Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics

The Quality of Money

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics

The Quality of Money

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Much has been written about the quantity of money and its effects on money's purchasing power. However, changes in the quality of money have been widely neglected. This paper analyzes changes in the quality of money and its influence on the purchasing power of money.

I. INTRODUCTION

The economics profession has recently neglected the connections between the purchasing power and the quality of money. In order to cover this gap, I will analyze the quality of money and how its changes affect the purchasing power of money. I will argue that changes in the quality of money can be far more important for the value of money than changes in its quantity. This conclusion is in line with the subjectivist approach of the Austrian School. In fact, the quantity of money is an objective and measurable aggregate. The quantity theory of money is the heart of neoclassical monetary theory, but does not reconcile well with the Austrian approach. In contrast, the quality of money is a subjective concept and should stand at the center of a monetary theory based on human action. Money serves people in attaining their subjective ends more efficiently and it fulfills certain functions for people. The better these functions of money are fulfilled in the eyes of actors the higher they value money. The quality of money is, consequently, defined as the capacity of money, as perceived by actors, to fulfill its main functions, namely to serve as a medium of exchange, as a store of wealth, and as an accounting unit. Hence, the theory of the quality of money maintains that the demand for money does depend on the quality of money. In fact, the quality of money is one of the important factors, along with uncertainty, financial innovations (credit cards, ATM machines, MMMFs), frequency of payment, etc. that affect the reservation or cashbalance demand for money. The theory of the quality of money, thus, contrasts with a one-sided quantity theory of explaining the price level.

I will first review the treatment of the quality and quantity of money by economists. I will then analyze different properties of money influencing money's quality and how they can change. In the process I focus on the function as a medium of exchange and as a store of value. I conclude with a summary of my findings.

II. THE THEORY OF THE QUALITY OF MONEY IN HISTORY

The theory of the quality of money, even though not under this label, has a long tradition. While many authors have discussed the factors influences the quality of money, no unifying consensus has ever been established. Juan de Mariana (1609) explains that the deterioration of the quality of gold coins must be considered an (unjust) tax. Sir William Petty ([1662] 1889) considers the deterioration of the quality of coins by the government a tax. Adam Smith (1776) speaks of the origin of money and important qualities like durability and divisibility. Jean Baptiste Say ([1802] 1855) states that a good money must be divisible, of the same quality, resistant to friction, sufficiently rare, and malleable. He also analyzes the adulteration of the quality of money in historical instances as in the case of Philip I of France. Nassau William Senior ([1850] 1853) and John Stuart Mill ([1848] 1965) are two classical authors who discuss qualities of commodities that made them suitable to become money. Carl Menger (1871) explains the emergence of money as a spontaneous market process in which commodities with specific qualities prevail. Thus, the treatment of the qualities of money had been widespread before the twentieth century as William Stanley Jevons's (1875, p. 30) passage states:

Many recent writers, such as Huskisson, MacCulloch, James Mill, Garnier, Chevalier, and Walras, have satisfactorily described the qualities which should be possessed by the material of money. Earlier writers seem, however, to have understood the subject almost as well. Harris explained these qualities with remarkable clearness in his "Essay upon Money and Coins," published in 1757, a work which appeared before the "Wealth of Nations," yet gave an exposition of the principles of money which can hardly be improved at the present day. …

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