A Treatise on Political Economy, Or, the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Wealth

By Jean-Baptiste Say; Clement C. Biddle et al. | Go to book overview

have doubled its relative value to silver, for this commodity then cost 1 oz., and would now be worth 4 oz. of silver, had it not fallen itself in value; but having itself lost one-half its value, it is sold for but 2 oz.; that is to say, for twice as much silver as at the former period.

Such is the effect of real and of relative variation in the price of silver. But, independently of these variations, there have been vast alterations in the denomination given, at different periods during the interim, to the same quantity of pure metal, which should make us place very little reliance on the accuracy of our estimate of real and relative variation.

In 1514, an ounce of silver would purchase 1 setier of wheat, which is now worth 4 oz.; this was a relative variation of silver to wheat. This quantity of silver then was denominated 30 sous;* and, had the same quantity of silver still preserved the same denomination, 4 oz. would now be called 120 s. or 6 fr. Thus, wheat at 6 fr. the setier would have risen in relation to silver, or silver have fallen in comparison with wheat. There would, however, have been no nominal variation. But 4 oz. of silver are now denominated 24 fr. instead of 6 fr.; so that there has been a nominal, as well as a relative variation,--a mere verbal alteration. The real and relative variation has been in the ratio of 4 to 1; but the nominal value of money has declined in the ratio of 16 to 1 since 1514.

It is obvious, therefore, that one can not form an idea of the value of a commodity from its estimate of money price, except during a space of time, and within a space of territory, in which neither the denomination of the coin, nor the value of its material, has undergone any change; else the valuation will be merely nominal, and convey no fixed idea of value whatever. To say that the setier of wheat sold for 30 sous in 1514, without explaining the then value of 30 sous, is giving us a price, that conveys either no idea at all, or a fallacious one if it be meant to affirm, that the setier of wheat was then worth 30 sous of present money. In comparing values, the denomination of coin is useful only inasmuch as it designates the quantity of pure metal contained in the sum specified. It may serve to denote the quantity of the metal; but can never serve as an index of value at any distance of time, or of place.

It is scarcely necessary to point out the effects of an alteration in the quantity of metal, to which a fixed denomination is given, upon national and individual property. Such an expedient can neither increase nor diminish the real, or even the relative value, either of the metal or of any other commodity. If 1 oz. of silver be struck into two crowns instead of one, two crowns will be

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*
Traité Historique, Leblanc; and, Essai sur les Monnaies, by Duprê deSaint Maur .

-260-

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