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Part Two: The Value of Money > Chapter 13. Monetary Policy

5. Invariability of the Objective Exchange-Value of Money as the Aim of Monetary Policy

Thus, endeavors to increase or decrease the objective exchange value of money prove impracticable. A rise in the value of money leads to consequences which as a rule seem to be desired by only a small section of the community; a policy with this aim is contrary to interests which are too great for it to be able to hold its own against them in the long run. The kinds of intervention which aim at decreasing the value of money seem more popular; but their goal can be more easily and more satisfactorily reached in other ways, while their execution meets with quite insuperable difficulties.

Thus nothing remains but to reject both the augmentation and the diminution of the objective exchange value of money. This suggests the ideal of a money with an invariable exchange value, so far as the monetary influences on its value are concerned. But, this is the ideal money of enlightened statesmen and economists, not that of the multitude. The latter thinks in far too confused a manner to be able to grasp the problems here involved. (It must be confessed that they are the most difficult in economics.) For most people (so far as they do not incline to inflationistic ideas), that money seems to be the best whose objective exchange value is not subject to any variation at all, whether originating on the monetary side or on the commodity side.

The ideal of a money with an exchange value that is not subject to variations due to changes in the ratio between the supply of money and the need for it—that is, a money with an invariable innere objektive Tauschwert10—demands the intervention of a regulating authority in the determination of the value of money; and its continued intervention. But here immediately most serious doubts arise from the circumstance, already referred to, that we have no useful knowledge of the quantitative significance of given measures intended to influence the value of money. More serious still is the circumstance that we are by no means in a position to determine with precision whether variations have occurred in the exchange value of money from any cause whatever, and if so to what extent, quite apart from the question of whether such changes have been effected by influences working from the monetary side. Attempts to stabilize the exchange value of money in this sense must therefore be frustrated at the outset by the fact that both their goal and the road to it are obscured by a darkness that human knowledge will never be able to penetrate. But the uncertainty that would exist as to whether there was any need for intervention to maintain the stability of the exchange value of money, and as to the necessary extent of such intervention, would inevitably give full license again to the conflicting interests of the inflationists and restrictionists. Once the principle is so much as admitted that the state may and should influence the value of money, even if it were only to guarantee the stability of its value, the danger of mistakes and excesses immediately arises again.

These possibilities, and the remembrance of very recent experiments in public finance and inflation, have subordinated the unrealizable ideal of a money with an invariable exchange value to the demand that the state should at least refrain from exerting any sort of influence on the value of money. A metallic money, the augmentation or diminution of the quantity of metal available for which is independent of deliberate human intervention, is becoming the modern monetary ideal.

The significance of adherence to a metallic-money system lies in the freedom of the value of money from state influence that such a system guarantees. Beyond doubt, considerable disadvantages are involved in the fact that not only fluctuations in the ratio of the supply of money and the demand for it, but also fluctuations in the conditions of production of the metal and variations in the industrial demand for it, exert an influence on the determination of the value of money. It is true that these effects, in the case of gold (and even in the case of silver), are not immoderately great, and these are the only two monetary metals that need be considered in modern times. But even if the effects were greater, such a money would still deserve preference over one subject to state intervention, since the latter sort of money would be subject to still greater fluctuations.