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CHAPTER 16: The Evolution of Fiduciary Media - 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 Evolution of Fiduciary Media
The Two Ways of Issuing Fiduciary Media
Thus fiduciary media are claims to the payment of a given sum on demand, which are not covered by a fund of money and whose legal and technical characteristics make them suitable for tender and acceptance instead of money in fulfillment of obligations that are in terms of money. As has already been suggested, it is not the dead letter of the law so much as actual business practice that counts, so that some things function as fiduciary media, although they cannot be regarded as promises to pay money from the juristic point of view, because they nevertheless are in fact honored as such by somebody or other. We were able to show that, so far as they are not money certificates, even modern token coins and such kinds of money as the German thaler during the period from the establishment of the gold standard until its abolition, constitute fiduciary media and not money.
Fiduciary media may be issued in two ways: by banks, and otherwise. Bank fiduciary media are characterized by being dealt with as constituting a debt of the issuing body. They are entered as liabilities, and the issuing body does not regard the sum issued as an increase of its income or capital, but as an increase on the debit side of its account, which must be balanced by a corresponding increase on the credit side if the whole transaction is not to figure as a loss. This way of dealing with fiduciary media makes it necessary for the issuing body to regard them as part of its trading capital and never to spend them on consumption but always to invest them in business. These investments need not always be loans; the issuer may himself carry on a productive enterprise with the working capital that is put into his hands by the issue of fiduciary media. It is known that some deposit banks sometimes open deposit accounts without a money cover not only for the purpose of granting loans, but also for the purpose of directly procuring resources for production on their own behalf. More than one of the modern credit and commercial banks has invested a part of its capital in this manner, and the question of the right attitude in this case of the holders of the money substitutes, and of the state legislature that feels itself called upon to protect them, remains an open one. In earlier times there was a similar problem concerning banks issuing notes12 until banking practice or the law prescribed short-term loans as “cover.”
The issuer of fiduciary media may, however, regard the value of the fiduciary media put into circulation as an addition to his income or capital. If he does this, he will not take the trouble to cover the increase in his obligations due to the issue by setting aside a special credit fund out of his capital. He will pocket the profits of the issue, which in the case of token coinage is called seigniorage, as composedly as any other sort of income.
The only difference between the two ways of putting fiduciary media into circulation lies in the attitude of the issuer. Naturally, this cannot have any significance for the determination of the value of the fiduciary media. The difference between the methods of issue is a result of historical factors. Fiduciary media have sprung from two different roots: from the activities of the deposit and giro banks on the one hand, and from the state prerogative of minting on the other hand. The former is the source of notes and current accounts; the latter, that of convertible Treasury notes, token coins, and that current money of which the coinage is restricted, but which can be regarded neither as credit money nor as fiat money because it is actually convertible into money on demand to its full amount. Today the difference between the two methods of issuing is gradually disappearing, all the more as the state endeavors to act in the same way as the banks in issuing fiduciary media. Some states are already in the habit of devoting the profits of their coinage to special purposes and of refusing to treat them in any way as an increase of wealth.13
Of the two types of money substitutes issued by the banks, the current account is the older. The banknote, in fact, is only a development of it. It is true that the two are different in the eyes of the law and the banker, but they do not differ at all in the eyes of the economist. The only distinctions between them are in those legal or banking or commercial peculiarities of the banknote which give it a special capacity of circulation. It is easily transferable and very like money in the way in which it is transferred. Banknotes were therefore able to outstrip the older money substitute, the current account, and penetrate into commerce with extraordinary rapidity. For medium and small payments they offer such great advantages that the current account was hardly able to maintain its ground beside them. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that the current account once more became important along with the banknote. In large transactions, check and clearing payments are often superior to notes. But the chief reason why the current account was able in part to expel the banknote must by no means be sought in any inherent requirements of business. The current account is not, as it is sometimes the fashion to assert without any reason or proof, a “higher” form of money substitute than the banknote. The banknote has been supplanted by the current account in many countries because its development was artificially hindered and that of the current account artificially encouraged, the reason for this being that acceptance of the doctrines of the Currency principle led people to see danger for the stability of the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods only in the overissue of notes, and not in the excessive increase of bank deposits.
For the study of the credit system from the economic point of view, the contrast between notes and deposits is of minor importance. There are payments for which one or other form is the more suitable, and payments for which both forms are suitable. If their development had been allowed to take its own course, this fact would undoubtedly have been more evident than it is today when the attempt is sometimes made to bring about the employment of one or other kind of fiduciary medium by artificial means in circumstances where it appears the less appropriate technically.
Fiduciary Media and the Clearing System
That want of clarity concerning the nature of fiduciary media which constitutes the chief characteristic of the writings of the banking theorists and their epigoni, the modern writers on problems of banking theory, leads to a perpetual confusion between money substitutes and a series of institutions which reduce the demand for money in the narrower sense, and also to relative neglect of the differences that exist between money certificates and fiduciary media within the group of money substitutes proper.
The economic effect of an exchange that is carried out with the help of a certain quantity of a fungible good, can sometimes, if several persons have to transact business at the same time, be attained more indirectly in ways which, while they are formally of a more complicated legal structure, nevertheless fundamentally simplify the technical transaction and make it possible to dispense in particular instances with the physical presence of pieces of the medium of exchange. If A has to deliver a piece of cloth to B and receive a sheep from him for it, and if A at the same time has to give a sheep to C and receive from him a horse, these two exchanges can also be transacted if B gives a sheep to C on behalf and on account of A, so freeing himself from the obligation that he is under to give A a sheep in return for the cloth and A from the obligation that he is under to give C a sheep in return for the horse. Whereas the direct transaction of these two exchanges would have necessitated four transfers, this procedure necessitates only three.
The possibility of facilitating exchanges in this way is extraordinarily increased by extension of the custom of using certain goods as common media of exchange. For the number of cases in which anybody simultaneously owes and has a claim to a certain fungible good will increase with the number of cases in which one and the same fungible good—the common medium of exchange—is the object of exchange in individual transactions. Full development of the use of money leads at first to a splitting up into two acts of indirect exchange even of such transactions as could in any case have been carried through by direct exchange. The butcher and the baker, who could also exchange their products directly, often prefer to have their mutual relations take the form of an exchange carried through with the help of money which their other transactions assume also. The butcher sells meat to the baker for money and the baker sells bread to the butcher for money. This gives rise to reciprocal money claims and money obligations. But it is clear that a settlement can be arrived at here, not only by each party actually handing money over to the other, but also by means of offsetting, in which merely the balance remaining over is settled by payment of money. To complete the transaction in this way by full or partial cancellation of counterclaims offers important advantages in comparison with direct exchange: all the freedom connected with the use of money is combined with the technical simplicity that characterizes direct exchange transactions.
This method of carrying through indirect exchanges by cancellation of counterclaims is very greatly stimulated at the time when the cases where its employment is possible are increased by the fact that credit transactions, or the exchange of present goods for future goods, are becoming customary. When all exchanges have to be settled in ready cash, then the possibility of performing them by means of cancellation is limited to the case exemplified by the butcher and baker and only then on the assumption, which of course only occasionally holds good, that the demands of both parties are simultaneous. At the most, it is possible to imagine that several other persons might join in and so a small circle be built up within which drafts could be used for the settlement of transactions without the actual use of money. But even in this case simultaneity would still be necessary, and, several persons being involved, would be still seldomer achieved.
These difficulties could not be overcome until credit set business free from dependence on the simultaneous occurrence of demand and supply. This, in fact, is where the importance of credit for the monetary system lies. But this could not have its full effect so long as all exchange was still direct exchange, so long even as money had not established itself as a common medium of exchange. The instrumentality of credit permits transactions between two persons to be treated as simultaneous for purposes of settlement even if they actually take place at different times. If the baker sells bread to the cobbler daily throughout the year and buys from him a pair of shoes on one occasion only, say at the end of the year, then the payment on the part of the baker, and naturally on that of the cobbler also, would have to be made in cash, if credit did not provide a means first for delaying the one party’s liability and then for settling it by cancellation instead of by cash payment.
Exchanges made with the help of money can also be settled in part by offsetting if claims are transferred within a group until claims and counterclaims come into being between the same persons, these being then canceled against each other, or until the claims are acquired by the debtors themselves and so extinguished. In interlocal and international dealing in bills, which has been developed in recent years by the addition of the use of checks and in other ways which have not fundamentally changed its nature, the same sort of thing is carried out on an enormous scale. And here again credit increases in a quite extraordinary fashion the number of cases in which such offsetting is feasible.14 In all these cases we have an exchange made with the help of money which is nevertheless transacted without the actual use of money or money substitutes simply by means of a process of offsetting between the parties. Money in these cases is still a medium of exchange, but its employment in this capacity is independent of its physical existence. Use is made of money, but not physical use of actually existing money or money substitutes. Money which is not present performs an economic function; it has its effect solely by reason of the possibility of its being able to be present.
The reduction of the demand for money in the broader sense which is brought about by the use of offsetting processes for settling exchanges made with the help of money, without affecting the function performed by money as a medium of exchange, is based upon the reciprocal cancellation of claims to money. The use of money is avoided because claims to money are transferred instead of actual money. This process is continued until claim and debt come together, until creditor and debtor are united in the same person. Then the claim to money is extinguished, since nobody can be his own creditor or his own debtor.15 The same result may be reached at an earlier stage by reciprocal cancellation, that is by the liquidation of counterclaims by a process of offsetting.16 In either case the claim to money ceases to exist, and then, and not until then, is the act of exchange which gave birth to the claim finally completed.
Any transfer of a claim which does not bring it nearer to being extinguished by cancellation or offsetting cannot decrease the demand for money. In fact, if the transfer of the claim is not instead of payment in money, then it is on the contrary the source of a fresh demand for money. Now cession of claims instead of payment in money has, apart from the use of money substitutes, never been of very great commercial importance. As far as claims that are already due are concerned, the holder will as a rule prefer to call in the outstanding sums of money, because he will invariably find it easier to buy (and carry through other transactions in the market) with money or money substitutes than with claims whose goodness has not been indisputably established. But if the holder does in exceptional cases transfer such a claim by way of payment, then the new holder will be in the same position. A further hindrance to the transfer of claims to money that are not yet due instead of payment in money is the fact that such claims can be accepted only by such persons as are able to agree to postponement of payment; to rest content with a claim that is not yet due, when immediate payment could be enforced, is to grant credit.
Commercial requirements had previously made use of the legal institution of the bill in a way that caused it to circulate in a manner fairly similar to that of fiduciary media. Toward the end of the eighteenth and at the beginning of the nineteenth century bills were current in the European commercial centers which were endorsed by the merchants in place of payment in money.17 Since it was the general custom to make payments in this way, anybody could accept a bill that still had some time to run even when he wanted cash immediately; for it was possible to reckon with a fair amount of certainty that those to whom payments had to be made would also accept a bill not yet mature in place of ready money. It is perhaps hardly necessary to add that in all such transactions the element of time was of course taken into consideration, and discount consequently allowed for. Now it is true that this might increase the technical difficulties in handling the circulatory apparatus, which was already not an easy matter to deal with for other reasons, such, for example, as the different amounts of the bills. But, on the other hand, it offered a profit to any holder who did not pass the bill on immediately but kept it for a while, even if only for a very short while, in his portfolio. Used in this way, the bill was able to make up to a certain extent for the lack of fiduciary media. Even though it might not be due for a long time ahead, the holder could regard it as liquid, because he could pass it on at any time.
Despite this, bills of this sort were not fiduciary media in the sense in which notes or deposits are. They lack the characteristic features and properties which enabled the fiduciary medium, the indefinitely augmentable product of the arbitrary issuing activity of the banks, to become a complete substitute for money for business purposes. It is true that the cooperation of issuers and acceptors can give the circulation of bills the capacity of unlimited augmentation and unlimited lease of life through the agency of bill jobbing and regular prolongation, even if technical difficulties alone are sufficient to prevent the bills from ever being used in business to the same extent as money substitutes. But every increase in the amount of bills in circulation makes negotiation of individual bills more difficult. It reduces the resources of the market. In fact, the holder of a bill, as distinct from the holder of a note or of a current account, is a creditor A person who accepts a bill must examine the standing of the previous endorser, and also that of the issuer and the others who are liable for the bill, but in particular the primary acceptor Whoever passes a bill on, in endorsing it undertakes responsibility for the payment of the amount of the bill. The endorsement of the bill is in fact not a final payment; it liberates the debtor to a limited degree only. If the bill is not paid then his liability is revived in a greater degree than before. But the peculiar rigor of the law relating to its enforcement and the responsibility of its signatories could not be eliminated, for it was these very characteristics alone that had made the bill a suitable instrument for the cession, in place of money payment, of unmatured claims for which the common-law provisions regarding indebtedness are little suited. To whatever extent the custom of issuing or endorsing bills in place of payment in money may have established itself, every single payment that was made in this way nevertheless retained the character of a credit transaction. It was necessary in each individual case for the parties to the transaction to begin by coming to a special agreement as to the present price to be paid for the claim that would not fall due until some future time; if the amount of bills in circulation increased greatly, or if doubts happened to arise concerning the solidity of the position of any of the signatories, then it became more difficult to place the bill even on fairly tolerable terms. Issuer and acceptor had then in addition to make arrangements for covering the bill before it fell due, even if only by negotiating a prolongation bill. There is none of this in the case of fiduciary media, which pass like money from hand to hand without any sort of friction.
The modern organization of the payment system makes use of institutions for systematically arranging the settlement of claims by offsetting processes. There were beginnings of this as early as the Middle Ages, but the enormous development of the clearinghouse belongs to the last century. In the clearinghouse, the claims continuously arising between members are subtracted from one another and only the balances remain for settlement by the transfer of money or fiduciary media. The clearing system is the most important institution for diminishing the demand for money in the broader sense.
In the literature of the banking system it is not as a rule customary to draw a sufficient distinction between the diminution of the demand for money in the broader sense which is due to the operations of the clearinghouses and the diminution of the demand for money in the narrower sense which is due to the extension of the use of fiduciary media. This is the cause of much obscurity.
Fiduciary Media in Domestic Trade
In the domestic trade of most civilized countries, the actual use of money for transacting exchanges made with the help of money has been very largely superseded by the use of money substitutes. And among the money substitutes, fiduciary media play a constantly increasing part. At the same time, the number of exchanges made with the help of money which are settled by the offsetting of counterclaims is growing also. There are countries in which nearly all the internal payments that are not settled by the clearing process are made without the use of money merely with the aid of banknotes and deposits that are not covered by money, of token coins in the proper sense of the word, and of other coins convertible on demand into money. In other countries, again, the fiduciary medium has not yet been developed to a like extent; but if we disregard those countries in which the insecurity of the law hinders the birth of that confidence in the soundness of the issuer which is the sine qua non for the circulation of money substitutes, then we shall find no part of the world in which a large proportion of the internal payments are not made by means of the use of fiduciary media alone, without the actual transference of money. It is only in medium-sized transactions that there is still room for the transference of actual money. In Germany and England before the war it was usual to make payments of twenty to one hundred marks and £1 and £5 by the transference of gold coins. Smaller and larger payments were made almost exclusively by the cession of token coins or notes or deposits which were only partly covered by money. It was the same in other countries.
The fact that money continued to be in actual circulation at all in a series of states, like Germany and England, and was not entirely superseded by fiduciary media and money certificates, was due solely to legislative intervention. For reasons which were connected with certain views on the nature of notes, it was thought that the circulation of notes of small denominations ought to be opposed.18 The battle against the one-pound note in England ended with the complete victory of the sovereign, and this victory had a significance outside England, too, for the disfavor in which small banknotes were held for decades on the continent of Europe was based upon English opinion. It is certain that in those states which have a sound administration of justice and a developed banking system, the employment of actual money in commerce could be replaced without difficulty by the issue of a corresponding quantity of small notes.
In some countries in which the actual transfer of money has been completely superseded by fiduciary media and money certificates, this end has been systematically sought and attained in a peculiar fashion and under very peculiar conditions. The silver-standard countries—India, primarily, but the situation was similar in other Asiatic states—after the great controversy about the standards had been decided in favor of monometallism, were forced to accept the world gold standard. But there were extraordinary difficulties in the way of the transition to a monetary system in imitation of English of German institutions. To introduce gold money in the circulation of these countries would have necessitated the conveyance of enormous quantities of gold to them, which would not have been practicable without serious convulsion of the European money market and would have meant great sacrifice. The governments of these countries, however, had to endeavor at all costs on the one hand not to raise the value of gold (so as not to disturb the European markets), and on the other hand not to reduce the value of silver any more than was necessary. The English government in India did not dare to undertake anything which might have had an unfavorable influence on the London money market; but, having regard to India’s Asiatic competitors, which presumably would remain on the silver standard, neither did it dare to take any steps which would expedite the fall in the price of silver and consequently weaken for a time, even if only in appearance, the ability of India to compete with China, Japan, the Straits Settlements, and the other silver countries. It therefore had the task of conducting India’s transition to the gold standard without buying gold in considerable quantities or selling silver.
The problem was not insoluble. Within limits, the circumstances were similar to those of the bimetallic countries which had discontinued the free coinage of silver at the end of the seventies. And besides, careful scientific consideration of the problem showed that it was possible to create a gold standard without a gold currency; that it was enough to discontinue the free coinage of silver and to announce its convertibility into gold at a specific rate, making this effective by establishing a suitable conversion fund, in order to give the country a gold standard which would differ from that of England only in the lower level of the stock of gold. It was only necessary to go back to the writings of Ricardo in order to find the plan for such a currency system already worked out in detail. Lindsay19 and Probyn20 followed this path and, building upon Ricardo, worked out plans for this kind of currency regulation. Both wanted to close the mints to silver and to make the rupee convertible into gold at a fixed ratio. For the future, only the rupee was to be legal tender. The two proposals differed on some minor points, of which the most important was that while Probyn held it necessary that the rupee should be convertible into gold in India itself, Lindsay was of the opinion that it would suffice if the conversion were to be in London from a gold reserve to be established there. Both proposals were rejected, by the Indian government and by the commissions appointed to inquire into the Indian monetary system. The opinion was expressed that a normal gold standard necessitates an actual gold currency, and that the lack of such a currency would awaken mistrust.21
The report of the commission of 1898 was signed by the most eminent experts of the day; its comments on the recommendations of Probyn and Lindsay were supported on the decisive point by the expert opinions of the biggest bankers in the British Empire. The course of events vindicated the theorists, however, not the statesmen and great financiers who had regarded them with amused commiseration. What was ultimately done in India corresponded roughly and on the whole to the recommendations of Probyn and Lindsay, even if there were variations in detail. And the monetary systems of other countries that had previously been on a silver standard were organized in a precisely similar manner The present currency system of India, of the Straits Settlements, of the Philippines, and of the other Asiatic countries which have followed their example, is superficially characterized by the fact that in domestic trade, payments in money, that is, in gold, do not occur at all or at least are far rarer than in the gold-standard countries of Europe and America, and even in these the actual circulation of gold is only quite small in proportion to the total of all the payments made with the help of money. Under the system in India, payments are made, along with notes, checks, and giro transfers, chiefly in silver coins, which are partly relics of the time of the silver standard, and partly minted by the government for the account of the state and to the benefit of the Treasury, which receives the considerable profits of the coinage. A conversion fund, which is set up and administered by the government, exchanges these silver coins at a fixed ratio for gold, gold securities, or other claims to money, payable on demand, while, on the other hand, it issues such silver coins in exchange for gold in unlimited quantities at the same rate, allowance being made for the expenses of storage, transportation, etc. The minor details of this arrangement differ in different countries; but the differences in its legal or banking technique are insignificant as far as its nature is concerned. It is, for example, of no further significance, whether or not the silver coins are converted on the basis of a legal obligation. All that matters is whether the conversion actually does take place on demand.22
There exists no fundamental difference at all between the currency system of these Asiatic and American countries and that that the European gold-standard countries once had. Under both systems, payments are made without the actual transference of money by the aid of the surrender of fiduciary media. The fact that in England and Germany the actual transference of money also played a certain part for medium-sized payments, whereas in India and in the Philippines the number of actual transfers of money is scarcely worth mentioning, or that in the former countries the proportion of the circulation that was not covered by money was smaller than in the latter, is quite inessential; it is a difference that is merely quantitative, not qualitative. Of no great relevance is the circumstance that the fiduciary media were in the one case predominantly banknotes and checks and are in the other case predominantly silver coins. The silver rupee is in truth nothing but a metallic note, for the conversion of which its issuer, the state, is responsible.23
Following up a train of thought of Ricardo’s, who was the first to develop the plan of this monetary system more than a hundred years ago,24 it is customary to speak of it as the gold-exchange standard. The aptness of this designation can only be conceded if it is intended to stress the peculiarities in banking and currency technique that characterize the system. But it is a name that must be rejected if it is intended to indicate the existence of a fundamental difference from what used to be the English and German type of gold standard. It is not correct to assert that in these countries gold functions merely as a measure of prices while the silver coins are used as a common medium of exchange. We know what little justification there is for speaking of a price-measuring function of money. In Ricardo’s sense, it was possible to speak of measurement and measures of value; from the point of view of the subjective theory of value these and similar concepts are untenable. In India and Austria-Hungary and in all other countries with similar currency and banking systems, gold is or was just as much a common medium of exchange as in prewar England or Germany; the difference between the two systems is only one of degree, not one of kind.
Fiduciary Media in International Trade
The practice of making payments by the writing off or reciprocal balancing of claims is not restricted by the boundaries of states or countries. It was in fact in trade between different areas that the need for it was earliest and most strongly felt. The transportation of money always involves not inconsiderable cost, loss of interest, and risk. If the claims arising out of various transactions are liquidated not by the actual transference of money, but by balancing or offsetting, then all these expenses and dangers can be avoided. This provided an extraordinarily effective motive for developing those methods of making payments over long distances which saved the transference of sums of money. Quite early we find the use of bills established for interlocal payments; then in addition we later find checks, and ordinary and cable transfers, all forming the basis of an interlocal clearing system which worked through the ordinary free play of the market without the help of a special clearinghouse. When making payments within a given locality the advantages for the individual of the method of settling transactions by the clearing process and therefore without the use of cash are smaller than those when making payments between localities, and therefore it was a longer time before the system of reciprocal cancellation came into full operation with the establishment of clearinghouses.
If the clearing system has without difficulty transcursed political boundaries and created for itself a world-embracing organization in the international bill and check system, the validity of the fiduciary media, like that of all money substitutes, is nationally limited. There are no money substitutes, and so no fiduciary media, that are recognized internationally and consequently able to take the place of money in international trade for settling the balances that remain over after the clearing process. That is often overlooked in discussions of the present position of the international system of payments and the possibilities of its future development. Here again, in fact, the confusion creeps in, that has already been criticized adversely, between the system of reciprocal cancellation and the circulation of fiduciary media. This is most clear in the usual arguments about international giro transactions. In domestic giro transactions, payments are effected by the transfer of money substitutes, which are often fiduciary media, namely, the balances of the members at the giro bank. In international transactions, the money substitute is lacking, and even the international clearing system that is recommended in various quarters is not intended to introduce one. Rather it should be pointed out that this so-called international giro system—which incidentally was done away with again by the inflation during the war—while it may have changed the external form of the traditional manner of settling international monetary claims, has not changed in nature. When banks of various countries agree to give their clients the right to undertake direct transference from their balances to the balances of the clients of foreign banks, this may quite well constitute a new and additional method of international settlement of accounts. A Viennese desirous of paying a sum of money to somebody in Berlin was previously able either to use an international money order or to go to the exchange and buy a bill on Berlin and send it to his creditor As a rule he would have made use of the intermediate services of a bank, which for its part would perform the transaction through the purchase of a foreign bill or a check. Later, if he was a member of the check system of the Austrian Post Office Savings Bank and his creditor belonged to that of the German post office, he would have been able to make the transfer more simply by sending the appropriate order on the Vienna office of the Post Office Savings Bank. This might well be more convenient and better suited to the demands of business than the only method that was once usual; but, however excellent a method, it was not a new method of international monetary intercourse. For the balances of this international giro system, if they could not be paid by bills, had to be paid by the actual transference of money. It is not true that the international giro system has decreased the international transportation of money. Even before its introduction, the Viennese who wanted to pay money to somebody in Berlin did not buy twenty-mark pieces and send them to Berlin in a parcel.
The only thing calculated to create international money substitutes and subsequently international fiduciary media would be the establishment of an international giro bank or bank-of-issue. When it became possible to use the notes issued by the world bank and the accounts opened by it for the settlement of money claims of all kinds, there would no longer be any need to settle the national balances of payments by transportation of money. The actual transference of money could be superseded by the transference of the notes issued by the world bank or of checks giving disposal over the issuer’s account with the world bank, or even by simple entries in the books of the world bank. The balances of the international “clearinghouse,” which already exists today although it is not concentrated in any one locality and has not the rigid organization of the national clearinghouses, would then be paid off in the same way as those of the national clearinghouses are at present.
Proposals have been made again and again for the creation of international fiduciary media through the establishment of an interstate bank. It is true that this must not be taken to include every project for extending the international giro system in the sense in which this word is commonly used. Nevertheless, in certain writings which demand the foundation of a world bank, or at least of an interstate banking organization, there gleams the idea of an international fiduciary medium.25 The problems of organization raised by the establishment of such an international institution could be solved in various ways. The establishment of the world bank as a special form of organization and as an independent legal body would probably be the simplest form for the new creation. It would, however, also be possible, apart from this, to establish a special central authority for administering and investing the sums of money paid in to open the accounts, and for issuing the money substitutes. An attempt could be made to avoid the obstructions which the susceptibilities of national vanity would probably oppose to the local concentration of the business of the bank by leaving the reserves of the world giro authority and the world issuing authority in the keeping of the separate national banks. In the reserves of every central bank a distinction would then have to be made between two sums: one, which would have to serve as a basis for the world organization of the system of payments, and over which only the authorities of the latter would have power of disposal; and a second, which would continue to be at the service of the national monetary system. It would even be possible to go still further and leave the issue of international notes and other money substitutes to the individual banks, which would only be required in doing this to follow the instructions given by the authorities of the world organization. It is not our task to investigate which of the various possibilities is the most practical; it is its nature alone that interests us, not the actual form it might take.
Special reference must nevertheless be made to one point. If the balances in the books of the world bank are to be acquired only by cash payment of the full sum in money, or by transfer from some other account that has been acquired by cash payment of the full sum in money, and if the world bank is to issue notes only in exchange for money, then its establishment may certainly render unnecessary the transportation of quantities of money (which still plays a large part nowadays in the international payments system), but it would not have the effect of economizing money payments. It is true that it would be able to reduce the demand for money, because transferences would perhaps be completed more quickly and with less friction. But, as before, the payments that were made through the bank would involve the actual use of money. Of course, the money would remain in the vaults of the world bank and only the right to demand its surrender would be transferred. But the amount of the payments would be arithmetically limited by the amount of the money deposits in the bank. The possibility of trans ferring sums of money would be bound up with the existence of these sums of money in actual monetary shape. In order to free the international monetary system from these fetters the world bank would have to be granted the right of issuing notes as loans also and of opening accounts on credit; that is to say, the right of partly lending out its reserves of money. Then, and not until then, would the interstate system of payments be given a fiduciary medium such as is already possessed by the domestic system; it would become independent of the quantity of money in existence.
The realization of a world-bank project developed in this way is opposed by tremendous obstacles which it would hardly be possible to surmount in the near future. The least of these obstacles is constituted by the variety of the kinds of money that are in use in the individual states. Nevertheless, in spite of the inflation that was created by the world war and its consequences, we are every day approaching nearer and nearer to the situation of having a world monetary unit based on the metallic money gold. More important are the difficulties due to political considerations. The establishment of a world bank might come to grief owing to the uncertainty of its position in international law. No state would wish to incur the danger of the accounts of its citizens being impounded by the world bank in case of war. This involves questions of primary importance and therefore no provisions of international law, however surrounded with precautions they might be, could satisfy the individual states so far as to overcome their opposition to membership in such an organization.26
Nevertheless, the biggest difficulty in the way of issuing international credit instruments lies in the circumstance that it would scarcely be possible for the states that had joined the world-banking system to come to an agreement concerning the policy to be followed by the bank in issuing the credit instruments. Even the question of determining the quantity of them to be issued would disclose irreconcilable antagonisms. Under present conditions, therefore, proposals for the establishment of a world bank with power of issuing fiduciary media attract hardly any notice.27
[12. ]See Lotz, Geschichte und Kritik des deutschen Bankgesetzes vom 14. März 1875 (Leipzig, 1888), pp. 72 f.
[13. ]See for example on the Swiss currency reserve fund established by article 8 of the Currency Act of January 31, 1860, Altherr, Eine Betrachtung über neue Wege der schweizerischen Münzpolitik (Bern, 1908), pp. 61 ff.
[14. ]See Knies, Geld und Kredit, (Berlin, 1876), vol. 2, Part I, pp. 268 ff.
[15. ]See l. 21, sec. 1 D. de liberatione legata 34, 3. Terentius Clemens libro XII ad legem Juliam et Papiam.
[16. ]See l. 1 D. der compensationibus 16, 2. Modestinus libro sexto pandectarum.
[17. ]See Thornton, An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain (London, 1802), pp. 39 ff.
[18. ]See Baird, The One Pound Note, Its History, Place and Power in Scotland, and Its Adaptability for England, 2d ed. (Edinburgh, 1901), pp. 9 ff.; Graham, The One Pound Note in the History of Banking in Great Britain, 2d ed. (Edinburgh, 1911), pp. 195 ff.; Nicholson, A Treatise on Money and Essays on Present Monetary Problems (Edinburgh, 1888), pp. 177 ff.; Jevons, Investigations in Currency and Finance (London, 1909), pp. 275 ff.
[19. ]See Lindsay, A Gold Standard Without a Gold Coinage in England and India (Edinburgh, 1879), pp. 12 ff. I have not been able to obtain access to a second pamphlet by the same author which appeared anonymously in 1892 under the title Ricardo’s Exchange Remedy.
[20. ]See Probyn, Indian Coinage and Currency (London, 1897), pp. 1 ff.
[21. ]See Report of the Indian Currency Committee 1898 (in Stability of International Exchange, Report on the Introduction of the Gold-Exchange Standard into China and Other Silver-using Countries submitted to the Secretary of State, October 1, 1903, by the Commission on International Exchange [Washington, D.C., 1903], Appendix G), pp. (315).; Heyn, Die indische Währungsreform, (Berlin, 1903), pp. 54 ff.; Bothe, Die indische Währungsreform seit 1893 (Stuttgart, 1906), pp. 199 ff.
[22. ]On the fate of the Indian currency in the period of inflation during the Great War, see Spalding, Eastern Exchange, Currency and Finance, 3d ed. (London, 1920), pp. 31 ff.
[23. ]See Conant, “The Gold Exchange Standard in the Light of Experience,” The Economic Journal 19 (1909): 200.
[24. ]In the pamphlet published in 1816, “Proposals for an Economical and Secure Currency with Observations on the Profits of the Bank of England,” in Works, ed. McCulloch, 2d ed. (London, 1852), pp. 404 ff.
[25. ]See Patterson, Der Krieg der Banken, trans. from the English by Holtzendorff (Berlin, 1867), pp. 17 ff.; Wolf, Verstaatlichung der Silberproduktion und andere Vorschläge zur Währungsfrage (Zurich, 1892), pp. 54 ff.; Wolf, “Eine international Banknote,” in Zietscrift für Sozialwissenschaft (1908), vol 11, pp. 44 ff.
[26. ]These words, written in 1911, need no addition today.
[27. ]See De Greef, “La monnaie, le crédit et le change dans le commerce international,” Revue economique internationale 4 (1911): 58 ff.