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7. The Stock of Money and the Demand for Money

The process, by which supply and demand are accommodated to each other until a position of equilibrium is established and both are brought into quantitative and qualitative coincidence, is the higgling of the market. But supply and demand are only the links in a chain of phenomena, one end of which has this visible manifestation in the market, while the other is anchored deep in the human mind. The intensity with which supply and demand are expressed, and consequently the level of the exchange ratio at which both coincide, depends on the subjective valuations of individuals. This is true, not only of the direct exchange ratios between economic goods other than money, but also of the exchange ratio between money on the one hand and commodities on the other.

For a long time it was believed that the demand for money was a quantity determined by objective factors and independently of subjective considerations. It was thought that the demand for money in an economic community was determined, on the one hand by the total quantity of commodities that had to be paid for during a given period, and on the other hand by the velocity of circulation of the money. There is an error in the very starting point of this way of regarding the matter, which was first successfully attacked by Menger.33 It is inadmissible to begin with the demand for money of the community. The individualistic economic community as such, which is the only sort of community in which there is a demand for money, is not an economic agent. It demands money only insofar as its individual members demand money. The demand for money of the economic community is nothing but the sum of the demands for money of the individual economic agents composing it. But for individual economic agents it is impossible to make use of the formula: total volume of transactions ÷ velocity of circulation. If we wish to arrive at a description of the demand for money of an individual we must start with the considerations that influence such an individual in receiving and paying out money.

Every economic agent is obliged to hold a stock of the common medium of exchange sufficient to cover his probable business and personal requirements. The amount that will be required depends upon individual circumstances. It is influenced both by the custom and habits of the individual and by the organization of the whole social apparatus of production and exchange.

But all of these objective factors always affect the matter only as motivations of the individual. They are never capable of a direct influence upon the actual amount of his demand for money. Here, as in all departments of economic life, it is the subjective valuations of the separate economic agents that alone are derisive. The store of purchasing power held by two such agents whose objective economic circumstances were identical might be quite different if the advantages and disadvantages of such a store were estimated differently by the different agents.

The cash balance held by an individual need by no means consist entirely of money. If secure claims to money, payable on demand, are employed commercially as substitutes for money, being tendered and accepted in place of money, then individuals' stores of money can be entirely or partly replaced by a corresponding store of these substitutes. In fact, for technical reasons (such, for example, as the need for having money of various denominations on hand) this may sometimes prove an unavoidable necessity. It follows that we can speak of a demand for money in a broader and in a narrower sense. The former comprises the entire demand of an individual for money and money substitutes; the second, merely his demand for money proper. The former is determined by the will of the economic agent in question. The latter is fairly independent of individual influences, if we disregard the question of denomination referred to above. Apart from this, the question whether a greater or smaller part of the cash balance held by an individual shall consist of money substitutes is only of importance to him when he has the opportunity of acquiring money substitutes which bear interest, such as interest-bearing banknotes—a rare case—or bank deposits. In all other cases it is a matter of complete indifference to him.

The individual's demand and stock of money are the basis of the demand and stock in the whole community. So long as there are no money substitutes in use, the social demand for money and the social stock of money are merely the respective sums of the individual demands and stocks. But this is changed with the advent of money substitutes. The social demand for money in the narrower sense is no longer the sum of the individual demands for money in the narrower sense, and the social demand for money in the broader sense is by no means the sum of the individual demands for money in the broader sense. Part of the money substitutes functioning as money in the cash holdings of individuals are "covered" by sums of money held as "redemption funds" at the place where the money substitutes are cashable, which is usually, although not necessarily, the issuing concern. We shall use the term money certificates for those money substitutes that are completely covered by the reservation of corresponding sums of money, and the term fiduciary media34 for those which are not covered in this way. The suitability of this terminology, which has been chosen with regard to the problem to be dealt with in the third part of the present work, must be demonstrated in that place. It is not to be understood in the light of banking technique or in a juristic sense; it is merely intended to serve the ends of economic argument.

Only in the rarest cases can any particular money substitutes be immediately assigned to the one or the other group. That is possible only for those money substitutes of which the whole species is either entirely covered by money or not covered by money at all. In the case of all other money substitutes, those the total quantity of which is partly covered by money and partly not covered by money, only an imaginary ascription of an aliquot part to each of the two groups can take place. This involves no fresh difficulty. If, for example, there are banknotes in circulation one-third of the quantity of which is covered by money and two-thirds not covered, then each individual note is to be reckoned as two-thirds fiduciary medium and one-third money certificate. It is thus obvious that a community's demand for money in the broader sense cannot be the sum of the demands of individuals for money and money substitutes, because to reckon in the demand for money certificates as well as that for the money that serves as a cover for them as the banks and elsewhere is to count the same amount twice over. A community's demand for money in the broader sense is the sum of the demands of the individual economic agents for money proper and fiduciary media (including the demand for cover). And a community's demands for money in the narrower sense are the sum of the demands of the individual economic agents for money and money certificates (this time not including cover).

In this part we shall ignore the existence of fiduciary media and assume that the demands for money of individual economic agents can be satisfied merely by money and money certificates, and consequently that the demand for money of the whole economic community can be satisfied merely by money proper.35 The third part of this book is devoted to an examination of the important and difficult problems arising from the creation and circulation of fiduciary media.

The demand for money and its relations to the stock of money form the starting point for an explanation of fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money. Not to understand the nature of the demand for money is to fail at the very outset of any attempt to grapple with the problem of variations in the value of money. If we start with a formula that attempts to explain the demand for money from the point of view of the community instead of from that of the individual, we shall fail to discover the connection between the stock of money and the subjective valuations of individuals—the foundation of all economic activity. But on the other hand, this problem is solved without difficulty if we approach the phenomena from the individual agent's point of view.

No longer explanation is necessary, of the way in which an individual will behave in the market when his demand for money exceeds his stock of it. He who has more money on hand than he thinks he needs, will buy, in order to dispose of the superfluous stock of money that lies useless on his hands. If he is an entrepreneur, he will possibly enlarge his business. If this use of the money is not open to him, he may purchase interest-bearing securities; or possibly he may decide to purchase consumption goods. But in any case, he expresses by a suitable behavior in the market the fact that he regards his reserve of purchasing power as too large.

And he whose demand for money is less than his stock of it will behave in an exactly contrary fashion. If an individual's stock of money diminishes (his property or income remaining the same), then he will take steps to reach the desired level of reserve purchasing power by suitable behavior in making sales and purchases. A shortage of money means a difficulty in disposing of commodities for money. He who is obliged to dispose of a commodity by way of exchange will prefer to acquire some of the common medium of exchange for it, and only when this acquisition involves too great a sacrifice will he be content with some other economic good, which will indeed be more marketable than that which he wishes to dispose of but less marketable than the common medium of exchange. Under the present organization of the market, which leaves a deep gulf between the marketability of money on the one hand and the marketability of other economic goods on the other hand, nothing but money enters into consideration at all as a medium of exchange. Only in exceptional circumstances is any other economic good pressed into this service. In the case mentioned, therefore, every seller will be willing to accept a smaller quantity of money than he otherwise would have demanded, so as to avoid the fresh loss that he would have to suffer in again exchanging the commodity that he has acquired, which is harder to dispose of than money, for the commodity that he actually requires for consumption.

The older theories, which started from an erroneous conception of the social demand for money, could never arrive at a solution of this problem. Their sole contribution is limited to paraphrases of the proposition that an increase in the stock of money at the disposal of the community while the demand for it remains the same decreases the objective exchange value of money, and that an increase of the demand with a constant available stock has the contrary effect, and so on. By a flash of genius, the formulators of the quantity theory had already recognized this. We cannot by any means call it an advance when the formula giving the amount of the demand for money (volume of transactions ÷ velocity of circulation) was reduced to its elements, or when the attempt was made to give exact precision to the idea of a stock of money, so long as this occurred under a misapprehension of the nature of fiduciary media and of clearing transactions. No approach whatever was made toward the central problem of this part of the theory of money so long as theorists were unable to show the way in which subjective valuations are affected by variations in the ratio between the stock of money and the demand for money. But this task was necessarily beyond the power of these theories; they break down at the crucial point.36

Recently, Wieser has expressed himself against employing the "collective concept of the demand for money" as the starting point for a theory of fluctuations in the objective exchange value of money. He says that in an investigation of the value of money we are not concerned with the total demand for money. The demand for money to pay taxes with, for example, does not come into consideration, for these payments do not affect the value of money but only transfer purchasing power from those who pay the taxes to those who receive them. In the same way, capital and interest payments in loan transactions and the making of gifts and bequests merely involve a transference of purchasing power between persons and not an augmentation or diminution of it. A functional theory of the value of money must, in stating its problem, have regard only to those factors by which the value of money is determined. The value of money is determined in the process of exchange. Consequently the theory of the value of money must take account only of those quantifies which enter into the process of exchange.37

But these objections of Wieser's are not only rebutted by the fact that even the surrender of money in paying taxes, in making capital and interest payments, and in giving presents and bequests, falls into the economic category of exchange. Even if we accept Wieser's narrow definition of exchange, we must still oppose his argument. It is not a peculiarity of money that its value (Wieser obviously means its objective exchange value) is determined in the process of exchange; the same is true of all other economic goods. For all economic goods it must therefore be correct to say that the theory of value has to investigate only certain quantities, namely, only those that are involved in the process of exchange. But there is no such thing in economics as a quantity that is not involved in the process of exchange. From the economic point of view, a quantity has no other relationships than those which exercise some influence upon the valuations of individuals concerned in some process or other of exchange.

This is true, even if we admit that value only arises in connection with exchange in the narrow sense intended by Wieser. But those who participate in exchange transactions, and consequently desire to acquire or dispose of money do not value the monetary unit solely with regard to the fact that they can use it in other acts of exchange (in Wieser's narrower sense of the expression), but also because they require money in order to pay taxes, to transfer borrowed capital and pay interest, and to make presents. They consider the level of their purchasing-power reserves with a view to the necessity of having money ready for all these purposes, and their judgment as to the extent of their requirements for money is what decides the demand for money with which they enter the market.

  • 33. See Menger, op. cit., pp. 325 ff.; also Helfferich, op. cit., pp. 500 ff.
  • 34. See Appendix B.
  • 35. Examination of the relationship of this supposition to the doctrine of the "purely metallic currency" as expounded by the Currency School would necessitate a discussion of the criticism that has been leveled at it by the Banking School; but certain remarks in the third part of the present work on fiduciary media and the clearing system will fill the gap left above.
  • 36. It is remarkable that even investigators who otherwise take their stand upon the subjective theory of value have been able to fall into this error. So, for example, Fisher and Brown, The Purchasing Power of Money (New York, 1911), pp. 8 ff.
  • 37. See Wieser, "Der Geldwert und seine Veränderungen," pp. 515 ff.