Leading Facts Concerning Money

Dynamic Qualities of Money

The question concerning money which,

for the purposes of the present treatise, it is most important to

answer is whether general prosperity can be increased or impaired by

manipulating the volume of it. Is money a dynamic agent, and can it be

so regulated as to induce economic progress? These questions require

careful answers.

Accepted Facts concerning

We may accept without argument

the conclusion that both theory and experience have reached concerning

the superiority of gold and silver over other materials of which

a currency can be made. They possess the universally recognized

utility which makes them everywhere in demand. They have the

"imperishability," the "portability," and the "divisibility" which are

needed, and when made into coins, they have the "cognizability" by

which they can, more readily than many other things, be identified and

distinguished from cheap imitations. There remain to be settled the

questions whether an expanding volume of currency is necessary for

prosperity, and whether the expansion can better be secured by using

two metals than it can by using one.

Effects of Free Coinage

It is evident that when a government coins

without charge all the gold and silver that are brought to it for that

purpose, either metal will be worth about as much in the form of

bullion as it is in the form of coin. If, for uses in the arts, an

ounce of gold is worth more than the number of dollars that can be

made of it, the coining of this metal will temporarily cease and some

coins already made will be melted. Moreover, where both of the

precious metals are used as money, neither of them can long be worth

in a coin much more than is the bullion contained in the less valuable

of the two. If a gold dollar will buy more silver than is needed to

make a silver dollar, because of the higher value of the bullion in

the former coin, silver will be bought and taken to the mint for

coinage, while gold dollars will be melted. The gold will go farther

in the way of paying debts when it is in this way exchanged for silver


The Effects of Inflation of Currency on Prices

We are citing a

further accepted fact when we say that, other things being equal,

enlarging the volume of currency in use raises the prices of goods. By

what particular mechanism this is brought about we do not here

inquire. Not everything that is claimed under the head of a "quantity

theory of money" is generally believed, but there will be little

disposition anywhere to deny that, if no other dynamic movement should

take place, adding fifty per cent to the volume of metallic money in

circulation would make prices higher than they were before the


Rising Prices and Business Profits

If we assert, further, that

permanently rising prices mean prosperity,--profits for the

entrepreneur and a brisk demand for labor and capital,--we assert

what, in the practical world, is too generally accepted. Sound theory

and current belief are at variance on this point, and the current

opinion appears at first glance to have the facts on its side. Periods

of rising prices have actually been periods of prosperity. It is

considered hard for either a merchant or a manufacturer "to do

business on a falling market," and easy to make money on a rising one.

This impression is entirely correct in so far as it concerns those

fluctuations of price which occur suddenly and continue only briefly.

What it is of great importance to know is whether a steady rise of

prices which should continue permanently would mean permanent profits

for the entrepreneur; and it can be asserted without hesitation that

it would not do so if the final productivity theory of interest is

sound, that is, if capital commands in the market a rate of interest

which corresponds to the amount that the marginal increment of it will

actually produce.

The Rate of Expansion of Currency distinguished from the Absolute

Amount of Increase

The extent to which any currency is capable of

raising prices by a continued expansion depends, not on the absolute

amount of that expansion, but on the percentage of enlargement that

takes place within a given time. Moreover, a given percentage of

increase per annum may be maintained as well by one metal as by two.

If the gold and the silver money of the world were each increased by

one per cent a year, prices would have the same trend under a currency

made of one metal as under a currency made of both. If, on the other

hand, all the currencies were based on gold only, a change to a

bimetallic system would at once make a single great enlargement of the

volume of money; but after this the rate of enlargement would be no

greater than it was under the single standard. In the transition

from a gold to a bimetallic currency, we should get rapidly rising

prices; after the change had been completed, we should have a currency

expanding as before at the one per cent rate. If the volume of

business were to increase at the rate of two per cent a year, while

other influences affecting prices were to remain unchanged, the

currency would not expand as rapidly as the demand for it, and prices

would not only fall, but would fall at the same rate as if only one

metal had been used. Use ten metals instead of two,--make coins of

tin, platinum, copper, nickel, etc.,--and if the grand composite still

insures the one per cent rate of general increase of metallic money,

prices will vary as they would have varied with a currency of gold

alone. Wholly transitional, under such circumstances, is the rise in

prices secured by the adoption of bimetallism. It is gained by adding

to the stock of gold now used for ultimate payments an existing stock

of silver.

Why Metallic Currency of Any Kind gains, in the Long Run, in

Purchasing Power

In the long run, almost any metallic coin of a

fixed weight will gain in its purchasing power. Silver would do this

as well as gold; and so would a composite coinage made of ten metals.

The law of diminishing returns applies to mining as well as to

agriculture. The more silver you want, the deeper you must dig for it,

and the more refractory ores you must smelt. The transmuting of a raw

metal into finished articles becomes a cheaper and cheaper process;

but the extracting of the metal itself becomes dearer. A larger and

larger fraction of the labor that is spent in making wares of silver,

of gold, of copper, or of tin must be spent in getting the crude

material out of the earth. There are improvements in mining, as there

are in other industries, and there are large improvements in smelting;

but in spite of this the continual working of more difficult mines and

of more difficult ores makes the getting of the crude material, in

the long run, relatively costly. Since a coin consists chiefly of raw

metal, we may therefore count on having before us a regime of falling

prices, whatever metallic currency we adopt. The rate of the fall and

the degree of steadiness in it will be greater with some metals than

with others. The variations in the value of gold are, on the whole,

comparatively steady. This metal fluctuates in amount and in cost, but

the changes are less sudden than in the case of most others.

The Steadiness of the Change in the Purchasing Power of Money the

Important Fact

A second fact to be noted is that the best currency

is one the purchasing power of which shall change, if at all, at a

comparatively uniform rate. This fact is of paramount consequence, and

the verification of it will repay any amount of study. It is not the

rapidity with which gold gains in purchasing power, but the steadiness

of the gain from year to year that determines whether it is the best

money that can be had by the business world. A change in the rate of

increase in the purchasing power of the coinage metal has a really

disturbing effect; a steady and calculable appreciation does not.

There exists in some acute minds what I venture to call a delusion

about the effect on business classes of an advance in the purchasing

power of gold that proceeds for a long time at a uniform rate.

Conceding the prospect of a decided gain in the value of this metal,

we may deny absolutely that, if it is steady, it plays into the

hands of creditors, burdens the entrepreneur, blights enterprise, or

has any of the effects that certain men whom we are bound to respect

have claimed for it. Irregular changes of value would, indeed, produce

these results. Let gold gain three per cent in value this year, one

per cent next year, and four per cent in the year following, and

injurious things will happen; but let it gain even as much as three

per cent each year for a century, and at the test points in business

life there will ensue the essential effects that would have followed

if it had not gained at all.

This means that with a steadily appreciating currency the things will

happen that make for prosperity. The debtor will get justice,

enterprise will be safe, and wages will gain while industry gains. The

entrepreneur, in whose behalf bad counsel has lately been given,

will best do his strategic work, not with that currency which varies

in value the least, but with that which varies most uniformly. If it

appears that gold is likely to appreciate more than silver, and to

appreciate more steadily, it is decidedly the better metal. It is not

inflation on which the entrepreneur permanently thrives, nor is it

contraction through which, in the long run, he suffers; it is changes

in the rate of inflation or of contraction that produce marked and

damaging effects at the critical points of business life.

Loan Interest as related to the Increase of Real Capital

How does

a slow and steady appreciation of any metallic currency affect the

relations of business classes? Does it rob borrowers and enrich

lenders? Does it favor the consumers by giving falling prices, and

hurt producers in the same degree? Does it tax enterprise and paralyze

the nerves of business? The answer is an emphatic No. Steadiness in

the rate of appreciation of money is the salvation of business. Not by

one iota can such a slow and steady movement, in itself alone, rob the

borrowing class. This is a sweeping claim; let us examine it.

It has been shown that true interest is governed by the marginal

productivity of capital. As the utility of the final increment of a

commodity fixes the price that a seller can get for his whole supply,

so the productive power of the final unit of capital expresses what

the owner of capital can get by lending his entire supply. This

earning capacity expresses itself in a percentage of the capital

itself. If the final unit can create a twentieth of itself in a year,

any unit can get for its owner about that amount.

In assuming that capital earns a twentieth of itself in a year, we may

use a commodity standard of measurement. A grocer's capital of twenty

barrels of sugar may become twenty-one barrels, and his flour and his

tea increase in a like proportion. In the simplest illustration that

could be given of a capital earning five per cent a year, we should

assume that each kind of productive instrument in a man's possession

increases in quantity, during the year, by that amount. If he be a

manufacturer, his mill becomes a hundred and five feet long, instead

of a hundred feet. It contains twenty-one sets of woolen machinery,

instead of twenty. The flow of water that furnishes power becomes by

five per cent more copious; and the stock of goods, raw, unfinished,

and finished, becomes larger by the same amount.

Of course, such a symmetrical enlargement of all kinds of goods could

never actually take place, for some things increase in quantity more

than others. The illustration shows, however, what fixes the rate of

interest: it is the self-increasing power of a miscellany of real

capital. If the mill, the machinery, the stock, grow in quantity at

the five per cent rate, that is the natural rate of interest on loans

of real capital. The lender gives to the borrower twenty units of

"commodity" and gets back twenty-one. If marginal social capital,

consisting of commodity and measured in some way in units of kind, has

the power to add to itself in a year one unit for every twenty,

lenders will claim about that amount, and borrowers will pay it.

How the Increase of a Miscellany of Goods has to be Computed


does the real earning capacity of capital in concrete forms reveal

itself? How does the grocer know that he can make five per cent with

the final unit of capital that he borrows? Not by the fact that each

lot of twenty barrels of sugar gains one barrel, that each lot of

twenty pounds of tea gains one pound, and so on. If there were to be

such a symmetrical all-around increase in the commodities in the man's

possession, his shelves, counters, bins, tanks, would have to enlarge

themselves in the same ratio. In the case of a manufacturer the mill

would have to elongate itself by one foot for every twenty, as in the

foregoing illustration, and the machinery and all the stock would have

to grow in the same proportion. The land and the water power would

have to enlarge themselves by the same constant fraction.

Of course, such a thing does not take place. The general amount of

capital goods of every kind enlarges; but the enlargement is in

practice computed in monetary value, and in no other way. The whole

outfit becomes worth more than it was. The increase in monetary value

gauges the claims of the capitalist. If the stock of goods has grown

generally larger, and if prices have fallen, the claim of the

capitalist will fall short of equaling the actual increase of the


The increase in goods of different kinds is, of course, unsymmetrical.

If the man is a manufacturer, his mill and his water power have

probably not increased. He may have some more machinery, and he has

more raw materials and more goods, finished or unfinished, than he had

when he took his last inventory. If he has not more goods of these

kinds, he has something that represents them; and the effect on his

fortunes is as if the mill had stretched itself, and as if the

machines and other capital had multiplied, all in the same ratio.

The man figures his gains in real wealth by the use of money. At the

end of the year he makes a list of all his goods, attaches prices to

them, and sees what the value of the stock has become by the year's

business. He compares the total value in money of the goods on hand in

January, 1907, with that of the stock of January, 1906. If he has

bought and sold for cash only, and if during the year he has drawn for

his maintenance only what he has earned by labor, the excess of value

on hand at the beginning of the year 1907 informs him what his capital

has earned during the preceding twelve months.

The Effect of Changes of Price on the Claims of Capitalists


prices have remained stable, the earnings of the capital as expressed

in money will accurately correspond with the earnings as computed in

commodity. It is as if the five per cent increase of the sugar and the

flour of our first illustration, or of the mill and the machinery of

the second, had taken place. It could then, by a sale, be converted

into a five per cent increase in money. By selling the stock at its

market value the merchant could realize five per cent more than the

original stock cost him.

If money has gained one per cent in its purchasing power, or if prices

at the end of the year are by so much lower, the inventory will show,

in terms of money, only a four per cent gain. Now, the real increase

of concrete capital is still five per cent, and that, by the law of

interest, is what the capitalist can claim in commodities. This claim

is met by an actual payment in money of four per cent. Give to the

capitalist, in January, 1896, a dollar and four cents for every dollar

he has loaned in January, 1895, and you enable him to command a

hundred and five units of commodity for every one hundred that he

commanded at the earlier date.[1] You give him by a reduced monetary

payment what is equivalent to the real increase of capital.

[1] There is a slight compounding here to be taken into

account. If commodity has gained five per cent, while prices

have lost one per cent, the capital as measured in money has

increased by three and ninety-five one-hundredths per cent

instead of exactly four.

Practical Differences between Real Interest and the Increase of Real


It is the increase of capital in kind that fixes the rate

of loan interest. Care must be taken not to claim for this part of the

adjustment any unerring accuracy; for the marginal productivity law

does not work without friction. With real capital creating five and a

half per cent, the lender might get only five. When, however, the play

of forces that fixes real interest has had its way and has determined

that, in commodity, capital shall secure for its owners five per cent

a year, that amount is unerringly conveyed to them by the monetary

payments that follow. If, by paying four per cent as interest, the

merchant, in the illustrative case, makes over to the lender of

capital that part of the increase of goods that by the law of interest

falls to him, four per cent is the rate that the loan in money will

bring. This is on the supposition that the change in the purchasing

power of money is perfectly steady. If it is unsteady, effects will

follow that are of much consequence.

Changes in the purchasing power of a currency produce an effect on the

rate of interest on loans of "money." If, with a currency of perfectly

stable value, the interest on loans is five per cent, corresponding to

the earnings of real capital, then a gain in the purchasing power of

the currency of one per cent a year has the effect of reducing nominal

interest practically to four per cent. The debtor then really pays and

the creditor really gets the same percentage as before of the actual

capital loaned. The borrower, the entrepreneur in the case, finds at

the end of the year that he has more commodities by five

one-hundredths than he had. He must pay the equivalent of this to the

lender. With money of stable purchasing power it takes five new

dollars for every hundred to do it; but with money that gains in its

power to buy goods at the rate of one per cent a year it takes only

four. The rate of interest on loans is, in the long run, reduced by an

amount that accurately corresponds with the appreciation of the

monetary metal wherever the appreciation is steady. This law works

with a precision that is unusual in the case of economic laws. Loan

interest varies more or less from the marginal earnings of capital;

but interest as paid in money accurately expresses interest as

determined in kind by the play of economic forces.

Conscious Forecasts not necessary for Insuring the Adjustment of Loan

Interest to Changing Prices

It is possible that, where this subject

has been considered, the impression may prevail that this reduction

in the nominal rate of interest is the result of foresight on the part

of borrower and lender. According to that view, both parties look

forward to the time when the loan will be paid. The borrower sees

that, although by means of his business he may have at the end of a

year five per cent more of commodity in his possession, prices will

probably have fallen so as to enable him to realize in money only four

per cent. On the other hand, the creditor will see that with four per

cent more in money he can, if he will, buy with his principal and

interest five per cent more than he virtually loaned in commodity. He

is satisfied with this increase; and, moreover, he is forced to adopt

it, since the natural increase of real capital will not enable a

borrower to pay more. The entrepreneur will stop borrowing if more

is demanded. The whole adjustment is supposed to rest on a forecast

made by the contracting parties and a speculative calculation as to

the trend of prices. Now, while men do indeed consider the future, the

adjustment that is actually made does not call for foresight. No

conscious forward glance is necessarily involved therein. It is made

by a process that works more unerringly than any joint calculation

about the coming conditions could possibly do.

The interest on a loan that is to run through a period in the near

future is based on the rate that capital is now producing. The

evidence as to what that rate is must be furnished by the experience

of the immediate past. It takes much experience, of course, accurately

to determine how much the marginal unit of capital for the year 1895

has been worth to the men who have used it. This, however, has to be

ascertained as best it can. It takes strategy on the part of both

borrowers and lenders to make the loan rate correspond to the marginal

earnings. Here there is a chance for economic friction and for

variations from the theoretical standard, and the loan rate will

sometimes exceed it; but in the long run the deviations will offset

each other. In any case, the experience of 1906 fixes, with or without

variations, the loan rate for 1907.

The earnings revealed by the experience of 1906 may be theoretically

computed either in money or in commodity. Let us say they have been

five per cent in real wealth, but by reason of the fall in prices they

have been only four per cent in money. That, then, is the rate for a

loan that is to run through 1907. If prices continue to fall at the

rate now prevailing, the loan rate in money will correspond to the

marginal earnings of capital for the latter year as accurately as it

does for the former year. Bargain-making strategy, the "higgling of

the market," may yield an imperfect result, and the lender of real or

commodity capital may or may not get the exact real earnings of

marginal capital of the same kind. In translating the earnings of

real capital for the earlier or test year into terms of money, the

appreciation of the coins has unerringly entered as an element. If

the same rate of appreciation is continued through the following year,

no deviation of the loan rate from the earnings of capital can result

from this cause. Whatever deviation there is results from the other

causes just noted.

In commercial terms a man borrows "money," and, by using it in his

business, produces "money." He does this, however, by converting the

currency into merchandise, and then reconverting this into currency.

He gives to the lender approximately what the "marginal" part of the

loan produces. If this adjustment is inexact, the lender will get less

or more than the actual earnings of such capital. With money gaining

in its purchasing power at a uniform rate, the adjustment is as exact

as it would have been with money of stable value. The appreciation

works unerringly in translating earnings measured in goods into

smaller earnings measured in money. The loan rate approximates the


Effects of Changes in the Rate of Appreciation

What happens if the

rate of appreciation changes? What if gold gains two per cent in

value, instead of one, during the second of the periods? The

capitalist will then clearly be a gainer, and the entrepreneur will

be a loser. Getting five per cent in commodity as before, the business

man, by reason of falling prices, will realize only about three per

cent in money. His contract, based on the experience of an earlier

year, makes him pay four per cent, and he loses one. Every

acceleration of the rate of increase in the purchasing power of money

plays into the hands of lenders. Every retarding of that rate plays

into the hands of borrowers. If in 1907 the entrepreneur gets a

three per cent rate on what he borrows, as based on the experience of

1906, and if the fall in prices is reduced during that later year to

one per cent, the borrower will make a clear gain of one per cent; and

this will recoup him for his loss in the earlier period. Moreover,

after a long period of steady prices, the beginnings of a downward

trend do not instantly affect the loan rate of interest. A period must

elapse sufficient to establish the fact of this downward trend, and to

enable the struggles of lenders and borrowers to overcome habit in

fixing a new rate that will correspond to the new earning power of

monetary capital. These facts explain what at times looks like a

failure of the loan market fully to take account of the fall of prices

during a given interval. What that market really does is to base the

interest paid in one interval on the business experience of another.

Opposite Reasons for Favoring Gold as a Basis of Currency


then, is our practical conclusion? Gold has surprised the world by its

increase and by the rise in prices by which this change has been

attended. The interest on loans has risen as the conditions required

that it should do; but the rise in interest has lagged somewhat behind

the rise in prices. The enlarged output of the precious metal has been

comparatively sudden, and it has been this fact which has played into

the hands of entrepreneurs and, for a brief interval, entailed some

loss on lenders. When the adjustment of loan interest to the rising

prices shall be fully made, neither of these parties will gain at the

other's expense so long as the rise shall continue at the prevalent

rate; but if the rise should cease as quickly as it began, it would be

entrepreneurs who would lose and lenders who would gain. Loans

running at rates fixed when prices were rising would be paid by an

amount of money which would buy more commodity than the business would

afford. With a reduction of the output of gold there will come a

demand for some measure of inflation in order that rising prices may

forever continue. Adding silver to the currency would, as we have

seen, accomplish this purpose only temporarily. In the long run this

metal is bound to appreciate like gold. Using paper money would have a

temporary effect and would be a more dangerous measure. Waiting for a

short time for a new adjustment of loan interest to the trend of

prices would be the only rational course. Will the further fall of

prices rob the entrepreneurs? They must pay only the rate of

interest that capital earns. If that is five per cent, five they must

pay, so long as prices are stable. With prices falling by one per cent

a year, they will have to pay only four. Will the fall check business

and make men afraid to buy stocks of goods? They can carry stocks as

cheaply with a four per cent rate of interest and declining prices as

they can with a five per cent rate and stable prices. Will it blight

enterprise by making men afraid to build mills, railroads, etc.? Here

again the loan rate of interest comes to the rescue of the projectors.

If they can float their bonds and notes at a lower rate, they can

build with impunity.

Steadiness is the vital quality in currency. Let its purchasing power

be either unchanging or steadily changing in either direction, and

justice will be done and business will thrive. If a metal fluctuates

greatly in its rate of increase in value, it is a poor coinage metal,

even though the average rate of gain be slow; if it gains slowly and

steadily, it is almost an ideally good one.

What would be the effect of any practical measure of inflation? If we

use as money available for all debts the present stock of silver in

the world, we make one large addition to the volume of money now

available. We start an inflation that cannot continue by the use of

silver alone. In the hope of perpetuating the rise in prices we may

follow the silver with paper. By the action of the principle that we

have stated we shall thus make the interest on loans higher, and

every man who buys a farm or a house while the inflation continues

will pay a high rate of interest on an enlarged purchase price. When

we are forced to stop the paper issues, as in the end we must be, the

price of the land, etc., will fall, and the rate of interest on new

loans will fall also. The price of all produce will go down, and the

purchasers of property will struggle again, as in the years following

the Civil War men had to struggle, with a fixed debt, a fixed rate of

interest, and falling prices. The early post bellum days will be

reproduced. Entering on a policy of inflation would therefore be

inviting men again to suffer what those suffered whose hard experience

is so frequently depicted in Populistic literature. Conceding all that

is claimed as to the evil that comes from buying or mortgaging real

property while the volume of money is increasing and paying the debt

so incurred while that volume is relatively contracting, one must see

that a policy of inflation would end by inflicting exactly that evil

on new victims, unless a method can be invented by which the inflation

can continue forever. Far better will it be to endure the transient

evil which a slow change in the supply of gold will bring. Retaining

gold through all its minor variations will mean all the prosperity and

all the justice that any monetary system can insure. If we shall ever

abandon this metal, experience will make us wise enough to return to

it; but we shall have paid a high price for the wisdom.