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Part Two: The Value of Money > Chapter 10. The Exchange Ratio Between Money of...

2. Static or Natural Exchange-Ratio

For the exchange ratio between two or more kinds of money, whether they are employed side by side in the same country (the parallel standard) or constitute what is popularly called foreign money and domestic money, it is the exchange ratio between individual economic goods and the individual kinds of money that is decisive. The different kinds of money are exchanged in a ratio corresponding to the exchange ratios existing between each of them and the other economic goods. If 1 kg. of gold is exchanged for m kg. of a particular sort of commodity, and 1 kg. of silver for m/15 1/2 kg. of the same sort of commodity, then the exchange ratio between gold and silver will be established at 15 1/2. If some disturbance tends to alter this ratio between the two sorts of money, which we shall call the static or natural ratio, then automatic forces will be set in motion that will tend to reestablish it.1

Let us consider the case of two countries each of which carries on its domestic trade with the aid of one sort of money only, which is different from that used in the other country. If the inhabitants of two areas with different currencies who have previously exchanged their commodities directly without the intervention of money begin to make use of money in the transaction of their business, they will base the exchange ratio between the two kinds of money on the exchange ratio between each kind of money and the commodities. Let us assume that a gold-standard country and a silver-standard country had exchanged cloth directly for wheat on such terms that one meter of cloth was given for one bushel of wheat. Let the price of cloth in the country of its origin be one gram of gold per meter; that of wheat, 15 grams of silver per bushel. If international trade is now put on a monetary basis, then the price of gold in terms of silver must be established at 15. If it were established higher, say at 16, then indirect exchange through the instrumentality of money would be disadvantageous from the point of view of the owners of the wheat as compared with direct exchange; in indirect exchange for a bushel of wheat they would obtain only fifteen-sixteenths of a meter of cloth as against a whole meter in direct exchange. The same disadvantage would arise for the owners of the cloth if the price of gold was established at anything lower, say at 14 grams of silver. This, of course, does not imply that the exchange ratios between the different kinds of money have actually developed in this manner. It is to be understood as a logical, not a historical, explanation. Of the two precious metals gold and silver it must especially be remarked that their reciprocal exchange ratios have slowly developed with the development of their monetary position.

If no other relations than those of barter exist between the inhabitants of two areas, then balances in favor of one party or the other cannot arise. The objective exchange values of the quantities of commodities and services surrendered by each of the contracting parties must be equal, whether present goods or future goods are involved. Each constitutes the price of the other. This fact is not altered in any way if the exchange no longer proceeds directly but indirectly through the intermediaryship of one or more common media of exchange. The surplus of the balance of payments that is not settled by the consignment of goods and services but by the transmission of money was long regarded merely as a consequence of the state of international trade. It is one of the great achievements of Classical political economy to have exposed the fundamental error involved in this view. It demonstrated that international movements of money are not consequences of the state of trade; that they constitute not the effect, but the cause, of a favorable or unfavorable trade balance. The precious metals are distributed among individuals and hence among nations according to the extent and intensity of their demands for money. No individual and no nation need fear at any time to have less money than it needs. Government measures designed to regulate the international government of money in order to ensure that the community shall have the amount it needs, are just as unnecessary and inappropriate as, say intervention to ensure a sufficiency or corn or iron or the like. This argument dealt the Mercantilist theory its death blow.2

Nevertheless statesmen are still greatly exercised by the problem of the international distribution of money. For hundreds of years, the Midas theory, systematized by Mercantilism, has been the rule followed by governments in taking measures of commercial policy. In spite of Hume, Smith, and Ricardo, it still dominates men's minds more than would be expected. Phoenixlike, it rises again and again from its own ashes. And indeed it would hardly be possible to overcome it with objective argument; for it numbers its disciples among that great host of the half-educated who are proof against any argument, however simple, if it threatens to rob them of longcherished illusions that have become too dear to part with. It is only regrettable that these lay opinions not only predominate in discussions of economic policy on the part of legislators, the press—even the technical journals—and businessmen, but still occupy much space even in scientific literature. The blame for this must again be laid to the account of obscure notions concerning the nature of fiduciary media and their significance as regards the determination of prices. The reasons which, first in England and then in all other countries, were urged in favor of the limitation of the fiduciary note issue have never been understood by modern writers, who know them only at secondhand or thirdhand. That they in general plead for their retention, or only demand such modifications as leave the principle untouched, merely expresses their reluctance to replace an institution which on the whole has indubitably justified itself by a system whose effects they, to whom the phenomena of the market constitute an insoluble riddle, are naturally least of all able to foresee. When these writers seek for a motive in present-day banking policy, they can find none but that characterized by the slogan, "Protection of the national stock of the precious metals." We can pass the more lightly over these views in the present place since we shall have further opportunity in part three to discuss the true meaning of the bank laws that limit the note issue.

Money does not flow to the place where the rate of interest is highest; neither is it true that it is the richest nations that attract money to themselves. The proposition is as true of money as of every other economic good, that its distribution among individual economic agents depends on its marginal utility. Let us first completely abstract from all geographical and political concepts, such as country and state, and imagine a state of affairs in which money and commodities are completely mobile within a unitary market area. Let us further assume that all payments, other than those cancelled out by offsetting or mutual balancing of claims, are made by transferring money, and not by the cession of fiduciary media; that is to say, that uncovered notes and deposits are unknown. This supposition, again, is similar to that of the "purely metallic currency" of the English Currency School, although with the help of our precise concept of fiduciary media we are able to avoid the obscurities and shortcomings of their point of view. In a state of affairs corresponding to these suppositions of ours, all economic goods, including of course money, tend to be distributed in such a way that a position of equilibrium between individuals is reached, when no further act of exchange that any individual could undertake would bring him any gain, any increase of subjective value. In such a position of equilibrium, the total stock of money, just like the total stocks of commodities, is distributed among individuals according to the intensity with which they are able to express their demand for it in the market. Every displacement of the forces affecting the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods brings about a corresponding change in this distribution, until a new position of equilibrium is reached. This is true of individuals, but it is also true of all the individuals in a given area taken together. For the goods possessed and the goods demanded by a nation are only the sums of the goods possessed and the goods demanded by all the economic agents, private as well as public, which make up the nation, among which the state as such admittedly occupies an important position, but a very far from dominant one.

Trade balances are not causes but merely concomitants of movements of money. For if we look beneath the veil with which the forms of monetary transactions conceal the nature of exchanges of goods, then it is clear that, even in international trade, commodities are exchanged for commodities, through the instrumentality of money. Just as the single individual does, so also all the individuals in an economic community taken together, wish in the last analysis to acquire not money, but other economic goods. If the state of the balance of payments is such that movements of money would have to occur from one country to the other, independently of any altered estimation of money on the part of their respective inhabitants, then operations are induced which reestablish equilibrium. Those persons who receive more money than they need will hasten to spend the surplus again as soon as possible, whether they buy production goods or consumption goods. On the other hand, those persons whose stock of money falls below the amount they need will be obliged to increase their stock of money, either by restricting their purchases or by disposing of commodities in their possession. The price variations, in the markets of the countries in question, that occur for these reasons, give rise to transactions which must always reestablish the equilibrium of the balance of payments. A credit or debit balance of payments that is not dependent upon an alteration in the conditions of demand for money can only be transient.3

Thus international movements of money, so far as they are not of a transient nature and consequently soon rendered ineffective by movements in the contrary direction, are always called forth by variations in the demand for money. Now it follows from this that a country in which fiduciary media are not employed is never in danger of losing its stock of money to other countries. Shortage of money and superabundance of money can no more be a permanent experience for a nation than for an individual. Ultimately they are spread out uniformly among all economic agents using the same economic good as common medium of exchange, and naturally their effects on the objective exchange value of money which bring about the adjustment between the stock of money and the demand for it are finally uniform for all economic agents. Measures of economic policy which aim at increasing the quantity of money circulating in a country could be successful so far as the money circulates in other countries also, only if they brought about a displacement in relative demands for money. Nothing is fundamentally altered in all this by the employment of fiduciary media. So far as there remains a demand for money in the narrower sense despite the use of fiduciary media, it will express itself in the same way.

There are many gaps in the Classical doctrine of international trade. It was built up at a time when international exchange relations were largely limited to dealings in present goods. No wonder, then, that its chief reference was to such goods or that it left out of account the possibility of an international exchange of services, and of present goods for future goods. It remained for a later generation to undertake the expansion and correction here necessary, a task that was all the easier since all that was wanted was a consistent expansion of the same doctrine to cover these phenomena as well. The classical doctrine had further restricted itself to that part of the problem presented by international metallic money. The treatment with which credit money had to be content was not satisfactory, and this shortcoming has not been entirely remedied yet. The problem has been regarded too much from the point of view of the technique of the monetary system and too little from that of the theory of exchange of goods. If the latter point of view had been adopted, it would have been impossible to avoid commencing the investigation with the proposition that the balance of trade between two areas with different currencies must always be in equilibrium, without the emergence of a balance needing to be corrected by the transport of money.4 If we take a gold-standard and a silver-standard country as an example, then there still remains the possibility that the money of the one country will be put to a nonmonetary use in the other. Such a possibility must naturally be ruled out of account. The relations between two countries with fiat money would be the best example to take; if we merely make our example more general by supposing that metallic money may be in use, then only the monetary use of the metallic money must be considered. It is then immediately clear that goods and services can only be paid for with other goods and services; that in the last analysis there can be no question of payment in money.

  • 1. The theory put forward above, which comes from Ricardo, is advocated with particular forcefulness nowadays by Cassel, who uses the name purchasing-power parity for the static exchange ratio. See Cassel, Money and Foreign Exchange After 1914 (London, 1922), p. 181 f.
  • 2. See Senior, Three Lectures on the Transmission of the Precious Metals from Country to Country and the Mercantile Theory of Wealth (London, 1828), pp. 5 ff.
  • 3. See Ricardo, "Principles of Political Economy and Taxation," in Works, ed. McCulloch, 2d ed. (London, 1852), pp. 213 ff.; Hertzka, Das Wesen des Geldes (Leipzig, 1887), pp. 42 ff.; Kinley, Money (New York, 1909), pp. 78 ff.; Wieser, "Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen," Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik 132: 530 ff.
  • 4. Transitory displacements are possible, if foreign money is acquired in the speculative anticipation of its appreciating.