The Spirit of Laws - Vol. 1

By Charles de Secondat Montesquieu; Thomas Nugent | Go to book overview

BOOK XXII
OF LAWS IN RELATION TO THE USE OF MONEY

1. -- The Reason of the Use of Money

PEOPLE who have little merchandise, as savages, and among civilized nations those who have only two or three species, trade by exchange. Thus the caravans of Moors that go to Timbuctoo, in the heart of Africa, have no need of money, for they exchange their salt for gold. The Moor puts his salt in a heap, and the Negro his dust in another; if there is not gold enough, the Moor takes away some of his salt, or the Negro adds more gold, till both parties are agreed.

But when a nation traffics with a great variety of merchandise, money becomes necessary; because a metal easily carried from place to place saves the great expenses which people would be obliged to be at if they always proceeded by exchange.

As all nations have reciprocal wants, it frequently happens that one is desirous of a large quantity of the other's merchandise, when the latter will have very little of theirs, though with respect to another nation the case is directly opposite. But when nations have money, and proceed by buying and selling, those who take most merchandise pay the balance in specie. And there is this difference, that in the case of buying, the trade carried on is in proportion to the wants of the nation that has the greatest demands; whilst in bartering, the trade is only according to the wants of the nation whose demands are the fewest; without which the latter would be under an impossibility of balancing its accounts.


2. -- Of the Nature of Money

Money is a sign which represents the value of all merchandise. Metal is taken for this sign, as being durable,a because

____________________
a
The salt made use of for this purpose in Abyssinia has this defect, that it is continually wasting away.

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