Front Page Titles (by Subject) 6: Cash-Induced and Goods-Induced Changes in Purchasing Power - Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, vol. 2 (LF ed.)
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6: Cash-Induced and Goods-Induced Changes in Purchasing Power - Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, vol. 2 (LF ed.) 
Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, in 4 vols., ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). Vol. 2.
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Cash-Induced and Goods-Induced Changes in Purchasing Power
Changes in the purchasing power of money, i.e., in the exchange ratio between money and the vendible goods and commodities, can originate either from the side of money or from the side of the vendible goods and commodities. The change in the data which provokes them can either occur in the demand for and supply of money or in the demand for and supply of the other goods and services. We may accordingly distinguish between cash-induced and goods-induced changes in purchasing power.
Goods-induced changes in purchasing power can be brought about by changes in the supply of commodities and services or in the demand for individual commodities and services. A general rise or fall in the demand for all goods and services or the greater part of them can be effected only from the side of money.
Let us now scrutinize the social and economic consequences of changes in the purchasing power of money under the following three assumptions: first, that the money in question can only be used as money—i.e., as a medium of exchange—and can serve no other purpose; second, that there is only exchange of present goods and no exchange of present goods against future goods; third, that we disregard the effects of changes in purchasing power on monetary calculation.
Under these assumptions all that cash-induced changes in purchasing power bring about are shifts in the disposition of wealth among different individuals. Some get richer, others poorer; some are better supplied, others less; what some people gain is paid for by the loss of others. It would, however, be impermissible to interpret this fact by saying that total satisfaction remained unchanged or that, while no changes have occurred in total supply, the state of total satisfaction or of the sum of happiness has been increased or decreased by changes in the distribution of wealth. The notions of total satisfaction or total happiness are empty. It is impossible to discover a standard for comparing the different degrees of satisfaction or happiness attained by various individuals.
Cash-induced changes in purchasing power indirectly generate further changes by favoring either the accumulation of additional capital or the consumption of capital available. Whether and in what direction such secondary effects are brought about depends on the specific data of each case. We shall deal with these important problems at a later point.11
Goods-induced changes in purchasing power are sometimes nothing else but consequences of a shift of demand from some goods to others. If they are brought about by an increase or a decrease in the supply of goods they are not merely transfers from some people to other people. They do not mean that Peter gains what Paul has lost. Some people may become richer although nobody is impoverished, and vice versa.
We may describe this fact in the following way: Let A and B be two independent systems which are in no way connected with each other. In both systems the same kind of money is used, a money which cannot be used for any nonmonetary purpose. Now we assume, as case 1, that A and B differ from each other only in so far as in B the total supply of money is n m, m being the total supply of money in A, and that to every cash holding of c and to every claim in terms of money d in A there corresponds a cash holding of n c and a claim of n d in B. Inevery other respect A equals B. Then we assume, as case 2, that A and B differ from each other only in so far as in B the total supply of a certain commodity r is n p, p being the total supply of this commodity in A, and that to every stock v of this commodity r in A there corresponds a stock of n v in B. In both cases n is greater than 1. If we ask every individual of A whether he is ready to make the slightest sacrifice in order to exchange his position for the corresponding place in B, the answer will be unanimously in the negative in case 1. But in case 2 all owners of r and all those who do not own any r, but are eager to acquire a quantity of it—i.e., at least one individual—will answer in the affirmative.
The services money renders are conditioned by the height of its purchasing power. Nobody wants to have in his cash holding a definite number of pieces of money or a definite weight of money; he wants to keep a cash holding of a definite amount of purchasing power. As the operation of the market tends to determine the final state of money’s purchasing power at a height at which the supply of and the demand for money coincide, there can never be an excess or a deficiency of money. Each individual and all individuals together always enjoy fully the advantages which they can derive from indirect exchange and the use of money, no matter whether the total quantity of money is great or small. Changes in money’s purchasing power generate changes in the disposition of wealth among the various members of society. From the point of view of people eager to be enriched by such changes, the supply of money may be called insufficient or excessive, and the appetite for such gains may result in policies designed to bring about cash-induced alterations in purchasing power. However, the services which money renders can be neither improved nor repaired by changing the supply of money. There may appear an excess or a deficiency of money in an individual’s cash holding. But such a condition can be remedied by increasing or decreasing consumption or investment. (Of course, one must not fall prey to the popular confusion between the demand for money for cash holding and the appetite for more wealth.) The quantity of money available in the whole economy is always sufficient to secure for everybody all that money does and can do.
From the point of view of this insight one may call wasteful all expenditures incurred for increasing the quantity of money. The fact that things which could render some other useful services are employed as money and thus withheld from these other employments appears as a superfluous curtailment of limited opportunities for want-satisfaction. It was this idea that led Adam Smith and Ricardo to the opinion that it was very beneficial to reduce the cost of producing money by resorting to the use of paper printed currency. However, things appear in a different light to the students of monetary history. If one looks at the catastrophic consequences of the great paper money inflations, one must admit that the expensiveness of gold production is the minor evil. It would be futile to retort that these catastrophes were brought about by the improper use which the governments made of the powers that credit money and fiat money placed in their hands and that wiser governments would have adopted sounder policies. As money can never be neutral and stable in purchasing power, a government’s plans concerning the determination of the quantity of money can never be impartial and fair to all members of society. Whatever a government does in the pursuit of aims to influence the height of purchasing power depends necessarily upon the rulers’ personal value judgments. It always furthers the interests of some groups of people at the expense of other groups. It never serves what is called the commonweal or the public welfare. In the field of monetary policies too there is no such thing as a scientific ought.
The choice of the good to be employed as a medium of exchange and as money is never indifferent. It determines the course of the cash-induced changes in purchasing power. The question is only who should make the choice: the people buying and selling on the market, or the government? It was the market which in a selective process, going on for ages, finally assigned to the precious metals gold and silver the character of money. For two hundred years the governments have interfered with the market’s choice of the money medium. Even the most bigoted étatists do not venture to assert that this interference has proved beneficial.
Inflation and Deflation; Inflationism and Deflationism
The notions of inflation and deflation are not praxeological concepts. They were not created by economists, but by the mundane speech of the public and of politicians. They implied the popular fallacy that there is such a thing as neutral money or money of stable purchasing power and that sound money should be neutral and stable in purchasing power. From this point of view the term inflation was applied to signify cash-induced changes resulting in a drop in purchasing power, and the term deflation to signify cash-induced changes resulting in a rise in purchasing power.
However, those applying these terms are not aware of the fact that purchasing power never remains unchanged and that consequently there is always either inflation or deflation. They ignore these necessarily perpetual fluctuations as far as they are only small and inconspicuous, and reserve the use of the terms to big changes in purchasing power. Since the question at what point a change in purchasing power begins to deserve being called big depends on personal relevance judgments, it becomes manifest that inflation and deflation are terms lacking the categorial precision required for praxeological, economic, and catallactic concepts. Their application is appropriate for history and politics. Catallactics is free to resort to them only when applying its theorems to the interpretation of events of economic history and of political programs. Moreover, it is very expedient even in rigid catallactic disquisitions to make use of these two terms whenever no misinterpretation can possibly result and pedantic heaviness of expression can be avoided. But it is necessary never to forget that all that catallactics says with regard to inflation and deflation—i.e., big cash-induced changes in purchasing power—is valid also with regard to small changes, although, of course, the consequences of smaller changes are less conspicuous than those of big changes.
The terms inflationism and deflationism, inflationist and deflationist, signify the political programs aiming at inflation and deflation in the sense of big cash-induced changes in purchasing power.
The semantic revolution which is one of the characteristic features of our day has also changed the traditional connotation of the terms inflation and deflation. What many people today call inflation or deflation is no longer the great increase or decrease in the supply of money, but its inexorable consequences, the general tendency toward a rise or a fall in commodity prices and wage rates. This innovation is by no means harmless. It plays an important role in fomenting the popular tendencies toward inflationism.
First of all there is no longer any term available to signify what inflation used to signify. It is impossible to fight a policy which you cannot name. Statesmen and writers no longer have the opportunity of resorting to a terminology accepted and understood by the public when they want to question the expediency of issuing huge amounts of additional money. They must enter into a detailed analysis and description of this policy with full particulars and minute accounts whenever they want to refer to it, and they must repeat this bothersome procedure in every sentence in which they deal with the subject. As this policy has no name, it becomes self-understood and a matter of fact. It goes on luxuriantly.
The second mischief is that those engaged in futile and hopeless attempts to fight the inevitable consequences of inflation—the rise in prices—are disguising their endeavors as a fight against inflation. While merely fighting symptoms, they pretend to fight the root causes of the evil. Because they do not comprehend the causal relation between the increase in the quantity of money on the one hand and the rise in prices on the other, they practically make things worse. The best example was provided by the subsidies granted in the Second World War on the part of the governments of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain to farmers. Price ceilings reduce the supply of the commodities concerned because production involves a loss for the marginal producers. To prevent this outcome the governments granted subsidies to the farmers producing at the highest costs. These subsidies were financed out of additional increases in the quantity of money. If the consumers had had to pay higher prices for the products concerned, no further inflationary effects would have emerged. The consumers would have had to use for such surplus expenditure only money which had already been issued previously. Thus the confusion of inflation and its consequences in fact can directly bring about more inflation.
It is obvious that this new-fangled connotation of the terms inflation and deflation is utterly confusing and misleading and must be unconditionally rejected.
[11. ]Cf. below, Chapter 20.