Gold Coinage Can Still Cause Inflation

by bitznbitez

There is a certain myth that if we valued our money in gold instead of fiat it would have a stable value.   The history of coinage and minting shows that this is not true.   Consider this short summary of coinage history from Adam Smith in the 1700s.

The denominations of those coins seem originally to have expressed the weight or quantity of metal contained in them. In the time of Servius Tullius, who first coined money at Rome, the Roman as or pondo contained a Roman pound of good copper. It was divided, in the same manner as our Troyes pound, into twelve ounces, each of which contained a real ounce of good copper. The English pound sterling, in the time of Edward I. contained a pound, Tower weight, of silver of a known fineness. The Tower pound seems to have been something more than the Roman pound, and something less than the Troyes pound. This last was not introduced into the mint of England till the 18th of Henry the VIII. The French livre contained, in the time of Charlemagne, a pound, Troyes weight, of silver of a known fineness. The fair of Troyes in Champaign was at that time frequented by all the nations of Europe, and the weights and measures of so famous a market were generally known and esteemed. The Scots money pound contained, from the time of Alexander the First to that of Robert Bruce, a pound of silver of the same weight and fineness with the English pound sterling. English, French, and Scots pennies, too, contained all of them originally a real penny-weight of silver, the twentieth part of an ounce, and the two hundred-and-fortieth part of a pound. The shilling, too, seems originally to have been the denomination of a weight. “When wheat is at twelve shillings the quarter,” says an ancient statute of Henry III. “then wastel bread of a farthing shall weigh eleven shillings and fourpence”. The proportion, however, between the shilling, and either the penny on the one hand, or the pound on the other, seems not to have been so constant and uniform as that between the penny and the pound. During the first race of the kings of France, the French sou or shilling appears upon different occasions to have contained five, twelve, twenty, and forty pennies. Among the ancient Saxons, a shilling appears at one time to have contained only five pennies, and it is not improbable that it may have been as variable among them as among their neighbours, the ancient Franks. From the time of Charlemagne among the French, and from that of William the Conqueror among the English, the proportion between the pound, the shilling, and the penny, seems to have been uniformly the same as at present, though the value of each has been very different; for in every country of the world, I believe, the avarice and injustice of princes and sovereign states, abusing the confidence of their subjects, have by degrees diminished the real quantity of metal, which had been originally contained in their coins. The Roman as, in the latter ages of the republic, was reduced to the twenty-fourth part of its original value, and, instead of weighing a pound, came to weigh only half an ounce. The English pound and penny contain at present about a third only; the Scots pound and penny about a thirty-sixth; and the French pound and penny about a sixty-sixth part of their original value. By means of those operations, the princes and sovereign states which performed them were enabled, in appearance, to pay their debts and fulfil their engagements with a smaller quantity of silver than would otherwise have been requisite. It was indeed in appearance only; for their creditors were really defrauded of a part of what was due to them. All other debtors in the state were allowed the same privilege, and might pay with the same nominal sum of the new and debased coin whatever they had borrowed in the old. Such operations, therefore, have always proved favourable to the debtor, and ruinous to the creditor, and have sometimes produced a greater and more universal revolution in the fortunes of private persons, than could have been occasioned by a very great public calamity. — Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book I Chapter IV The Origin and Use of Money

Apparently when official stamping of coins began it was taken solely as evidence of the quality of the metal contained, the purity, but the coins were still weighed.  Once the move to counting the tally of the coin only it became possible for kingdoms to intentionally erode the value of their currency, and they did.

Everything old is new again.  There is nothing new under the sun.

The thing to really ponder in the above is the line “Such operations, therefore, have always proved favourable to the debtor, and ruinous to the creditor…”.   Leverage is powerful but it is dangerous in a retraction.   Kings have always borrowed money.  Banking though, fractional banking, is both borrowing and lending.   Taking deposits, which are essentially loans to the bank from the depositor, and lending that back out to others, the banker making their money on the spreads.  No conclusion is reached here but it certainly is something to ponder if you have nothing else to do on a rainy day.

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