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INFLUENCE OF THE CURRENCY ON THE EXCHANGES AND ON FOREIGN TRADE
§ 1. In our inquiry into the laws of international trade, we commenced with the principles which determine international exchanges and international values on the hypothesis of barter. We next showed that the introduction of money as a medium of exchange makes no difference in the laws of exchanges and of values between country and country, no more than between individual and individual: since the precious metals, under the influence of those same laws, distribute themselves in such proportions among the different countries of the world, as to allow the very same exchanges to go on, and at the same values, as would be the case under a system of barter. We lastly considered how the value of money itself is affected, by those alterations in the state of trade which arises from alterations either in the demand and supply of commodities, or in their cost of production. It remains to consider the alterations in the state of trade which originate not in commodities but in money.
Gold and silver may vary like other things, though they are not so likely to vary as other things, in their cost of production. The demand for them in foreign countries may also vary. It may increase, by augmented employment of the metals for purposes of art and ornament, or because the increase of production and of transactions has created a greater amount of business to be done by the circulating medium. It may diminish, for the opposite reasons; or from the extension of the economizing expedients by which the use of metallic money is partially dispensed with. These changes act upon the trade between other countries and the mining countries, and upon the value of the precious metals, according to the general laws of the value of imported commodities: which have been set forth in the previous chapters with sufficient fulness.
What I propose to examine in the present chapter, is not those circumstances affecting money, which alter the permanent conditions of its value; but the effects produced on international trade by casual or temporary variations in the value of money, which have no connexion with any causes affecting its permanent value. This is a subject of importance, on account of its bearing upon the practical problem which has excited so much discussion for sixty years past, the regulation of the currency.
§ 2. Let us suppose in any country a circulating medium purely metallic, and a sudden casual increase made to it; for example, by bringing into circulation hoards of treasure, which had been concealed in a previous period of foreign invasion or internal disorder. The natural effect would be a rise of prices. This would check exports, and encourage imports; the imports would exceed the exports, the exchanges would become unfavourable, and the newly acquired stock of money would diffuse itself over all countries with which the supposed country carried on trade, and from them, progressively, through all parts of the commercial world. The money which thus overflowed would spread itself to an equal depth over all commercial countries. For it would go on flowing until the exports and imports again balanced one another: and this (as no change is supposed in the permanent circumstances of international demand) could only be, when the money had diffused itself so equally that prices had risen in the same ratio in all countries, so that the alteration of price would be for all practical purposes ineffective, and the exports and imports, though at a higher money valuation, would be exactly the same as they were originally. This diminished value of money throughout the world (at least, if the diminution was considerable) would cause a suspension, or at least a diminution, of the annual supply from the mines: since the metal would no longer command a value equivalent to its highest cost of production. The annual waste would, therefore, not be fully made up, and the usual causes of destruction would gradually reduce the aggregate quantity of the precious metals to its former amount; after which their production would recommence on its former scale. The discovery of the treasure would thus produce only temporary effects; namely, a brief disturbance of international trade until the treasure had disseminated itself through the world, and then a temporary depression in the value of the metal, below that which corresponds to the cost of producing or of obtaining it; which
depression would gradually be corrected, by a temporarily diminished production in the producing countries, and importation in the importing countries.
The same effects which would thus arise from the discovery of a treasure, accompany the process by which bank notes, or any of the other substitutes for money, take the place of the precious metals. Suppose that England possessed a currency wholly metallic of twenty millions sterling, and that suddenly twenty millions of bank notes were sent into circulation. If these were issued by bankers, they would be employed in loans, or in the purchase of securities, and would therefore create a sudden fall in the rate of interest, which would probably send a great part of the twenty millions of gold out of the country as capital to seek a higher rate of interest elsewhere, before there had been time for any action on prices. But we will suppose that the notes are not issued by bankers or money-lenders of any kind, but by manufacturers, in the payment of wages and purchase of materials, or by the government in its ordinary expenses, so that the whole amount would be rapidly carried into the markets for commodities. The following would be the natural order of consequences. All prices would rise greatly. Exportation would almost cease; importation would be prodigiously stimulated. A great balance of payments would become due, the exchanges would turn against England, to the full extent of the cost of exporting money; and the surplus coin would pour itself rapidly forth, over the various countries of the world, in the order of their proximity, geographically and commercially, to England. The efflux would continue until the currencies of all countries had come to a level; by which I do not mean, until money became of the same value everywhere, but until the differences were only those which existed before, and which corresponded to permanent differences in the cost of obtaining it. When the rise of prices had extended itself in an equal degree to all countries, exports and imports would everywhere revert to what they were at first, would balance one another, and the exchanges would return to par. If such a sum of money as twenty millions, when spread over the whole surface of the commercial world, were sufficient to raise the general level in a perceptible degree, the effect would be of no long duration. No alteration having occurred in the general conditions under which the metals were procured, either in the world at large or in any part of it, the reduced value would no longer be remunerating and the supply from the mines would cease partially or wholly, until the twenty millions were absorbed; * after which absorption, the currencies of all countries would be, in quantity and in value, nearly at their original level. I say nearly, for in strict accuracy there would be a slight difference. A somewhat smaller annual supply of the precious metals would now be required, there being in the world twenty millions less of metallic money undergoing waste. The equilibrium of payments, consequently, between the mining countries and the rest of the world, would thenceforth require that the mining countries should either export rather moreof something else, or import rather less of foreign commodities; which implies a somewhat lower range of prices than previously in the mining countries, and a somewhat higher in all others; a scantier currency in the former, and rather fuller currencies in the latter. This effect, which would be too trifling to require notice except for the illustration of a principle, is the only permanent change which would be produced on international trade, or on the value or quantity of the currency of any country.
Effects of another kind, however, will have been produced. Twenty millions, which formerly existed in the unproductive form of metallic money, have been converted into what is, or is capable of becoming, productive capital. This gain is at first made by England at the expense of other countries, who have taken her superfluity of this costly and unproductive article off her hands, giving for it an equivalent value in other commodities. By degrees the loss is made up to those countries by diminished influx from the mines, and finally the world has gained a virtual addition of twenty millions to its productive resources. Adam Smith's illustration, though so well known, deserves for its extreme aptness to be once more repeated. He compares the substitution of paper in the room of the precious metals, to the construction of a highway through the air, by which the ground now occupied by roads would become available for agriculture. As in that case a portion of the soil, so in this a part of the accumulated wealth of the country, would be relieved from a function in which it was only employed in rendering other soils and capitals productive, and would itself become applicable to production; the office it previously fulfilled being equally well discharged by a medium which costs nothing.
*  I am here supposing a state of things in which gold and silver mining are a permanent branch of industry, carried on under known conditions; and not the present state of uncertainty, in which gold-gathering is a game of chance, prosecuted (for the present) in the spirit of an adventure, not in that of a regular industrial pursuit.
The value saved to the community by thus dispensing with metallic money, is a clear gain to those who provide the substitute. They have the use of twenty millions of circulating medium which have cost them only the expense of an engraver's plate. If they employ this accession to their fortunes as productive capital, the produce of the country is increased, and the community benefited, as much as by any other capital of equal amount. Whether it is so employed or not, depends, in some degree, upon the mode of issuing it. If issued by the government, and employed in paying off debt, it would probably become productive capital. The government, however, may prefer employing this extraordinary resource in its ordinary expenses; may squander it uselessly, or make it a mere temporary substitute for taxation to an equivalent amount; in which last case the amount is saved by the taxpayers at large, who either add it to their capital or spend it as income. When paper currency is supplied, as in our own country, by bankers and banking companies,the amount is almost wholly turned into productive capital: for the issuers, being at all times liable to be called upon to refund the value, are under the strongest inducements not to squander it, and the only cases in which it is not forthcoming are cases of fraud or mismanagement. A banker's profession being that of a money-lender, his issue of notes is a simple extension of his ordinary occupation. He lends the amount to farmers, manufacturers, or dealers, who employ it in their several businesses. So employed, it yields, like any other capital, wages of labour and profits of stock. The profit is shared between the banker, who receives interest, and a succession of borrowers, mostly for short periods, who after paying the interest, gain a profit in addition, or a convenience equivalent to profit. The capital itself in the long run becomes entirely wages, and when replaced by the sale of the produce, becomes wages again; thus affording a perpetual fund, of the value of twenty millions, for the maintenance of productive labour, and increasing the annual produce of the country by all that can be produced through the means of a capital of that value. To this gain must be added a further saving to the country, of the annual supply of the precious metals necessary for repairing the wear and tear, and other waste, of a metallic currency.
The substitution, therefore, of paper for the precious metals, should always be carried as far as is consistent with safety; no greater amount of metallic currency being retained than is necessary to maintain, both in fact and in public belief, the convertibility of the paper. A country with the extensive commercial relations of