Books / Digital Text

Part Three: Money and Banking > Chapter 17. Fiduciary Media and the Demand for...

1. The Influence of Fiduciary Media on the Demand for Money in the Narrower Sense

The development of the clearing system, especially the extension of the clearinghouse proper, reduces the demand for money in the broader sense: part of the exchanges made with the help of money can be carried through without the actual physical circulation of money or money substitutes. Thus a tendency has arisen toward the reduction of the objective exchange value of money, which has counteracted the tendency for it to rise which was bound to result from the enormous increase in the demand for money in consequence of the progressive extension of the exchange economy. The development of fiduciary media has the same sort of effect; fiduciary media, which can, as money substitutes, take the place of money in commerce, reduce the demand for money in the narrower sense. This constitutes the great significance of fiduciary media, in this their effect on the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods is to be sought.

The development of fiduciary media, the most important institution for reducing the need for money in the narrower sense, equally with the establishment and development of clearinghouses, the most important institution for reducing the need for money in the broader sense, has not been merely left to the free play of economic forces. The demand for credit on the part of merchants and manufacturers and princes and states, and the endeavor to make a profit on the part of the bankers, were not the sole forces affecting its development. Intervention took place with the object of furthering and expediting the process. As the naive Midas-like trust in the usefulness of a large stock of precious metals disappeared and was replaced by sober consideration of the monetary problem, so the opinion gained strength that a reduction of the national demand for money in the narrower sense constituted an outstanding economic interest. Adam Smith suggested that the expulsion of gold and silver by paper, that is to say notes, would substitute for an expensive means of exchange a less expensive, which, however, would perform the same service. He compares gold and silver which is circulating in a country with a road over which all the corn has to be brought to market but on which nevertheless nothing grows. The issue of notes, he says, creates, as it were, a path through the air and makes it possible to turn a large part of the roads into fields and meadows and in this way considerably to increase the annual yield of land and labor.1 Similar views are entertained by Ricardo. He also sees the most fundamental advantage of the use of notes in the diminution of the cost to the community of the apparatus of circulation. His ideal monetary system is one which would ensure to the community with the minimum cost the use of a money of invariable value. Starting from this point of view, he formulates his recommendations, which aim at expelling money composed of the precious metal from actual domestic circulation.2

The views on the nature of methods of payment which diminish the demand for money, which were developed by the Classical economists, were already known in the eighteenth century. Their acceptance in the writings of the Classical economists and the brilliant way in which they were expounded, ensured general recognition for them in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also. The opposition which they occasionally called forth, has now sunk into silence. In all countries the aim of banking policy is to secure the greatest possible extension of money-economizing means of payment.

If metallic money is employed, then the advantages of a diminution of the demand for money due to the extension of such other means of payment are obvious. In fact, the development of the clearing system and of fiduciary media has at least kept pace with the potential increase of the demand for money brought about by the extension of the money economy, so that the tremendous increase in the exchange value of money, which otherwise would have occurred as a consequence of the extension of the use of money, has been completely avoided, together with its undesirable consequences. If it had not been for this the increase in the exchange value of money, and so also of the monetary metal, would have given an increased impetus to the production of the metal. Capital and labor would have been diverted from other branches of production to the production of the monetary metal. This would undoubtedly have meant increased returns to certain individual undertakings; but the welfare of the community would have suffered. The increase in the stock of precious metals which serve monetary purposes would not have improved the position of the individual members of the community, would not have increased the satisfaction of their wants; for the monetary function could also have been fulfilled by a smaller stock. And, on the other hand, a smaller quantity of economic goods would have been available for the direct satisfaction of human wants if a part of the capital and labor power that otherwise would have been used for their production had been diverted to mining precious metals. Even apart from the diversion of production, a decrease of prosperity would result from the fact that as a consequence of the rise in value of the precious metals caused by the use for monetary purposes the stock available for industrial employment would decrease, since certain quantities would be transferred from the latter employment to the former This all becomes particularly clear if we think of an economic community which does not itself produce the precious metals, but imports them. Here the amount of their cost is expressed by the quantity of commodities that must be surrendered to foreign countries in order to obtain the supplementary quantity of monetary metal in exchange. In a country that itself produces the precious metals, the matter is the same in principle; all that is different is the way of reckoning the loss of welfare through the sacrifice of the other branches of production and the preference for mining the precious metals; it is perhaps less perceptible, but it is just as comprehensible in theory. The measure of the additional harm done by the diversion of metal to monetary uses is always given by the quantity of metal that is withdrawn from other uses in favor of the monetary use.

Where fiat or credit money is employed, these reasons in favor of the extension of clearing methods of payment and of the use of fiduciary media do not arise. The only thing in their favor is that they would avoid an increase in the value of money; although this consideration is decisive. Where they are employed, the principle of establishing the national monetary apparatus and maintaining it in working order with the minimum cost must be attained in another way. It must be an object of policy, for example, to manufacture the paper notes with the minimum cost of production. It is immediately obvious that nothing like the same quantitative significance can be attributed to this problem as to that of decreasing the monetary demand for precious metals. However great the care taken in producing the notes, their cost of production could never be anything near so great as that of the precious metals. If we take into further consideration the fact that the artistic production of the notes also constitutes a precautionary measure against counterfeiting, so that merely on this ground, economizing in this sphere is not worth considering, it follows that the problem of diminishing the cost of the circulatory apparatus when fiat or credit money is employed must be of an entirely different nature from what it is when commodity money is employed.

  • 1. See Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Cannan's ed. (London, 1930), vol. 2, pp. 28, 78.
  • 2. See Ricardo, "The High Price of Bullion a Proof of the Depredation of Bank Notes," in Works, ed. McCulloch, 2d ed. (London, 1852), pp. 263 ff.; "Proposals for an Economical and Secure Currency" in ibid., pp. 397 ff.; see pp. 291 and 427.
Shield icon library