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The Ethics of Money Production

  • The Ethics of Money Production by Guido Hulsmann
October 22, 2008

Tags Gold StandardMoney and Banking

This pioneering work by Jörg Guido Hülsmann, professor of economics at the University of Angers in France and the author of Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, is the first full study of a critically important issue today: the ethics of money production.

There is a reason that this book has been translated to Chinese, German, Spanish, Czech, and there are many more on the way. This book hits the intellectual sweet spot, speaking to the issues that are driving economic events right now. We MUST deal with the money problem in a principled way, else we never get back on the course of sustainable prosperity.

By "money production," the author is speaking not in the colloquial sense of the phrase "making money," but rather the actual production of money as a commodity in the whole economic life. The choice of the money we use in exchange is not something that needs to be established and fixed by government.

In fact, his thesis is that a government monopoly on money production and management has no ethical or economic grounding at all. Legal tender laws, bailout guarantees, tax-backed deposit insurance, and the entire apparatus that sustains national monetary systems, has been wholly unjustified. Money, he argues, should be a privately produced good like any other, such as clothing or food.

In arguing this way, he is disputing centuries of assumptions about money for which an argument is rarely offered. People just assume that government or central banks operating under government control should manage money. Hulsmann explores monetary thought from the ancient world through the Middle Ages to modern times to show that the monopolists are wrong. There is a strong case in both economic and ethical terms for the idea that money production should be wholly private.

He takes on the "stabilization" advocates to show that government management doesn't lead to stability but to inflation and instability. He goes further to argue against even the theoretical case for stabilization, to say that money's value should be governed by the market, and that the costs associated with private production are actually an advantage. He chronicles the decline of money once nationalized, from legally sanctioned counterfeiting to the creation of paper money all the way to hyperinflation. In his normative analysis, the author depends heavily on the monetary writings of 14th-century Bishop Nicole Oresme, whose monetary writings have been overlooked even by historians of economic thought. He makes a strong case that "paper money has never been introduced through voluntary cooperation. In all known cases it has been introduced through coercion and compulsion, sometimes with the threat of the death penalty. . . . Paper money by its very nature involves the violation of property rights through monopoly and legal-tender privileges."

The book is also eerily prophetic of our times:

Consider the current U.S. real-estate boom. Many Americans are utterly convinced that American real estate is the one sure bet in economic life. No matter what happens on the stock market or in other strata of the economy, real estate will rise. They believe themselves to have found a bonanza, and the historical figures confirm this. Of course this belief is an illusion, but the characteristic feature of a boom is precisely that people throw any critical considerations overboard. They do not realize that their money producer—the Fed—has possibly already entered the early stages of hyperinflation, and that the only reason why this has been largely invisible was that most of the new money has been exported outside of the U.S . . . Because a paper-money producer can bail out virtually anybody, the citizens become reckless in their speculations; they count on him to bail them out, especially when many other people do the same thing. To fight such behavior effectively, one must abolish paper money. Regulations merely drive the reckless behavior into new channels.

Hülsmann has provided not only a primer in understanding our times, but a dramatic extension of the work of Menger, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, and others to map out an economically radical and ethically challenging case for the complete separation of money and state, and a case for the privatization of money production. It is a sweeping and learned treatise that is rigorous, scholarly, and radical.

Note: The views expressed on are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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