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Part Two: The Value of Money > Chapter 14. The Monetary Policy of Etatism

2. National Prestige and the Rate of Exchange

For the etatist, money is a creature of the state, and the esteem in which money is held is the economic expression of the respect or prestige enjoyed by the state. The more powerful and the richer the state, the better its money. Thus, during the war, it was asserted that "the monetary standard of the victors" would ultimately be the best money. Yet victory and defeat on the battlefield can exercise only an indirect influence on the value of money. Generally speaking, a victorious state is more likely than a conquered one to be able to renounce the aid of the printing press, for it is likely to find it easier to limit its expenditure on the one hand and to obtain credit on the other hand. But the same considerations suggest that increasing prospects of peace will lead to a more favorable estimation of the currency even of the defeated country. In October 1918 the mark and the krone rose; it was believed that even in Germany and Austria a cessation of inflation might be counted upon—an expectation which admittedly was not fulfilled.

History likewise shows that sometimes the "monetary standard of the victors" can prove to be very bad. There have seldom been more brilliant victories than those eventually achieved by the American insurgents under Washington against the English troops. But the American "continental" dollar did not benefit from them. The more proudly the star-spangled banner rose on high, the lower did the exchange rate fall, until, at the very moment when the victory of the rebels was secured, the dollar became entirely valueless. The course of events was no different not long afterward in France. In spite of the victories of the revolutionary army, the metal premium rose continually, until at last in 1796 the value of money touched zero point. In both cases the victorious state had carried inflation to its extreme.

Neither has the wealth of a country any bearing on the valuation of its money. Nothing is more erroneous than the widespread habit of regarding the monetary standard as something in the nature of the shares of the state or the community. When the German mark was quoted at ten centimes in Zurich, bankers said: "Now is the time to buy marks. The German community is indeed poorer nowadays than before the war, so that a low valuation of the mark is justified. Nevertheless, the wealth of Germany is certainly not reduced to a twelfth of what it was before the war; so the mark is bound to rise." And when the Polish mark had sunk to five centimes in Zurich, other bankers said: "This low level is inexplicable. Poland is a rich country; it has a flourishing agriculture, it has wood, coal and oil; so its rate of exchange ought to be incomparably higher."4 Such observers fail to recognize that the valuation of the monetary unit depends not upon the wealth of the country, but upon the ratio between the quantity of money and the demand for it, so that even the richest country may have a bad currency and the poorest country a good one.

  • 4. A leader of the Hungarian Soviet republic said to the author in the spring of 1919: "The paper money issued by the Soviet republic ought really to have the highest exchange rate next to the Russian money, for, through the socialization of the private property of all Hungarians, the Hungarian state has become next to Russia the richest state in the world, and consequently the most deserving of credit."