The Natural Economic Order/Part III/Chapter 2

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Part III, Chapter 1 The Natural Economic Order
Part III. Chapter 2. The Indispensability of Money and the Indifference of the Public to the Money-Material
written by Silvio Gesell, translated by Philip Pye
Part III, Chapter 3
1929.



We owe it to the division of labour that we produce more than we consume. Liberated thus from the compulsion of immediate needs, we can devote time, provisions and work to the perfection and multiplication of our means of production. Without the division of labour we could never have accumulated our present wealth of means of production, and without these means of production our labour could not have attained the hundredth part of its present fertility. The greater part of the population therefore owes its existence directly to the division of labour. Sixty millions of the sixty-five millions in Germany exist solely through the division of labour.

The products of divided labour are not goods for immediate consumption by the producer, but wares, things useful to the producer only as means of exchange. A cobbler, a carpenter, a general. a teacher or a day-labourer cannot consume the immediate product of his own labour. Even a farmer can do so only to a very limited degree. They must all sell what they produce. The cobbler and carpenter sell their products to their customers; the teacher and general sell their services to the State; the day-labourer sells his services to his employer.

For most products the compulsion to sell is absolute; for industrial products this is a rule without exceptions. For this reason work is at once interrupted if a disturbance occurs in the sale of the products. Will a tailor continue to make clothes for which he cannot find customers?

But sales, mutual exchanges of products, are effected through the medium of money. Without the intervention of money no wares can reach the consumer.

It is indeed not altogether impossible to dispose of the products of the division of labour by barter, but barter is so cumbersome and requires so many complicated preparatory arrangements, that producers generally cease work rather than have recourse to it.

Proudhon's banks for the products of labour were an attempt to re-introduce barter. Modern department-stores would serve the same purpose as these banks, for to establish barter I need only find someone who will buy what I produce and pay with what I need in return. A department-store which provides everything must of course buy everything. The only necessary preliminary condition of barter would be here fulfilled, and within the walls of a department store price-tickets might easily replace money, on condition that all customers of the store were its purveyors and vice-versa.[1]

Wares must therefore be sold for money; that is, there exists a compulsory demand for money equal in amount to the stock of wares. The use of money is therefore as indispensable to all as the division of labour is advantageous to all. The more advantageous the division of labour, the more indispensable is money. With the exception of the small farmers who consume almost all they produce, the whole population is unconditionally under an economic compulsion to sell its produce for money. Money is the essential condition of the division of labour as soon as the scope of the latter exceeds the possibilities of barter.

But what is the nature of this compulsion? Must all who wish to participate in the division of labour sell their produce for gold (silver etc.), or must they sell it for money? Money was formerly made of silver, so all wares had to be sold for thalers. Money was then divorced from silver, Yet the division of labour remained, the exchange of products proceeded. It was not, therefore, silver on which the division of labour depended. The demand for a medium of exchange caused by the wares was not a demand for the material of the medium of exchange. The money need not necessarily be made of silver. This is now proved, once and for all, by experience.

But must the medium of exchange be made of gold? Does a peasant who has grown cabbages and wishes to sell them to pay a dentist, need gold? Is it not, on the contrary, a matter of complete indifference to him, for the short time during which, as a rule, he retains the money, of what substance the money consists? Has he, as a rule, even time to look at the money? And can one not use this circumstance to make money out of paper? Would not the necessity of offering the products of the division of labour, namely the wares, in exchange for money still exist, if we substituted cellulose for gold in the manufacture of money? Would such a transition cause the abandonment of the division of labour, would the population prefer to starve rather than recognise cellulose-money as the instrument of exchange?

The theory of the gold standard asserts that money, to serve as the medium of exchange, must have an "intrinsic value", since money can exchange only as much "value" as it contains, somewhat as weights can be raised only by weights. But as cellulose-money has no intrinsic value, it cannot exchange the wares, which have value. Nought cannot be compared with one. Cellulose-money has no relation to the wares because it lacks "value" and is therefore an impossibility.

The advocates of the gold standard still hold to these arguments but in the meantime paper-money is quietly taking possession of the world. It is true that the fact is still denied, the theorists now speaking of "transferred" forces. Paper-money, they say, is in use in every country, but it passes current only because it is rooted in gold. If there were no metal money in existence, paper-money would go to pieces like a sparrow's nest in a falling tower. The holder of paper-money is promised gold, and this promise gives paper life. The "value" of the gold is transferred to the paper by the fact or promise of conversion in to gold. Paper-money is like a bill of lading which can indeed be sold, but loses its value if the goods it represents disappear.

If the gold or the promise of redemption is removed, all paper-money is reduced to waste-paper. Hence what supports paper-money is merely a "transferred value".

This is about all that is said against the possibility of paper-money, and the argument seems so conclusive that almost everyone who trusts his own power of judgement denies, without further consideration, the possibility of paper-money.

(The practical question whether paper-money has advantages or disadvantages in comparison with metal money will be considered later. We shall first answer the question whether cellulose can serve as raw material for money, whether paper can be transformed into money which, without depending on any particular commodity, especially gold or silver, can circulate and perform the functions of a medium of exchange).

Money, it is stated, can only redeem or exchange a value equal to its intrinsic value. But what is this so-called value which bars the road to our understanding of paper-money—which declares paper-money to be a hallucination? For paper-money does exist and circulate in many countries, and in some countries it circulates unconnected with metal money. Where it exists, moreover, it demonstrates its existence in the form of the millions that it brings to the monopolises of its manufacture. If paper-money, judged by the theory of value, is a hallucination, these millions, judged by the same theory, should also be regarded as a hallucination. The millions which the German Government gains by the issue of paper-money, the 7 % dividend of the Reichsbank, are, according to the theory of value, a hallucination. Or should the roles be reversed? Is it the theory of value which is a hallucination?


  1. Much confusion has been caused in economic literature by the old fallacy that since price-tickets can be substituted for money within the walls of a department-store, money is therefore equivalent to these tickets.
    Money is an independent commodity and its price must be determined afresh, by the sale itself, every time it changes hands. When selling his products, the receiver of money never knows what, in his turn, he will receive for the money. That is something only to be determined by another sale, generally at another time, in another place and with other persons. When price-tickets are used instead of money, the amount and quality of the return service must be exactly determined beforehand. This is true barter, and the price-ticket has the function of a unit for calculation, not of a medium of exchange. To the cabinet-maker, for example, who offers his chairs for sale in the department-store, it is a matter of indifference whether the hat he intends to buy is marked 5 or 10 on the price-ticket, for he will of course calculate the price of his chairs in accordance with these figures. He reduces all the prices in the store to terms of chairs.
    In a socialistic State, with all prices fixed by the Government, price tickets could replace money. Committees of appeal and written complaints would take the place of bargaining between individuals. The individual would receive for his product a price-ticket and a book for complaints. With an economic system based on money, bargaining about the price takes the place of the committees and the book of complaints. Differences of opinion are settled on the spot by the parties concerned, without the intervention of the law. Either the transaction does not take place, or the price is legally valid beyond the possibility of appeal.
    Herein lies the distinction between price-tickets and money.
    The frequent confusion of price-tickets and money in economic literature is, no doubt, mainly due to the fact that both money and price-tickets can be made of any material, and that in neither case has the material any influence upon prices, unless the material of which money is made influences the quantity of money in circulation. Of late years many economists have been ca ht in this pitfall-Bendixen, Liefmann and many pupils of Knapp. Indeed the only investigators to escape it were those who perceived the true nature of money (as revealed, for example, by the demonetisation of silver described in the previous chapter).