« PreviousContinue »
no concepted, it is this somluation, or rathe an actual
general or abstract term ; but, is there any abstract idea corresponding to it? No such thing. It is the past participle of an old Anglo-Saxon verb, signifying to speak; and means something spoken. An act, in like manner, is the past participle of a Latin verb, signifying to act; and means something acted, aliquid act-um. And what, in the next place, is value? It is the past participle of a French verb, signifying to be valued ; and means something valued; something on which a value is set. But, if there can be no conception of value, distinct from the conception of something valued, it is this something which, in all possible cases, must be the instrument of valuation, or rather of expressing the degrees of value. The result then is, that an actual commodity of a known value, is this instrument; and that an ideal standard is a thing inconceivable.
It would be whimsical, if a philosopher, who has been one of the most successful in proving the non-existence of general ideas, should be found to have been a patron of the ideal standard. Yet this notion has been imputed to Bishop Berkeley, who, in a tract of his, entitled the Querist, talks of money as merely a token or counter. But those expressions, when explained by the context, mean something very different , and we are persuaded that Berkeley was by far too close a thinker, and pursued the consequences of his ideas with too clear an eye, to admit, upon reflection, a notion so evidently at variance with one of his fundamental doctrines. * Those who are ena
* When the expressions of Berkeley are considered, with reference to his object, we conceive that they cannot be regarded as in the least degree implying a fixed opinion respecting a standard of valuation ; they are merely illustrations directed to a very different end. It was the great object of the Querist, and of most of the other political tracts of its admirable author, to persuade the people of Irem land that they had vast internal resources of which they might avail themselves by their own exertions; and that sloth was the great evil with which they had to contend. But, to attain his end, he had to surmount huge prejudices. The restrictions under which Ireland was then placed, in regard to foreign trade, was the universal subject of complaint ; the advantages of foreign trade were exaggerated. According to the theory which then prevailed, foreign trade was reckoned the only means of bringing money into the country : money was, par excellence, riches. Without money, no circulation ; and without circulation, no industry: therefore, Ireland could not be otherwise than slothful. This is clearly the train of reasoning which it is the object of the Querist to cppose : and it completely explains the brief expressions which he uses concerning money. He was anxious to persuade his countryman, that money was not riches;
deed, can more happily illustrate either the process of comparing values, or the necessity in general of having recourse to individual objects in applying abstract terms. No term is more clearly general than weight; nothing, too, is more general than our language, when we talk of a pound weight; yet, whenever we come to form an estimate, to make a comparison, can we make use of the general idea ? Or, is there any general material pound, which can be put at the one end of the balance ? Is it not an individual body, weighing a pound, which we are obliged to employ ?
It only remains, therefore, to be considered, whether the term measure of value, 'can have any meaning; and what that meaning is. In the result of this inquiry, we hope to find a fatissactory answer to the question. What is money?' .
It is now, we trust, abundantly manifest, that nothing can measure value, but value itself. Some ascertained value is assumt ed as a given quantity, and with this all other values are compared ; and they are denominated either multiples or fractions of the afsuined value, according as the result of the comparison determines. Thus, a bar of iron is assumed by the blacks of the coast of Africa as an ascertained value ; and with this they compare the value of all other commodities. A gallon of spirits, they say, is of the fame value ; but a Dave is a hundred and fifty times that value. In the same manner, an ascertained portion of gold or filver is assumed in Europe as a known value, and by a comparison with this the value of all other things is estimated. There is a material difference, however, between the practical proceedings of the Africans and the Europeans. When the Africans estimate the value of a purchase in bars of iron, they have not, in general, the bars to give for it; they have only some other kind of goods, and their purchases and sales are mere barter,-though they estimate the value of the commodities given and received, by comparing it with a bar of iron. When the Europeans, however, make their estimates by comparison with ascertained quantities of gold and silver, they have the gold and filver ready to give for the commodity which is the object of purchase. The convenience of this is very great. When traffic is carried on by barter alone, it is, in the first place, very difficult to proportion payments to the commodity purchased. If a man wants to purchase a hatchet, but has only a sheep to dispose of, which is worth fix hatchets, he knows not how to accomplish his purpose. But the principal difficulty probably consists in adapting to one another the objects of purchase and sale. The man who has the hatchet to sell, wants not to purchase a sheep, but a cloak; while the man who has the cloak to dispose of has no occasion for a hatchet, but for some
upon such decisive confiderations, and which explains so completely all the phenomena of money, writers seem in general to have missed, (as men often miss other advantages), by looking too high; by conceiving that the theory of money must certainly involve in it something extremely magnificent and mysterious. With this imagination, and the aid of loose and indefinite language, they have written books of very indifferent quality. Yet there were always some obvious and remarkable appearances which might have taught them that money was nothing but a cominodity bought and fold for its value, like other commodities; and that it rose and fell, in its power of purchasing, exactly as its value was enhanced or impaired. Whenever princes have debafed the coins of their realms, these coins have uniformly become depreciated in exact proportion to the debafement; and have never, for any length of time, continued to purchase more than the metal, and the workmanship of the coin, were really worth. What other account can be rendered of this striking phenomenon, than that coins are mere commodities, subject to the laws which regulate the purchase and sale of all other commodities?
Having thus ascertained the nature of money and coins, we are in a condition to see clearly through the mystery of the measure of value ;' and as the vague ideas entertained respecting that measure have produced fo much confusion on the subject of moa ney, it may be useful to subjoin a few reflections.
Men have occasion to compare values in two respects ; either in times very distant, or in times contiguous. Among the other properties of the precious metals, this is one,--that though they are subject to very great alterations of value in times very remote, they change more slowly than perhaps any other commodity, and, during any small number of years, may be regarded as invariable. Within that number of years, therefore, they form a standard of comparison very exact. They vary too considerably in their value in places very far distant from one another; but, in places not exceedingly remote, they are always of the same, or very nearly the same value; and thus, within a certain range of time and place, their value is fufficiently fixed to afford an instrument of comparison exact enough for the practical purposes of life. But, in all this, there is neither mystery, nor measuring ; the value of one commodity is only compared with the value of other commodities ;, and as coin is the most convenient subject of comparison, the value of all other commodities is usually expressed by naming a correspondent quantity of that convenient substance. When we mean to express the value of an acre of land, we do not say that it is worth so many pounds weight of corn, or so many pounds weight of flax. What we say, however, is literally that it is VOL. XIII. NO. 25.