual ways of restoring confidence in the future than by measures that do not benefit some of the injured creditors at all—those who have already disposed of their claims—and do benefit many creditors who have not suffered any injury—those who acquired their claims after the depreciation began.
In general, therefore, it is impossible to regard as decisive the reasons that are given in favor of restoring the value of money at the level that it had before the commencement of the inflationary policy, especially as consideration of the way in which trade is affected by a rise in the value of money suggests a need for caution. Only where and so far as prices are not yet completely adjusted to the relationship between the stock of money and the demand for it which has resulted from the increase in the quantity of money, is it possible to proceed to a restoration of the old parity without encountering a too violent opposition.
Invariability of the Objective Exchange Value of Money as the Aim of Monetary Policy
Thus, endeavors to increase or decrease the objective exchange value of money prove impracticable. A rise in the value of money leads to consequences which as a rule seem to be desired by only a small section of the community; a policy with this aim is contrary to interests which are too great for it to be able to hold its own against them in the long run. The kinds of intervention which aim at decreasing the value of money seem more popular; but their goal can be more easily and more satisfactorily reached in other ways, while their execution meets with quite insuperable difficulties.
Thus nothing remains but to reject both the augmentation and the diminution of the objective exchange value of money. This suggests the ideal of a money with an invariable exchange value, so far as the monetary influences on its value are concerned. But, this is the ideal money of enlightened statesmen and economists, not that of the multitude. The latter thinks in far too confused a manner to be able to grasp the problems here involved. (It must be confessed that they are the most difficult in economics.) For most people (so far as they do not incline to inflationistic ideas), that money seems to be the best whose objective exchange value is not subject to any variation at all, whether originating on the monetary side or on the commodity side.
The ideal of a money with an exchange value that is not subject to variations due to changes in the ratio between the supply of money and the need for it—that is, a money with an invariable innere objektive Tauschwert113 —demands the intervention of a regulating authority in the determination of the value of money; and its continued intervention. But here immediately most serious doubts arise from the circumstance, already referred to, that we have no useful knowledge of the quantitative significance of given measures intended to influence the value of money. More serious still is the circumstance that we are by no means in a position to determine with precision whether variations have occurred in the exchange value of money from any cause whatever, and if so to what extent, quite apart from the question of whether such changes have been effected by influences working from the monetary side. Attempts to stabilize the exchange value of money in this sense must therefore be frustrated at the outset by the fact that both their goal and the road to it are obscured by a darkness that human knowledge will never be able to penetrate. But the uncertainty that would exist as to whether there was any need for intervention to maintain the stability of the exchange value of money, and as to the necessary extent of such intervention, would inevitably give full license again to the conflicting interests of the inflationists and restrictionists. Once the principle is so much as admitted that the state may and should influence the value of money, even if it were only to guarantee the stability of its value, the danger of mistakes and excesses immediately arises again.
These possibilities, and the remembrance of very recent experiments in public finance and inflation, have subordinated the unrealizable ideal of a money with an invariable exchange value to the demand that the state should at least refrain from exerting any sort of influence on the value of money. A metallic money, the augmentation or diminution of the quantity of metal available for which is independent of deliberate human intervention, is becoming the modern monetary ideal.
The significance of adherence to a metallic-money system lies in the freedom of the value of money from state influence that such a system guarantees. Beyond doubt, considerable disadvantages are involved in the fact that not only fluctuations in the ratio of the supply of money and the demand for it, but also fluctuations in the conditions of production of the metal and variations in the industrial demand for it, exert an influence on the determination of the value of money. It is true that these effects, in the case of gold (and even in the case of silver), are not immoderately great, and these are the only two monetary metals that need be considered in modern times. But even if the effects were greater, such a money would still deserve preference over one subject to state intervention, since the latter sort of money would be subject to still greater fluctuations.
The Limits of Monetary Policy
The results of our investigation into the development and significance of monetary policy should not surprise us. That the state, after having for a period used the power which it nowadays has of influencing to some extent the determination of the objective exchange value of money in order to affect the distribution of income, should have to abandon its further exercise, will not appear strange to those who have a proper appreciation of the economic function of the state in that social order which rests upon private property in the means of production. The state does not govern the market; in the market in which products are exchanged it may quite possibly be a powerful party, but nevertheless it is only one party of many, nothing more than that. All its attempts to transform the exchange ratios between economic goods that are determined in the market can only be undertaken with the instruments of the market. It can never foresee exactly what the result of any particular intervention will be. It cannot bring about a desired result in the degree that it wishes, because the means that the influencing of demand and supply place at its disposal only affect the pricing process through the medium of the subjective valuations of individuals; but no judgment as to the intensity of the resulting transformation of these valuations can be made except when the intervention is a small one, limited to one or a few groups of commodities of lesser importance, and even in such a case only approximately. All monetary policies encounter the difficulty that the effects of any measures taken in order to influence the fluctuations of the objective exchange value of money can neither be foreseen in advance, nor their nature and magnitude be determined even after they have already occurred.
Now the renunciation of intervention on grounds of monetary policy that is involved in the retention of a metallic commodity currency is not complete. In the regulation of the issue of fiduciary media there is still another possibility of influencing the objective exchange value of money. The problem that this gives rise to must be investigated (in the following part) before we can discuss certain plans that have recently been announced for the establishment of a monetary system under which the value of money would be more stable than that of a gold currency.
Excursus: The Concepts Inflation and Deflation
Observant readers may perhaps be struck by the fact that in this book no precise definition is given of the terms inflation and deflation (or restriction or contraction); that they are in fact hardly employed at all, and then only in places where nothing in particular depends upon their precision. Only inflationism and deflationism (or restrictionism) are spoken of, and an exact definition is given of the concepts implied by these expressions.114 Obviously this procedure demands special justification.
I am by no means in agreement with those unusually influential voices that have been raised against the employment of the expression inflation altogether.115 But I do think that it is an expression that it is possible to do without, and that it would be highly dangerous, on account of a serious difference between its meaning in the pure economic theory of money and banking and its meaning in everyday discussions of currency policy, to make use of it where a sharp scientific precision of the words employed is desirable.
In theoretical investigation there is only one meaning that can rationally be attached to the expression inflation: an increase in the quantity of money (in the broader sense of the term, so as to include fiduciary media as well), that is not offset by a corresponding increase in the need for money (again in the broader sense of the term), so that a fall in the objective exchange value of money must occur Again, deflation (or restriction, or contraction) signifies a diminution of the quantity of money (in the broader sense) which is not offset by a corresponding diminution of the demand for money (in the broader sense), so that an increase in the objective exchange value of money must occur If we so define these concepts, it follows that either inflation or deflation is constantly going on, for a situation in which the objective exchange value of money did not alter could hardly ever exist for very long. The theoretical value of our definition is not in the least reduced by the fact that we are not able to measure the fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money, or even by the fact that we are not able to discern them at all except when they are large.
If the variations in the objective exchange value of money that result from these causes are so great that they can no longer remain unobserved, it is usual in discussions of economic policy to speak of inflation and deflation (or restriction, or contraction). Now in these discussions, whose practical significance is extraordinarily great, it would be very little to the purpose to use those precise concepts which alone come up to a strictly scientific standard. It would be ridiculous pedantry to attempt to provide an economist’s contribution to the controversy as to whether in this or the other country inflation has occurred since 1914 by saying: “Excuse me, there has probably been inflation throughout the whole world since 1896, although on a small scale.” In politics, the question of degree is sometimes the whole point, not, as in theory, the question of principle.
But once the economist has acknowledged that it is not entirely nonsensical to use the expressions inflation and deflation to indicate such variations in the quantity of money as evoke big changes in the objective exchange value of money, he must renounce the employment of these expressions in pure theory. For the point at which a change in the exchange ratio begins to deserve to be called big is a question for political judgment, not for scientific investigation.
It is incontrovertible that ideas are bound up with the popular usage of the terms inflation and deflation that must be combated as altogether inappropriate when they creep into economic investigation. In everyday usage, these expressions are based upon an entirely untenable idea of the stability of the value of money, and often also on conceptions that ascribe to a monetary system in which the quantity of money increases and decreases pari passu with the increase and decrease of the quantity of commodities the property of maintaining the value of money stable. Yet however worthy of condemnation this mistake may be, it cannot be denied that the first concern of those who wish to combat popular errors with regard to the causes of the recent tremendous variations in prices should not so much be the dissemination of correct views on the problems of the nature of money in general, as the contradiction of those fundamental errors which, if they continue to be believed, must lead to catastrophic consequences. Those who in the years 1914-24 contested the balance-of-payments theory in Germany in order to oppose the continuation of the policy of inflation may claim the indulgence of their contemporaries and successors if they were not always quite strictly scientific in their use of the word inflation. In fact, it is this very indulgence that we are bound to exercise toward the pamphlets and articles dealing with monetary problems that obliges us to refrain from using these misleading expressions in scientific discussion.
The Monetary Policy of Etatism
The Monetary Theory of Etatism
Etatism, as a theory, is the doctrine of the omnipotence of the Estate, and, as a policy, the attempt to regulate all mundane affairs by authoritative commandment and prohibition. The ideal society of etatism is a particular sort of socialistic community; it is usual in discussions involving this ideal society to speak of state socialism, or, in some connections, of Christian socialism. Superficially regarded, the etatistic ideal society does not differ very greatly from the outward form assumed by the capitalistic organization of society. Etatism by no means aims at the formal transformation of all ownership of the means of production into state ownership by a complete overthrow of the established legal system. Only the biggest industrial, mining, and transport enterprises are to be nationalized; in agriculture, and in medium- and small-scale industry, private property is nominally to continue. Nevertheless, all enterprises are to become state undertakings in fact. Owners are to be left the title and dignity of ownership, it is true, and to be given a right to the receipt of a “reasonable” income, “in accordance with their position”; but, in fact, every business is to be changed into a government office and every livelihood into an official profession. There is no room at all for independent enterprise under any variety of state socialism. Prices are to be regulated authoritatively; authority is to fix what is to be produced, and how, and in what quantities. There is to be no speculation, no “excessive” profit, no loss. There is to be no innovation unless it be decreed by authority. The official is to direct and supervise everything.116
It is one of the peculiarities of etatism that it is unable to conceive of human beings living together in society otherwise than in accordance with its own particular socialistic ideal. The superficial similarity that exists between the socialist state that is its ideal and pattern and the social order based upon private property in the means of production causes it to overlook the fundamental differences that separate the two. Everything that contradicts the assumption that the two kinds of social order are similar is regarded by the etatist as a transient anomaly and a culpable transgression of authoritative decrees, as evidence that the state has let slip the reins of government and only needs to take them more firmly in hand for everything to be beautifully in order again. That the social life of human beings is subject to definite limitations; that it is governed by a set of laws that are comparable with those of Nature; these are notions that are unknown to the etatist. For the etatist, everything is a question of Macht—power, force, might. And his conception of Macht is crudely materialistic.
Every word of etatistic thought is contradicted by the doctrines of sociology and economics; this is why etatists endeavor to prove that these sciences do not exist. In their opinion, social affairs are shaped by the state. To the law, all things are possible; and there is no sphere in which state intervention is not omnipotent.
For a long time the modern etatists shrank from an explicit application of their principles to the theory of money. It is true that some, Adolf Wagner and Lexis in particular, expressed views on the domestic and foreign value of money and on the influence of the balance of payments on the condition of the exchanges that contained all the elements of an etatistic theory of money; but always with great caution and reserve. The first to attempt an explicit application of etatistic principles in the sphere of monetary doctrine, was Knapp.
The policy of etatism had its heyday during the period of the world war, which itself was the inevitable consequence of the dominance of etatistic ideology. In the “war economy” the postulates of etatism were realized.117 The war economy and the transition economy showed what etatism is worth and what the policy of etatism is able to achieve.
An examination of etatistic monetary doctrine and monetary policy has a significance that is not limited to the history of ideas. For in spite of all its ill success, etatism is still the ruling doctrine, at least on the continent of Europe. It is, at any rate, the doctrine of the rulers; its ideas prevail in monetary policy. However convinced we may be that it is scientifically valueless, it will not do for us nowadays to ignore it.118
National Prestige and the Rate of Exchange
For the etatist, money is a creature of the state, and the esteem in which money is held is the economic expression of the respect or prestige enjoyed by the state. The more powerful and the richer the state, the better its money. Thus, during the war, it was asserted that “the monetary standard of the victors” would ultimately be the best money. Yet victory and defeat on the battlefield can exercise only an indirect influence on the value of money. Generally speaking, a victorious state is more likely than a conquered one to be able to renounce the aid of the printing press, for it is likely to find it easier to limit its expenditure on the one hand and to obtain credit on the other hand. But the same considerations suggest that increasing prospects of peace will lead to a more favorable estimation of the currency even of the defeated country. In October 1918 the mark and the krone rose; it was believed that even in Germany and Austria a cessation of inflation might be counted upon—an expectation which admittedly was not fulfilled.
History likewise shows that sometimes the “monetary standard of the victors” can prove to be very bad. There have seldom been more brilliant victories than those eventually achieved by the American insurgents under Washington against the English troops. But the American “continental” dollar did not benefit from them. The more proudly the star-spangled banner rose on high, the lower did the exchange rate fall, until, at the very moment when the victory of the rebels was secured, the dollar became entirely valueless. The course of events was no different not long afterward in France. In spite of the victories of the revolutionary army, the metal premium rose continually, until at last in 1796 the value of money touched zero point. In both cases the victorious state had carried inflation to its extreme.
Neither has the wealth of a country any bearing on the valuation of its money. Nothing is more erroneous than the widespread habit of regarding the monetary standard as something in the nature of the shares of the state or the community. When the German mark was quoted at ten centimes in Zurich, bankers said: “Now is the time to buy marks. The German community is indeed poorer nowadays than before the war, so that a low valuation of the mark is justified. Nevertheless, the wealth of Germany is certainly not reduced to a twelfth of what it was before the war; so the mark is bound to rise.” And when the Polish mark had sunk to five centimes in Zurich, other bankers said: “This low level is inexplicable. Poland is a rich country; it has a flourishing agriculture, it has wood, coal and oil; so its rate of exchange ought to be incomparably higher.”119 Such observers fail to recognize that the valuation of the monetary unit depends not upon the wealth of the country, but upon the ratio between the quantity of money and the demand for it, so that even the richest country may have a bad currency and the poorest country a good one.
The Regulation of Prices by Authoritative Decree
The oldest and most popular instrument of etatistic monetary policy is the official fixing of maximum prices. High prices, thinks the etatist, are not a consequence of an increase in the quantity of money but a consequence of reprehensible activity on the part of “bulls” and “profiteers”; it will suffice to suppress their machinations in order to ensure the cessation of the rise of prices. Thus it is made a punishable offense to demand, or even to pay; “excessive” prices.
Like most other governments, the Austrian government during the war began this kind of criminal-law contest with price raising on the same day that it put the printing press in motion in the service of the national finances. Let us suppose that it had at first been successful in this. Let us completely disregard the fact that the war had also diminished the supply of commodities, and suppose that there had been no forces at work on the commodity side to alter the exchange ratio between commodities and money. We must further disregard the fact that the war, by increasing the period of time necessary for transporting money, and by limiting the operation of the clearing system, and also in other ways, had increased the demand for money of individual economic agents. Let us merely discuss the question, what consequences would necessarily follow if, ceteris paribus, with an increasing quantity of money, prices were restricted to the old level by official compulsion?
An increase in the quantity of money leads to the appearance in the market of new desire to purchase, which had previously not existed; “new purchasing power,” it is usual to say, has been created. If the new would-be purchasers compete with those that are already in the market, then, so long as it is not permissible to raise prices, only part of the total purchasing power can be exercised. This means that there are would-be purchasers who leave the market without having effected their object although they were ready to agree to the price demanded, would-be purchasers who return home with the money with which they set out in order to purchase. Whether or not a would-be purchaser who is prepared to pay the official price gets the commodity that he desires depends upon all sorts of circumstances, which are, from the point of view of the market, quite inessential; for example, upon whether he was on the spot in time, or has personal relations with the seller, or other similar accidents. The mechanism of the market no longer works to make a distinction between the would-be purchasers who are still able to buy and those who are not; it no longer brings about a coincidence between supply and demand through variations in price. Supply lags behind demand. The play of the market loses its meaning; other forces have to take its place.
But the government that puts the newly created notes in circulation does so because it wishes to draw commodities and services out of their previous avenues in order to direct them into some other desired employment. It wishes to buy these commodities and services; not, as is also a quite conceivable procedure, to commandeer them by force. It must, therefore, desire that everything should be obtainable for money and for money alone. It is not to the advantage of the government that a situation should arise in the market that makes some of the would-be purchasers withdraw without having effected their object. The government desires to purchase; it desires to use the market, not to disorganize it. But the officially fixed price does disorganize the market in which commodities and services are bought and sold for money. Commerce, so far as it is able, seeks relief in other ways. It redevelops a system of direct exchange, in which commodities and services are exchanged without the instrumentality of money. Those who are forced to dispose of commodities and services at the fixed prices do not dispose of them to everybody, but merely to those to whom they wish to do a favor Would-be purchasers wait in long queues in order to snap up what they can get before it is too late; they race breathlessly from shop to shop, hoping to find one that is not yet sold out.
For once the commodities have been sold that were already on the market when their price was authoritatively fixed at a level below that demanded by the situation of the market, then the emptied storerooms are not filled again. Charging more than a certain price is prohibited, but producing and selling have not been made compulsory. There are no longer any sellers. The market ceases to function. But this means that economic organization based on division of labor becomes impossible. The level of money prices cannot be fixed without overthrowing the system of social division of labor
Thus official fixing of prices, which is intended to establish them and wages generally below the level that they would attain in a free market, is completely impracticable. If the prices of individual kinds of commodities and services are subjected to such restrictions, then disturbances occur that are settled again by the capacity for adjustment possessed by the economic order based on private property sufficiently to make the continuance of the system possible. If such regulations are made general and really put into force, then their incompatibility with the existence of a social order based upon private property becomes obvious. The attempt to restrain prices within limits has to be given up. A government that sets out to abolish market prices is inevitably driven toward the abolition of private property; it has to recognize that there is no middle way between the system of private property in the means of production combined with free contract, and the system of common ownership of the means of production, or socialism. It is gradually forced toward compulsory production, universal obligation to labor, rationing of consumption, and, finally, official regulation of the whole of production and consumption.
This is the road that was taken by economic policy during the war. The etatist, who had jubilantly proclaimed the state’s ability to d o everything it wanted to do, discovered that the economists had nevertheless been quite right and that it was not possible to manage with price regulation alone. Since they wished to eliminate the play of the market, they had to go farther than they had originally intended. The first step was the rationing of the most important necessaries; but soon compulsory labor had to be resorted to and eventually the subordination of the whole of production and consumption to the direction of the state. Private property existed in name only; in fact, it had been abolished.
The collapse of militarism was the end of wartime socialism also. Yet no better understanding of the economic problem was shown under the revolution than under the old regime. All the same experiences had to be gone through again.
The attempts that were made with the aid of the police and the criminal law to prevent a rise of prices did not come to grief because officials did not act severely enough or because people found ways of avoiding the regulations. They did not suffer shipwreck because the entrepreneurs were not public spirited, as the socialist-etatistic legend has it. They were bound to fail because the economic organization based upon division of labor and private property in the means of production can function only so long as price determination in the market is free. If the regulation of prices had been successful, it would have paralyzed the whole economic organism. They only thing that made possible the continued functioning of the social apparatus of production was the incomplete enforcement of the regulations that was due to the paralysis of the efforts of those who ought to have executed them.
During thousands of years, in all parts of the inhabited earth, innumerable sacrifices have been made to the chimera of just and reasonable prices. Those who have offended against the laws regulating prices have been heavily punished; their property has been confiscated, they themselves have been incarcerated, tortured, put to death. The agents of etatism have certainly not been lacking in zeal and energy. But, for all this, economic affairs cannot be kept going by magistrates and policemen.
The Balance-of-Payments Theory as a Basis of Currency Policy
According to the current view, the maintenance of sound monetary conditions is only possible with a “credit balance of payments.” A country with a “debit balance of payments” is supposed to be unable permanently to stabilize the value of its money; the depreciation of the currency is supposed to have an organic basis and to be irremediable except by the removal of the organic defects.
The confutation of this and related objections is implicit in the quantity theory and in Gresham’s law. The quantity theory shows that money can never permanently flow abroad from a country in which only metallic money is used (the “purely metallic currency” of the currency principle). The tightness in the domestic market called forth by the efflux of part of the stock of money reduces the prices of commodities, and so restricts importation and encourages exportation, until there is once more enough money at home. The precious metals which perform the function of money are distributed among individuals, and consequently among separate countries, according to the extent and intensity of the demand of each for money. State intervention to assure to the community the necessary quantity of money by regulating its international movements is supererogatory. An undesired efflux of money can never be anything but a result of state intervention endowing money of different values with the same legal tender All that the state need do, and can do, in order to preserve the monetary system undisturbed, is to refrain from such intervention. That is the essence of the monetary theory of the Classical economists and their immediate successors, the Currency School. It is possible to refine and amplify this doctrine with the aid of the modern subjective theory; but it is impossible to overthrow it, and impossible to put anything else in its place. Those who are able to forget it only show that they are unable to think as economists.
When a country has substituted credit money or fiat money for metallic money because the legal equating of the overissued paper and the metallic money sets in motion the mechanism described by Gresham’s law, it is often asserted that the balance of payments determines the rate of exchange. But this also is a quite inadequate explanation. The rate of exchange is determined by the purchasing power possessed by a unit of each kind of money; it must be determined at such a level that it makes no difference whether commodities are purchased directly with the one kind of money or indirectly, through money of the other kind. If the rate of exchange moves away from the position that is determined by the purchasing-power parity, which we call the natural or equilibrium rate, then certain sorts of transaction would become profitable. It would become lucrative to purchase commodities with the money that was undervalued by the rate of exchange as compared with the ratio given by its purchasing power, and to sell them for the money that was overvalued in the rate of exchange in comparison with its purchasing power And because there were such opportunities of profit, there would be a demand on the foreign-exchange market for the money that was undervalued by the exchanges and this would raise the rate of exchange until it attained its equilibrium position. Rates of exchange vary because the quantity of money varies and the prices of commodities vary. As has already been remarked, it is solely owing to market technique that this basic relationship is not actually expressed in the temporal sequence of events. In fact, the determination of foreign-exchange rates, under the influence of speculation, anticipates the expected variations in the prices of commodities.
The balance-of-payments theory forgets that the volume of foreign trade is completely dependent upon prices; that neither exportation nor importation can occur if there are no differences in prices to make trade profitable. The theory clings to the superficial aspects of the phenomena it deals with. It cannot be doubted that if we simply look at the daily or hourly fluctuations on the exchanges we shall only be able to discover that the state of the balance of payments at any moment does determine the supply and the de exmand in the foreign-exchange market. But this is a mere beginning of a proper investigation into the determinants of the rate of exchange. The next question is, What determines the state of the balance of payments at any moment? And there is no other possible answer to this than that it is the price level and the purchases and sales induced by the price margins that determine the balance of payments. Foreign commodities can be imported, at a time when the rate of exchange is rising, only if they are able to find purchasers despite their high prices.
One variety of the balance-of-payments theory attempts to distinguish between the importation of necessaries and the importation of articles that can be dispensed with. Necessaries, it is said, have to be bought whatever their price is, simply because they cannot be done without. Consequently there must be a continual depreciation in the currency of a country that is obliged to import necessaries from abroad and itself is able to export only relatively dispensable articles. To argue thus is to forget that the greater or less necessity or dispensability of individual goods is fully expressed in the intensity and extent of the demand for them in the market, and thus in the amount of money which is paid for them. However strong the desire of the Austrians for foreign bread, meat, coal, or sugar may be, they can only get these things if they are able to pay for them. If they wish to import more, they must export more; if they cannot export manufactured and semimanufactured goods, then they must export shares, bonds, and securities of various kinds. If the note circulation were not increased, then the prices of the objects that were offered for sale would have to decrease if the demand for import goods and hence their prices were to rise. Or else the upward movement of the prices of necessaries would have to be opposed by a fall in the price of the dispensable articles the purchase of which was restricted so as to permit the purchase of the necessaries. There could be no question of a general rise of prices. And the balance of payments would be brought into equilibrium, either by the export of securities and the like, or by an increased export of dispensable goods. It is only when the above assumption does not hold good, only when the quantity of notes in circulation is increased, that foreign commodities can still be imported in the same quantities in spite of a rise in the foreign exchange; it is only because this assumption does not hold good that the rise in the foreign exchange does not throttle importation and encourage exportation until there is again a credit balance of payments.
Ancient Mercantilist error therefore involved a specter of which we need not be afraid. No country, not even the poorest, need abandon the hope of sound currency conditions. It is not the poverty of individuals and the community, not indebtedness to foreign nations, not the unfavorableness of the conditions of production, that force up the rate of exchange, but inflation.
It follows that all the means that are employed for hindering a rise in the exchange rate are useless. If the inflationary policy continues, they remain ineffective; if there is no inflationary policy, then they are superfluous. The most important of these methods is the prohibition or limitation of the importation of certain goods that are deemed dispensable, or at least less indispensable than others. This causes the sums of domestic money that would have been used for the purchase of these commodities to be used for other purchases and naturally the only goods here concerned are those that would otherwise have been sold abroad. These will now be purchased at home for prices that are higher than those offered for them abroad. Thus the reduction of imports and so of the demand for foreign exchange is balanced on the other side by an equal reduction of exports and so of the supply of foreign exchange. Imports are in fact paid for by exports and not by money, as Neo-Mercantilist dilettantism still continues to believe. If it is really desired to dam up the demand for foreign exchange, then the amount of money to the extent of which it is desired to stop importation must be taken away from those at home—say by taxation—and kept out of circulation altogether; that is, not used for state purposes, but destroyed. That is to say, a deflationary policy must be followed. Instead of the importation of chocolate, wine, and lemonade being limited, the members of the community must be deprived of the money that they would otherwise spend on these commodities. Then they must limit their consumption either of these or of some other commodities. In the former case, less foreign exchange will be wanted, in the latter more foreign exchange offered, than previously.
The Suppression of Speculation
It is not easy to determine whether there are any who still adhere in good faith to the doctrine that traces back the depreciation of money to the activity of speculators. The doctrine is an indispensable instrument of the lowest form of demagogy; it is the resource of governments in search of a scapegoat. There are scarcely any independent writers nowadays who defend it; those who support it are paid to do so. Nevertheless, a-few words must be devoted to it, for the monetary policy of the present day is based largely upon it.
Speculation does not determine prices; it has to accept the prices that are determined in the market. Its efforts are directed to correctly estimating future price situations, and to acting accordingly. The influence of speculation cannot alter the average level of prices over a given period; what it can do is to diminish the gap between the highest and the lowest prices. Price fluctuations are reduced by speculation, not aggravated, as the popular legend has it.
It is true that the speculator may happen to go astray in his estimate of future prices. What is usually overlooked in considering this possibility is that under the given conditions it is far beyond the capacities of most people to foresee the future any more correctly. If this were not so, the opposing group of buyers or sellers would have got the upper hand in the market. The fact that the opinion accepted by the market has later proved to be false is lamented by nobody with more genuine sorrow than by the speculators who held it. They do not err of malice prepense; after all, their object is to make profits, not losses.
Even prices that are established under the influence of speculation result from the cooperation of two parties, the bulls and the bears. Each of the two parties is always equal to the other in strength and in the extent of its commitments. Each has an equal responsibility for the determination of prices. Nobody is from the outset and for all time bull or bear; a dealer becomes a bull or a bear only on the basis of a summing up of the market situation, or, more correctly, on the basis of the dealings that follow on such a summing up. Anybody can change his role at any moment. The price is determined at that level at which the two parties counterbalance each other. The fluctuations of the foreign-exchange rate are not determined solely by bears selling but just as much by bulls buying.
The etatistic view traces back the rise in the price of foreign currencies to the machinations of enemies of the state at home and abroad. These enemies, it is asserted, dispose of the national currency with a speculative intent and purchase foreign currencies with a speculative intent. Two cases are conceivable. Either these enemies are actuated in their dealings by the hope of making a profit, when the same is true of them as of all other speculators. Or they wish to damage the reputation of the state of which they are enemies by depressing the value of its currency, even though they themselves are injured by the operations that lead to this end. To consider the possibility of such enterprises is to forget that they are hardly practicable. The sales of the bears, if they ran against the feeling of the market, would immediately start a contrary movement; the sums disposed of would be taken up by the bulls in expectation of a coming reaction without any effect on the rate of exchange worth mentioning.
In truth, these self-sacrificing bear maneuvers that are undertaken, not to make a profit, but to damage the reputation of the state, belong to the realm of fables. It is true that operations may well be undertaken on foreign-exchange markets that have as their aim, not the securing of a profit, but the creation and maintenance of a rate that does not correspond to market conditions. But this sort of intervention always proceeds from governments, who hold themselves responsible for the currency and always have in view the establishment and maintenance of a rate of exchange above the equilibrium rate. These are artificial bull, not bear, maneuvers. Of course, such intervention also must remain ineffective in the long run. In fact, there is only one way in the last resort to prevent a further fall in the value of money—ceasing to increase the note circulation; and only one way of raising the value of money—reducing the note circulation. Any intervention, such as that of the German Reichsbank in the spring of 1923, in which only a small part of the increasing note expansion was recovered by the banks through the sale of foreign bills, would necessarily be unsuccessful.
Led by the idea of opposing speculation, inflationistic governments have allowed themselves to become involved in measures whose meaning is hardly intelligible. Thus at one time the importation of notes, then their exportation, then again both their exportation and importation, have been prohibited. Exporters have been forbidden to sell for their own country’s notes, importers to buy with them. All trade in terms of foreign money and precious metals has been declared a state monopoly. The quotation of rates for foreign money on home exchanges has been forbidden, and the communication of information concerning the rates determined at home outside the exchanges and the rates negotiated on foreign exchanges made severely punishable. All these measures have proved useless and would probably have been more quickly set aside than actually was the case if there had not been important factors in favor of their retention. Quite apart from the political significance already referred to attaching to the maintenance of the proposition that the fall in the value of money was only to be ascribed to wicked speculators, it must not be forgotten that every restriction of trade creates vested interests that are from then onward opposed to its removal.
An attempt is sometimes made to demonstrate the desirability of measures directed against speculation by reference to the fact that there are times when there is nobody in opposition to the bears in the foreign-exchange market so that they alone are able to determine the rate of exchange. That, of course, is not correct. Yet it must be noticed that speculation has a peculiar effect in the case of a currency whose progressive depreciation is to be expected while it is impossible to foresee when the depreciation will stop, if at all. While, in general, speculation reduces the gap between the highest and lowest prices without altering the average price level, here, where the movement will presumably continue in the same direction, this naturally cannot be the case. The effect of speculation here is to permit the fluctuation, which would otherwise proceed more uniformly, to proceed by fits and starts with the interposition of pauses. If foreign-exchange rates begin to rise, then, to those speculators who buy in accordance with their own view of the circumstances, are added large numbers of outsiders. These camp followers strengthen the movement started by the few that trust to an independent opinion and send it farther than it would have gone under the influence of the expert professional speculators alone. For the reaction cannot set in so quickly and effectively as usual. Of course, it is the general assumption that the depreciation of money will go still farther But eventually sellers of foreign money must make an appearance, and then the rising movement of the exchanges comes to a standstill; perhaps even a backward movement sets in for a time. Then, after a period of “stable money,” the whole thing begins again.
The reaction admittedly begins late, but it must begin as soon as rates of exchange have run too far ahead of commodity prices. If the gap between the equilibrium rate of exchange and the market rate is big enough to give play for profitable commodity transactions, then there will also arise a speculative demand for the domestic paper money. Not until the scope for such transactions has again disappeared owing to a rise in commodity prices will a new rise in the price of foreign exchange set in.
Etatism eventually comes to regard the possession of foreign money, balances as such, and foreign bills, as behavior reprehensible in itself. From this point of view, it is the duty of citizens—not that this is asserted in so many words, but it is the tone of all official declarations—to put up with the harmful consequences of the depreciation of money to their private property and to make no attempt to avoid this by acquiring such possessions as are not eaten up by the depreciation of money. From the point of view of the individual, they declare, it may indeed appear profitable for him to save himself from impoverishment by a flight from the mark, but from the point of view of the community this is harmful and therefore to be condemned. This demand really comes to a cool request on the part of those who enjoy the benefits of the inflation that everybody else should render up his wealth for sacrifice to the destructive policy of the state. In this case, as in all others in which similar assertions are made, it is not true that there exists an opposition between the interests of the individual and the interests of the community. The national capital is composed of the capital of the individual members of the state, and when the latter is consumed nothing remains of the former either. The individual who takes steps to invest his property in such a way that it cannot be eaten up by the depreciation of money does not injure the community; on the contrary, in taking steps to preserve his private property from destruction he also preserves some of the property of the community from destruction. If he surrendered it without opposition to the effects of the inflation all he would do would be to further the destruction of part of the national wealth and enrich those to whom the inflationary policy brings profit.
It is true that not inconsiderable sections of the best classes of the German people have given credit to the asseverations of the inflationists and their press. Many thought that they were doing a patriotic act when they did not get rid of their marks or kronen and mark or kronen securities, but retained them. By so doing, they did not serve the fatherland. That they and their families have as a consequence sunk into poverty only means that some of the members of those classes of the German people from which the cultural reconstruction of the nation was to be expected are reduced to a condition in which they are able to help neither the community nor themselves.
[1. ]See Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, pp. 211 ff.
[2. ]See Walsh, The Fundamental Problem in Monetary Science (New York, 1903), p. 11; and in like manner, Spiethoff, “Die Quantitätstheorie insbesondere in ihrer Verwertbarkeit als Haussetheorie,” Festgaben für Adolf Wagner (Leipzig, 1905), p. 256.
[3. ]See Rau, Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre, 6th ed. (Leipzig, 1855), p. 80.
[4. ]See Böhm-Bawerk, op. cit., Part II, p. 275. And similarly in Wieser, Der natürliche Wert, p. 45; “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik 132: 507.
[5. ]See Böhm-Bawerk, op. cit., Part II, pp. 273 ff.; Schumpeter, Wesen und Hauptinhalt der theoretischen Nationalökonomie (Leipzig, 1908), p. 108.
[6. ]Wieser, Der natürliche Wert, p. 46.
[7. ]Ibid., p. 52.
[8. ]Böhm-Bawerk, op cit., Part II, pp. 214 f.
[9. ]See Helfferich, Das Geld, 6th ed. (Leipzig, 1923), pp. 301 f.
[10. ]Thus Schumpeter, op. cit., p. 109.
[11. ]See Böhm-Bawerk, op. cit., Part II, p. 217.
[12. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine geschichtlichen Veränderungen,” Zeitschrift für Volkswirtschaft, Sozialpolitik und Verwaltung 13 (1904): 45.
[13. ]Thus even as late as Menger, Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre (Vienna, 1871), p. 259 n; and also Knies, Geld und Kredit (Berlin, 1885), vol. 1, p. 323.
[14. ]See Simmel, Philosophie des Geldes, 2d ed. (Leipzig, 1907), p. 130.
[15. ]But, as a general rule, objects of art, jewelry and other things made of precious metal should not be regarded as constituting part of the stock of metal which performs the function of commodity money. They are goods of the first order, in relation to which the bullion or coined metal must be regarded as goods of superior orders.
[16. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine geschichtlichen Veränderungen,” p. 46.
[17. ]More than two hundred years ago, John Law, far ahead of his time and with an insight amounting to genius, had seized upon this truth: “Il est raisonnable de penser que l’argent s’échangeait sur le pied de ce qu’il était évalué pour les usages, comme métal, et q’on le donnait comme monnaie dans les échanges à raison de sa valeur. Le nouvel usage de la monnaie, auquel l’argent fut appliqué, dut ajouter à sa valeur, parce que, comme monnaie, obviait aux désavantages et aux inconvénients de l’échange; et conséquemment les demandes d’argent venant à s’augmenter, il reçut une valeur additionnelle, égale à l’accroissement de la demande occasionnée par son usage comme monnaie. Et cette valeur additionnelle n’est pas plus imaginaire que la valeur que l’argent avait dans les échanges comme métal, parce que telle ou telle valeur dérivait de son application à tels ou tels usages, et quelle était plus grande ou moindre, suivant les demandes d’argent comme métal, en proportion de sa quantité. Le valeur additionnelle que l’argent reçut de son usage comme monnaie provient de ses qualités, qui le rendaient propre a cet usage; et cette valeur fut en raison de la demande additionnelle occasionnée par son usage comme monnaie. Si l’une et l’autre de ces valeurs sont imaginaires, alors toutes les valeurs le sont; car aucune chose n’a de valeur que par l’usage auquel on l’applique, et à raison des demandes qu’on en fait, proportionellement à sa quantité” (Considerations sur le numéraire et le commerce, ed. Daire, Économistes financiers du XVIIIe siécle, 2nd. ed. [Paris, 1851]), pp. 447 f. See further Walras, Théorie de la monnaie (Lausanne, 1886), p. 40; Knies, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 324. Objective theories of value are unable to comprehend this fundamental principle of the theory of the value of money. This is best shown by the lack of comprehension with which Marx confronts the arguments of Law cited above (see Marx, Das Kapital, 7th ed. (Hamburg, 1914) vol. 1, p. 56, n. 46; trans. E. and C. Paul into English).
[18. ]See Heyn, Irrtümer auf dem Gebiete des Geldwesens (Berlin, 1900), p. 3; Simmel, op. cit., pp. 116 ff.
[19. ]Jevons, Money and the Mechanism of Exchange, 13th ed. (London, 1902), pp. 49 f.
[20. ]See pp. 121-22 above. Also Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, Part II, p. 274; Wieser, Der natürliche Wert, p. 46. (Eng. trans. The Theory of Natural Value.)
[21. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik. 132:513 ff.
[22. ]See Knies, Geld und Kredit (Berlin, 1885), vol. 1, p. 324.
[23. ]Thus Locke, Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Money, 2d ed. (London, 1696), p. 31.
[24. ]See Subercaseaux, Essai sur la nature du papier monnaie (Paris, 1909), pp. 17 f.
[25. ]See Simmel, Philosophie des Geldes, 2d ed. (Leipzig, 1907), pp. 115 f.; but, above all, Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” p. 513.
[26. ]See Schmoller, Grundriss der allgemeinen Volkswirtschaftslehre (Leipzig, 1902), vol. 2, p. 110.
[27. ]See Zwiedineck, “Kritisches und Positives zur Preislehre,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft, Vol. 65, pp. 200 ff.
[28. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” p. 513.
[29. ]See Senior, Three Lectures on the Value of Money (London, 1840; 1931), pp. 1 ff.; Three Lectures on the Cost of Obtaining Money (London, 1830; 1931), pp. 1 ff.
[30. ]See Davanzati, Lezioni delle monete, 1588 (in Scrittori classici italiani di economia politica, Parte Antica (Milan, 1804), vol. 2, p. 32. Locke and, above all, Montesquieu (De l’Ësprit des lois, edition Touquet [Paris, 1821], vol. 2, pp. 458 f.) share this view. See Willis, “The History and Present Application of the Quantity Theory,” Journal of Political Economy 4 (1896): 419 ff.
[31. ]See Zuckerkandl, Zur Theorie des Preises (Leipzig, 1889), p. 124.
[32. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” p. 514.
[33. ]See Carver, “The Value of the Money Unit,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 11 (1897): 429 f.
[34. ]See Kinley, Money (New York, 1909), pp. 123 ff.
[35. ]See Walras, Théorie de la Monnaie (Lausanne, 1886), pp. 25 ff.
[36. ]See Kemmerer, Money and Credit Instruments in Their Relation to General Prices (New York, 1907), pp. 11 ff.
[37. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” pp. 514 ff.
[38. ][See p. 146 n. H.E.B.]
[39. ]See Wicksell, Geldzins und Güterpreise (Jena, 1898), pp. iv ff, 16 ff.
[40. ]Ibid., p. 35.
[41. ]See Helfferich, Das Geld, 6th ed. (Leipzig, 1923), p. 577.
[42. ]Ibid., p. 578.
[43. ]Dr. B. M. Anderson, pp. 100-110 of his excellent work The Value of Money (New York, 1917), has objected to the theory set forth above that instead of a logical analysis it provides merely a temporal regressus. Nevertheless, all the acute objections that he manages to bring forward are directed only against the argument that finds a historical component in the exchange ratios subsisting between commodities, an argument with which I also [see pp. 133 ff. above] am in definite disagreement. But Dr. Anderson recognizes the logical foundation of my theory when he declares, “I shall maintain that value from some source other than the monetary employment is an essential precondition of the monetary employment” (p. 126).
[44. ]See Menger, Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre (Vienna, 1923), pp. 304 ff. [In the German edition of this book, the above paragraph was followed by an explanation that German writers, following Menger, usually refer to “the question of the nature and extent of the influence upon the exchange ratios between money and commodities exerted by variations in those determinants of prices that lie on the monetary side” as the problem of the innere objektive Tauschwert of money, and to “those concerned with variations in the objective exchange value of money throughout time and space in general” as the problem of its äussere objektive Tauschwert. Since this distinction has not been usual in English terminology, it has been omitted from the present version; and, in what follows, wherever “the objective exchange value of money” is referred to, it is the innere exchange value that is meant unless the contrary is explicitly stated. H.E.B.]
[45. ]See Wieser, Über den Ursprung und die Hauptgesetze des wirtschaftlichen Wertes, op. cit., pp. iii.
[46. ]See Laughlin, The Principles of Money (London, 1903), pp. 513 f.
[47. ]Ibid., pp. 530 f.
[48. ]Ibid., pp. 531 ff.
[49. ]See Zuckerkandl, op. cit., pp. 123 ff.
[50. ]See Mill, Principles of Political Economy (London, 1867), p. 299.
[51. ]Cf. Marshall, before the Indian Currency Committee, “Report” (London, 1898—99; Q. 11759), in Official Papers (London, 1926), p. 267.
[52. ]See Menger, op. cit., pp. 325 ff.; also Helfferich, op. cit., pp. 500 ff.
[53. ]See Appendix B.
[54. ]Examination of the relationship of this supposition to the doctrine of the “purely metallic currency” as expounded by the Currency School would necessitate a discussion of the criticism that has been leveled at it by the Banking School; but certain remarks in the third part of the present work on fiduciary media and the clearing system will fill the gap left above.
[55. ]It is remarkable that even investigators who otherwise take their stand upon the subjective theory of value have been able to fall into this error. So, for example, Fisher and Brown, The Purchasing Power of Money (New York, 1911), pp. 8 ff.
[56. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” pp. 515 ff.
[57. ]See Hume, Essays, ed. Frowde (London), pp. 294 ff.; Mill, op. cit., pp. 298 ff.; Cairnes, Essays in Political Economy, Theoretical and Applied (London, 1873), pp. 57 ff.; Spiethoff, “Die Quantitätstheorie insbesondere in ihrer Verwertbarkeit als Haussetheorie,” Festgaben für Adolf Wagner (Leipzig, 1905), pp. 250 ff.
[58. ]Hume, op. cit., p. 307
[59. ]Mill, op. cit., p. 299.
[60. ]See Conant, “What Determines the Value of Money?” Quarterly Journal of Economics 18 (1904): 559 ff.
[61. ]See Fisher and Brown, op. cit., pp. 28 ff., 157 ff.
[62. ]See Fullarton, On the Regulation of Currencies, 2d ed. (London, 1845), pp. 69 ff., 138 f.; Wagner, Die Geld- und Kredittheorie der Peelschen Bankakte (Vienna, 1862), pp. 97 ff.
[63. ]Elsewhere, explicitly as well. See Fullarton, op. cit., pp. 57 f.; Wagner, op. cit., p. 70.
[64. ]See also Knies, Geld und Kredit (Berlin, 1876), vol. 2, 1st half, pp. 284 ff.
[65. ]See Fullarton, op. cit., p. 71.
[66. ]See Diehl, Sozialwissenschaftliche Erläuterungen zu David Ricardos Grundsätzen der Volkswirtschaft und Besteuerung, 3d ed. (Leipzig, 1922), Part 2, p. 230.
[67. ]See Spiethoff, op. cit., pp. 263 ff.; Kemmerer, op. cit., pp. 67 ff.; Mill, op. cit., pp, 316 ff.
[68. ]See pp. 336 ff. below.
[69. ]See White, Money and Banking Illustrated by American History (Boston, 1895), pp. 166 ff.
[70. ]See Wagner, Theoretische Sozialökonomik (Leipzig, 1909), vol. 2, p, 245.
[71. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine geschichtlichen Veränderungen,” pp. 57 ff.; “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” pp. 527 ff.; “Theorie der gesellschaftlichen Wirtschaft,” in Grundriss der Sozialökonomik (Tübingen, 1914), Part I pp. 327 ff.
[72. ]See also my article “Die allgemeine Teuerung im Lichte der theoretischen Nationalalökonomie, Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft 37: 563 ff.
[73. ]Menger, Beiträge zur Währungsfrage in Österreich-Ungarn (Jena, 1892), pp. 53 ff.
[74. ]For example, the letter postage rates of the member countries of the International Postal Union.
[75. ]Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, 3d Series, vol. 47, pp. 86-93.
[76. ]See pp. 148 ff. above.
[77. ]See pp. 97 above.
[78. ]See Senior, Three Lectures on the Cost of Obtaining Money, pp. 1 ff.
[79. ]See Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik 132: 531 f.
[80. ]The theory put forward above, which comes from Ricardo, is advocated with particular forcefulness nowadays by Cassel, who uses the name purchasing-power parity for the static exchange ratio. See Cassel, Money and Foreign Exchange After 1914 (London, 1922), p. 181 f.
[81. ]See Senior, Three Lectures on the Transmission of the Precious Metals from Country to Country and the Mercantile Theory of Wealth (London, 1828), pp. 5 ff.
[82. ]See Ricardo, “Principles of Political Economy and Taxation,” in Works, ed. McCulloch, 2d ed. (London, 1852), pp. 213 ff.; Hertzka, Das Wesen des Geldes (Leipzig, 1887), pp. 42 ff.; Kinley, Money (New York, 1909), pp. 78 ff.; Wieser, “Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen,” Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik 132: 530 ff.
[83. ]Transitory displacements are possible, if foreign money is acquired in the speculative anticipation of its appreciating.
[84. ][Following Menger, we should call the first of these two problems the problem of the measurability of the äussere objective exchange value of money, the second that of the measurability of its innere objective exchange value. See also p. 146 n. H.E.B.]
[85. ]See Menger, Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre, 2d ed. (Vienna, 1923), pp. 298 ff.
[86. ]On Falkner’s method, see Laughlin, The Principles of Money (London, 1903), pp. 213—21; Kinley, Money (New York, 1909), pp. 253 ff.
[87. ]See Wieser, “Uber die Messung der Veränderungen des Geldwerts,” Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik 132 (Leipzig, 1910): 544 ff. Joseph Lowe seems to have made a similar proposal as early as 1822; on this, see Walsh, The Measurement of General Exchange Value (New York, 1901), p. 84.
[88. ]See Weiss, Die moderne Tendenz in der Lehre vom Geldwert, Zeitschrift für Volkswirtschaft, Sozialpolitik und Verwaltung, vol. 19, p. 546.
[89. ]See also pp. 243 ff. below.
[90. ]See Dernburg, Pandekten, 6th ed. (Berlin, 1900), vol. 1, p. 84. On the fact that one of the chief characteristics of a fiction is the explicit consciousness of its fictitiousness, see also Vaihinger, Die Philosophie des Als ob, 6th ed. (Leipzig, 1920), p. 173; English trans., The Philosophy of “As If” (London: Kegan Paul, 1924).
[91. ]L. 80, Dig. de solutionibus et liberationibus 46, 3. Pomponius libro quarto ad Quintum Mucium. See further Seidler, “Die Schwankungen des Geldwertes und die juristische Lehre von dem Inhalt der Geldschulden,” Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik (1894), 3d series, vol. 7, pp. 685 ff.; Endemann, Studien in der romanische-kanonistischen Wirtschafts- und Rechtslehre bis gegen Ende des 17 Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1874), vol. 2, p. 173.
[92. ]In a review of the first edition (Die Neue Zeit, 30th year, vol. 2, p. 1024-1027), Hilferding criticized the above arguments as “merely funny.” Perhaps it is demanding too much to expect this detached sense of humor to be shared by those classes of the German nation who have suffered in consequence of the depreciation of the mark. Yet only a year or two ago even these do not appear to have understood the problem any better. Fisher (Hearings Before the Committee on Banking and Currency of the House of Representatives, 67th Cong., 4th sess., on H.R. 1788 [Washington, D.C., 1923], pp. 5 ff., 25 ff.) gives typical illustrations. It was certainly an evil fate for Germany that its monetary and economic policy in recent years should have been in the hands of men like Hilferding and Havenstein, who were not qualified even for dealing with the depreciation of the mark in relation to gold.
[93. ]See Knies, Geld und Kredit, (Berlin, 1876), vol. 2, Part I, pp. 105 ff.; Fisher, The Rate of Interest (New York, 1907), pp. 77 ff., 257 ff., 327 ff., 356 ff.
[94. ]See Clark, Essentials of Economic Theory (New York, 1907), pp. 541 ff.
[95. ]See Walsh, The Measurement of General Exchange Value (New York, 1901), pp. 80 ff.; Ziz̆ek, Die statistischen Mittelwerte (Leipzig, 1908), pp. 183 ff.
[96. ]See Mügel, Geldentwertung und Gesetzgebung (Berlin, 1923), p. 24.
[97. ][It should be remembered that all this was written in 1924. H.E.B.]
[98. ]At Vienna in March 1892 at the sessions of the Currency Inquiry Commission, which was appointed in preparation for the regulation of the Austrian currency, Carl Menger remarked: “I should like to add that not only legislators, but all of us in our everyday life, are in the habit of disregarding the fluctuations in the purchasing power of money. Even such distinguished bankers as yourselves, gentlemen, draw up your balance sheet at the end of the year without inquiring whether by any chance the sum of money representing the share capital has gained or lost in purchasing power.” These remarks of Menger’s were not understood by the director of the Bodenkreditanstalt, Theodor von Taussig, the most outstanding of all Austrian bankers. He replied: “A balance sheet is a balancing of the property or assets of a company or individual against its liabilities, both expressed in terms of the accepted measure of value or monetary standard, that is, for Austria in gulden. Now I cannot see how, when we are thus expressing property and indebtedness in terms of the standard (which we have assumed to be homogeneous), we are to take account of variations in the standard of measurement instead of taking account of variations in the object to be measured, as is customary.” Taussig completely failed to see that the point at issue concerned the estimation of the value of goods and the amount of depreciation to be written off, and not the balancing of monetary claims and monetary obligations, or that a profit and loss account, if it is not to be hopelessly inexact, must take account of variations in the value of money. Menger had no occasion to raise this point in his reply, since he was rather concerned to show that his remarks were not to be interpreted, as Taussig was inclined to interpret them, as an accusation of dishonest practice on the part of the bank directors. Menger added: “What I said was merely that all of us, not only the directors of the banks (I said even such men as are at the head of the banks), make the mistake of not taking account in everyday life of changes in the value of money” (Stenographische Protokolle über die vom 8. bis 17. März 1892 abgehaltenen Sitzungen der nach Wien einberufenen Währungs-Enquete-Kommission [Vienna, 2892], pp. 221, 257, 270).
[99. ]See my book, Nation, Staat und Wirtschaft (Vienna, 1919), pp. 129 ff. A whole series of writings dealing with these questions has since appeared in Germany and Austria.
[100. ]Cf. further pp. 440 ff. below.
[101. ]See Ricardo, Letters to Malthus, ed. Bonar (Oxford, 1887), p. 10.
[102. ]See Hume, Essays, ed. Frowde (London), p. 294 ff.
[103. ]Auspitz and Lieben, Untersuchungen über die Theorie des Preises (Leipzig, 1889), p. 65.
[104. ][The author uses the term Geldwertpolitik in the technical sense defined in the above section. I have reserved the term monetary policy for this special meaning. Currency policy is the term I have used to translate Währungspolitik. H.E.B.]
[105. ]Similar interests, say those of the printers, lithographers, and the like, may play a part in the production of paper money also. Perhaps such motives had something to do with Benjamin Franklin’s recommendation of an increase of paper money in his first political writing, which was published (anonymously) in Philadelphia in 1729: “A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency” (in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Sparks [Chicago, 1882], vol. 2, pp. 253-77). Shortly before—as he relates in his autobiography (ibid., vol. 1, p. 73)—he had printed the notes for New Jersey, and when his pamphlet led to the decision to issue more notes in Pennsylvania, despite the opposition of the “rich men,” he got the order to print the notes. He remarks on this in his autobiography: “A very profitable job, and a great help to me. This was another advantage gained by me being able to write” (ibid., p. 92).
[106. ]On the naive inflationary proposals that have been made in recent years by the motor-car manufacturer Henry Ford, the famous inventor Edison, and the American senator Ladd, see Yves Guyot, Les problèmes de la déflation (Paris, 1923), pp. 281 f.
[107. ]This had been urged as early as 1740 by William Douglass in his anonymous writing A Discourse Concerning the Currencies in the British Plantations in America (Boston, 1740). See also Fisher, The Rate of Interest, p. 356.
[108. ]See Hertzka, Währung und Handel (Vienna, 1876), p. 42.
[109. ]See Bentham, Defense of Usury, 2d ed. (London, 1790), pp. 102 ff.
[110. ]See Wright and Harlow, The Gemini Letters (London, 1844), pp. 51 ff.
[111. ]See Hofmann, “Die Devalvierung des österreichischen Papiergeldes im Jahre 1811,” Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik 165, Part I.
[112. ][It should be remembered that the German edition from which the present version is translated was published in 1926. See, however, the discussion of British policy, pp. 23-26 above. H.E.B.]
[113. ][See p. 146 n above.]
[114. ]Cp. pp. 251 and 262-63 above.
[115. ]Esp. Pigou, The Economics of Welfare (London, 1921), pp. 665 ff.
[116. ]On this, see my book, Die Gemeinwirtschaft, 2d ed., (Jena, 1922), pp. 211 ff.
[117. ]See my book, Nation, Staat und Wirtschaft (Vienna, 1919), pp. 108 ff.
[118. ]Cassel rightly says: “A perfectly clear understanding of the monetary problem, brought about by the world war, can never be attained until officialdom’s interpretation of affairs has been disproved point by point, and full light thrown on all the delusions with which the authorities attempted as long as possible to obsess the public mind” (Cassel, Money and Foreign Exchange After 1914 [London, 1922], pp. 7 ff.). See Gregory’s criticism of the most important etatistic arguments in his Foreign Exchange Before, During and After the War (London, 1921), esp. pp. 65 ff.
[119. ]A leader of the Hungarian Soviet republic said to the author in the spring of 1919: “The paper money issued by the Soviet republic ought really to have the highest exchange rate next to the Russian money, for, through the socialization of the private property of all Hungarians, the Hungarian state has become next to Russia the richest state in the world, and consequently the most deserving of credit.”