The Theory of Money and Credit

Preface to the Second German Edition

When the first edition of this book was published twelve years ago, the nations and their governments were just preparing for the tragic enterprise of the Great War. They were preparing, not merely by piling up arms and munitions in their arsenals, but much more by the proclamation and zealous propagation of the ideology of war. The most important economic element in this war ideology was inflationism.

My book also dealt with the problem of inflationism and attempted to demonstrate the inadequacy of its doctrines; and it referred to the changes that threatened our monetary system in the immediate future. This drew upon it passionate attacks from those who were preparing the way for the monetary catastrophe to come. Some of those who attacked it soon attained great political influence; they were able to put their doctrines into practice and to experiment with inflationism upon their own countries.

Nothing is more perverse than the common assertion that economics broke down when faced with the problems of the war and postwar periods. To make such an assertion is to be ignorant of the literature of economic theory and to mistake for economics the doctrines based on excerpts from archives that are to be found in the writings of the adherents of the historico-empirico-realistic school. Nobody is more conscious of the shortcomings of economics than economists themselves, and nobody regrets its gaps and failings more. But all the theoretical guidance that the politician of the last ten years needed could have been learned from existing doctrine. Those who have derided and carelessly rejected as “bloodless abstraction” the assured and accepted results of scientific labor should blame themselves, not economics.

It is equally hard to understand how the assertion could have been made that the experience of recent years has necessitated a revision of economics. The tremendous and sudden changes in the value of money that we have experienced have been nothing new to anybody acquainted with currency history; neither the variations in the value of money, nor their social consequences, nor the way in which the politicians reacted to either, were new to economists. It is true that these experiences were new to many etatists, and this is perhaps the best proof that the profound knowledge of history professed by these gentlemen was not genuine but only a cloak for their mercantilistic propaganda.

The fact that the present work, although unaltered in essentials, is now published in a rather different form from that of the first edition is not due to any such reason as the impossibility of explaining new facts by old doctrines. It is true that, during the twelve years that have passed since the first edition was published, economics has made strides that it would be impossible to ignore. And my own occupation with the problems of catallactics has led me in many respects to conclusions that differ from those of the first edition. My attitude toward the theory of interest is different today from what it was in 1911; and although, in preparing this as in preparing the first edition, I have been obliged to postpone any treatment of the problem of interest (which lies outside the theory of indirect exchange), in certain parts of the book it has nevertheless been necessary to refer to the problem. Again, on the question of crises my opinions have altered in one respect: I have come to the conclusion that the theory which I put forward as an elaboration and continuation of the doctrines of the Currency School is in itself a sufficient explanation of crises and not merely a supplement to an explanation in terms of the theory of direct exchange, as I supposed in the first edition.

Further I have become convinced that the distinction between statics and dynamics cannot be dispensed with even in expounding the theory of money. In writing the first edition, I imagined that I should have to do without it, in order not to give rise to any misunderstandings on the part of the German reader. For in an article that had appeared shortly before in a widely read symposium, Altmann had used the concepts “static” and “dynamic,” applying them to monetary theory in a sense that diverged from the terminology of the modern American school.1  Meanwhile, however, the significance of the distinction between statics and dynamics in modern theory has probably become familiar to everybody who, even if not very closely, has followed the development of economics. It is safe to employ the terms nowadays without fear of their being confused with Altmann’s terminology. I have in part revised the chapter on the social consequences of variations in the value of money in order to clarify the argument. In the first edition the chapter on monetary policy contains long historical discussions; the experiences of recent years afford sufficient illustrations of the fundamental argument to allow these discussions now to be dispensed with.

A section on problems of banking policy of today has been added, and one in which the monetary theory and policy of the etatists are briefly examined. In compliance with a desire of several colleagues I have also included a revised and expanded version of a short essay on the classification of theories of money, which was published some years ago in volume 44 of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik.

For the rest, it has been far from my intention to deal critically with the flood of new publications devoted to the problems of money and credit. In science, as Spinoza says, “the truth bears witness both to its own nature and to that of error.” My book contains critical arguments only where they are necessary to establish my own views and to explain or prepare the ground for them. This omission can be the more easily justified in that this task of criticism is skillfully performed in two admirable works that have recently appeared.2

The concluding chapter of part three, which deals with problems of credit policy, is reprinted as it stood in the first edition. Its arguments refer to the position of banking in 1911, but the significance of its theoretical conclusions does not appear to have altered. They are supplemented by the above-mentioned discussion of the problems of present-day banking policy that concludes the present edition. But even in this additional discussion, proposals with any claim to absolute validity should not be sought for. Its intention is merely to show the nature of the problem at issue. The choice among all the possible solutions in any individual case depends upon the evaluation of pros and cons; decision between them is the function not of economics but of politics.

March 1924

  • 1See Altmann, “Zur deutschen Geldlehre des 19. Jahrhunderts,” in Die Entwicklung der deutschen Volkswirtschaftslehre im 19. Jahrhundert, Schmoller Festschrift (Leipzig, 1908).
  • 2See Döring, Die Geldtheorien seit Knapp, 1st ed. (Greifswald, 1921; 2d ed. Greifswald, 1922); Palyi, Der Streit um die Staatliche Theorie des Geldes (Munich and Leipzig, 1922) (also in Schmoller’s Jahrbuch, 45. Jahrgang). Also see the acute investigations of G. M. Verrijn Stuart, Inleiding tot de Leer der Waardevastheid van het Geld (’s Gravenhage, 1919).