Books / Digital Text

Part One: The Nature of Money > Chapter 6. The Enemies of Money

2. Money Cranks

Superficial critics of the capitalistic economic system are in the habit of directing their attacks principally against money. They are willing to permit the continuance of private ownership of the means of production and consequently, given the present stage of division of labor, of free exchange of goods also; and yet they want this exchange to be achieved without any medium, or at least without a common medium, or money. They obviously regard the use of money as harmful and hope to overcome all social evils by eliminating it. Their doctrine is derived from notions that have always been extraordinarily popular in lay circles during periods in which the use of money has been increasing.

All the processes of our economic life appear in a monetary guise; and those who do not see beneath the surface of things are only aware of monetary phenomena and remain unconscious of deeper relationships. Money is regarded as the cause of theft and murder, of deception and betrayal. Money is blamed when the prostitute sells her body and when the bribed judge perverts the law. It is money against which the moralist declaims when he wishes to oppose excessive materialism. Significantly enough avarice is called the love of money; and all evil is attributed to it.1

The confused and vague nature of such notions as these is obvious. It is not so clear whether it is thought that a return to direct exchange by itself will be able to overcome all the disadvantages of the use of money, or whether it is thought that other reforms will be necessary as well. The world makers and world improvers responsible for these notions feel no obligation to follow up their ideas inexorably to their final consequences. They prefer to call a halt at the point where the difficulties of the problem are just beginning. And this, incidentally, accounts for the longevity of their doctrines; so long as they remain nebulous, they offer nothing for criticism to seize upon.

Even less worthy of serious attention are those schemes of social reform which, while not condemning the use of money in general, object to the use of gold and silver In fact, such hostility to the precious metals has something very childish in it. When Thomas More, for example, endows the criminals in his utopia with golden chains and the ordinary citizens with gold and silver chamber pots,2 it is in something of the spirit that leads primitive mankind to wreak vengeance on lifeless images and symbols.

It is hardly worthwhile to devote even a moment to such fantastic suggestions, which have never been taken seriously. All the criticism of them that was necessary has been completed long ago.3 But one point, which usually escapes notice, must be emphasized.

Among the many confused enemies of money there is one group that fights with other theoretical weapons than those used by its usual associates. These enemies of money take their arguments from the prevailing theory of banking and propose to cure all human ills by means of an "elastic credit system, automatically adapted to the need for currency." It will surprise no one acquainted with the unsatisfactory state of banking theory to find that scientific criticism has not dealt with such proposals as it should have done, and that it has in fact been incapable of doing so. The rejection of schemes such as Ernest Solvay's "social comptabilism"4 is to be attributed solely to the practical man's timidity and not to any strict proof of the weaknesses of the schemes, which has indeed not been forthcoming. All the banking theorists whose views are derived from the system of Tooke and Fullarton (and this includes nearly all present-day writers) are helpless with regard to Solvay's theory and others of the same kind. They would like to condemn them, since their own feelings as well as the trustworthy judgments of practical men warn them against the airy speculations of reformers of this type; but they have no arguments against a system which, in the last analysis, involves nothing but the consistent application of their own theories.

The third part of this book is devoted exclusively to problems of the banking system. There the theory of the elasticity of credit is subjected to a detailed investigation, the results of which perhaps render any further discussion of this kind of doctrine unnecessary.

  • 1. On the history of such ideas, see Hildebrand, Die Nationalökonomie der Gegenwart und Zunkunft (Frankfurt, 1848), pp. 118 ff.; Roscher, System der Volkswirtschaft, ed. Pöhlmann, 24th ed. (Stuttgart, 1906), vol. 1, pp. 345 f.; Marx, Das Kapital, 7th ed. (Hamburg, 1914), vol. 1, pp. 95 f. n.
  • 2. More, Utopia.
  • 3. See Marx, Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, ed. Kautsky (Stuttgart, 1897), pp. 70 if.; Knies, Geld und Kredit, 2d ed. (Berlin, 1885), vol. 1, pp. 239 ff.; Aucuy, Les systèmes socialistes d'Éxchange (Paris, 1908), pp. 114 ff.
  • 4. See the three memoranda published in 1889 in Brussels by Solvay under the title La monnaie et le Compte, and also his Gesellschaftlicher Comptabilismus (Brussels, 1897). Solvay's theories also contain various other fundamental errors.
Shield icon library