Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

surely, as a yard or a pint pot measures its respective commodities.

Mr. Wheatley will tell us, that as a yard is a measure of length, so money is a measure of value. But let us ask ,him, in our turn, what is value ? Let him, or let any of our readers, only reflect for a moment on the difficulty they will find in framing a satisfactory definition of value; and they will then be sensible how obscure and indistinct an idea they must have attached to the phrase " measure of value," when they find themselves at a loss to tell what idea they assign to the word value itself. In common conversation, and in common life, a certain rude meaning is applied to it which leads to no material error in the rough business of the world, where' the common experience of our senses comes in aid of the imperfection of our conceptions; but whoever reflects upon the difficulty c*f defining the word, will see how far this is from the clearness and precision which are requisite in philosophical speculation.

We are sorry that it is necessary to cs.ll upon our readers for a considerable effort of abstraction, to obtain a distinct conception of the dangerous tendency of this loose phraseology. It is to be remarked that the word value is merely the sign of an abstract idea. Value is not the object of any of our senses. It is neither the colour, nor the weight, nor the shape of the guinea, nor is it all these together, which we express by its value. But when we talk of a round piece of metal being the measure of an abstract idea, which has neither length, breadth, nor thickness, we surely, if we are talking as philosophers, use a very incorrect and extraordinary language. It is a maxim of common sense, and a rule in philosophy, that no one thing can measure another, which has not the qualities of that other. That which measures length, must have length; that which measures surface, must have surface; that which measures weight, must have weight. How, then, can an abstract, idea be measured by gold?

According to a table which Mr. Wheatley has presented to us, the value of an ox in this country, in the year 1050, " was measured," (to use his own language) by seven shillings and six-pence; that is to say, seven shillings and six-pence was at that time the price of an ox. In 1795, according to the same table, the value of an ox was measured by sixteen pounds eight shillings ; that is, more than forty times the former sum. How, we intreat, has this happened ? ,Js an ox forty times as valuable now as it was in the year 1050? Can it feed forty times as many men, or perform forty times as much labour, as it could then? Or, on the other hand, is it not true, that the ox was at that time as valuable, or at least nearly as valuable, as it is at this moment? But how, then, can money be a measure of value, when the same value is, in the course of a few centuries, measured first by one quantity, and then by forty times that quantity? Would it not be far more proper in this case to say, that the money was measured by the ox. than the ox by the money?

The truth is, there is only one acceptation in which the phrase, that money is the measure .of value, has any meaning. It is not the weight, or shape, or bulk of the precious metal, that makes it the measure of value; it is its own value alone by which it can measure the value of other things; and we see that the quantity of the metal which measures a fixed value, varies with all the changes in the value of a given quantity of the metal. Thus, after all, it is merely one value that measures another, and the value of money is as little fixed as that of other commodities. It is therefore a most incorrect expression to say, that money is the measure of value. It is no more a measure of value than any other commodity is. Its only distinction is, that, being the most common subject of purchase and sale, we are more accustomed to make our calculations in that substance than any other. A man, therefore, more naturally says, that he is worth a-thousand pounds, than that he is worth a hundred oxen, when he wants to convey an idea of his property. But we have historical proof, that, in those early states of society, when the use of money wss but little known, it was as common to express the value of things by specifying a number of cattle, as by a sum of money. "The armour of Diomede," says Homer, "cost only nine oxen, but that of Glaucus cost one hundred oxen."

The great cause of the obscurity and confusion so common to the speculators concerning money, is the unfortunate apprehension of some refinement, spme profound artifice in the business, while they overlook the real simplicity of its nature. Money is neither more nor less than a commodity; and when you have sold any thing for money, you have just exchanged one commodity for another, in the same manner as if you had' «old it for a sheep, or for a bushel of corn. In some very simple states of society, men are without the use of money. The man who has made a bow, exchanges it for the kid which his neighbour has shot. Serious difficulties, however, are experienced; the man who has the bow, has, perhaps, no occasion for the kid; he wants a hatchet; but his neighbour, who has the hatchet, has no occasion for a bow. Were there any commodity for which all men had a constant demand, he might then accommodate himself; because he would first sell bis bow for a certain proportion of this commodity, and would afterwards buy with it the hatchet, or any thing else which he might happen to want.

In many states of society, this commodity is cattle; we find accordingly, that cattle have often, in fact, been employed as the medium of exchange. But still this is a very inconvenient medium. The value of an ox or a sheep is an important amount; and the greater part of the purchases which people have occasion to make, are small. Any commodity which could be divided into minute portions, therefore, would be a commodity much more convenient. The metals have this property in great perfection; and gold and silver, from their brilliancy and rarity, come very early to have a value set* upon them. This is the commodity, therefore, which at last every man purchases with the articles which he has to dispose of, knowing that he can most conveniently exchange it again, in Such proportions as he pleases, for the other goods which he may want. In time, however, it is found that these metals may be adulterated; and the means of detection are not obvious, nor easy. An expedient is devised. The governors of the community agree to fix a mark upon certain pieces of those metals which they have proved; and the people will not receive any pieces but those upon which that mark is found. These pieces, accordingly, these bars or ingots, they purchase with the goods which they have to sell, and offer them again in sale for such goods as they wish to purchase. Still, however, considerable inconvenience exists. Those bars have often to be divided, and always to be weighed; and this is very troublesome. The government again extends its services. It agrees to fix a mark which shall both indicate the fineness of the metal and its weight; and to fix it upon pieces of such various weight as shall answer all the occasions of purchasers. This is now the coined money of civilized society. But what is there in all this which alters the nature of the metal, from that of a Commodity? If it was a commodity, bought and sold for its mere value, when it was rude bullion; why should it be any thing else for the stamp, which is only intended to declare its quantity and quality?

This histoire raisonnee of money we have introduced as better calculated to convey a clear conception of its nature, to persons little conversant with abstract reasoning, than any other elucidation we could have employed; and it appears to us to place it in so strong a light, that we cannot help being surprised when we find any man of reflection building a theory upon the phrase "a measure of value," and completely misled by so vague, unmeaning, and unfounded an expression.

2. We now pass to the author's second proposition, "That <m increase of currency is not an increase of wealth." His first proposition was, " That an increase of currency is not an increase of capital." His second proposition is therefore absolutely the same with his first; for wealth and capital, in this discussion, are convertible terms ; whatever is capital is wealth, and whatever is wealth may be capital. Alas! an author, who, even in laying down the fundamental principles of his doctrine, regards as two propositions what is only one, is far indeed from that acuteness and accuracy of thought which are requisite in the philosopher destined to explain the abstruse and difficult subject of money.

It will amuse the intelligent reader, to compare the proof which the author has adduced of the one of these propositions, with that which he has adduced of the other. To find different media of proof for the came proposition, is often not difficult; hut to labour to find a new proof for the same proposition, which the speculator regards as different, affords some curious views of the influence of vague language and indistinct conception. For this phenomenon, however, we must refer to th» work, as an account of the author's efforts on this point would carry us beyond all reasonable limits.

3. His third proposition on the subject of money, ip, " That no one nation can possess a greater relative currency than another." This is the grand principle of the book. This proposition, according to the author, involves a profound and most important discovery. It is a discovery which the greatest and most ingenious of his predecessors have failed to make. Mr. Hume, Sir James Steuart, and Dr. Adam Smith, exerted all their powers to explore the deep subject of money. But it surpassed their genius. The whole mystery of it, however, is detected in this third proposition of Mr. Wheatlcy; and he has composed the volume before us, to display its evidence, and to deduce the important conclusions which spring from it.

A clear and methodical writer would have carefully endeavoured, in the first place, to explain accurately what he meant by the phrase, "relative currency." It is not one of those terms, of which the meaning is so exactly ascertained as to stand in need of no definition. When he talks of the currency of one nation relative to the other nation, the question arises, Relative to what in that other nation? Does it mean, relative to the number of inhabitants, and does every nation possess a currency exactly proportional to its population? Or does it mean, relative to the territorial extent of that nation? Or does it mean, relative to its wealth? We may answer, that if any of these be the meaning intended, the proposition of Mr. Wheatley is entirely erroneous. First, as to population, it is very plain that a nation of Tartars, or of Arabs, who have hardly any currency, may be as numerous as the British aation. Extent of territory is still more obviously not the saeasure of currency. There are districts of the Russian empire, many times the size of Holland, which have not so much currency as, once at least, was possessed by one of the petty towns of that remarkable country. It may be said, however, that wealth exactly determines the point, and that every nation possesses a currency proportional to its wealth. That even this does not decide the measure of currency, may easily be discovered; for it is plain that two nations may be equally wealthy, and yet the circumstances of the one may occasion a much more rapid intercourse of barter, than those of the other. There is. still another sense in which the phrase may be taken; and at first sight it seems to be certain, that the number of purchases and sales in a nation, is that circumstance which fixes the amount of its currency ; whence, according to Mr. Wheatley's third proposition, if one nation makes the same number and amount of purchases and sales with another nation, it must possess the same quantity of currency; if a greater, a greater; and if a less, a less. But even in this sense, his proposition is not true. Circulation may be rapid or slow; and a guinea may in one situation perform six times the number of payments which it performs in another. Besides, among the improvements which take place in the progress of business, the merchants discover the means of economizing greatly in the use of money ; so that a nation may at one time do a much greater business than it did.at another, with the same quantity of currency. We know not why we should not reckon the payments which are made by indorsing and transferring private bills, as made without the intervention of currency, unless a verbal acknowledgement of a debt, if it happens at any time' to be transferred, ought also to be reckoned currency. Now it is well known, that the circumstances of one nation may occasion a much greater proportion of payments by bill, than those of another. But, not to insist upon this particular, we shall content ourselves with specifying one remarkable contrivance for economizing currency, which will not admit of any dispute. To explain this, we must remark, that, in the conduct of all business, and even in ordinary life, a man is liable to be called upon for sudden payments, and must constantly have ready at command a sum of money proportional to the nature and extent of his pecuniary transactions. Every man is naturally obliged to keep this sum ready by him; of which, in general, he has only occasion for a part, but of which he may have occasion for the whole. The aggregate sum which is thus employed, when the individuals who must have this provision are numerous, and their transactions extensive, must evidently be very large. In the progress, however, of business, a great convenience is found to arise from making pecuniary pay

« ПредишнаНапред »