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The Misleading Theory Of The Quantity Of Money


It often is argued that gold is inappropriate as money because it is too limited in supply to satisfy the needs of modem commerce. On the surface, that may sound logical-after all, we do need a lot of money out there to keep the wheels of the economy turning- but, upon examination, this turns out to be one of the most childish ideas imaginable.

First of all, it is estimated that approximately 45% of all the gold mined throughout the world since the discovery of America is now in government or banking stockpiles.1 There undoubtedly is at least an additional 30% in jewelry, ornaments, and private hoards. Any commodity which exists to the extent of 75% of its total world production since Columbus discovered America can hardly be described as in short supply.

The deeper reality, however, is that the supply is not even important. Remember that the primary function of money is to measure the value of the items for which it is exchanged. In this sense, it serves as a yardstick or ruler of value. It really makes no difference if we measure the length of our rug in inches, feet, yards, or meters. We could even manage it quite well in miles if we used decimals and expressed the result in millimiles. We could even use multiple rulers, but no matter what measurement we use, the reality of what we are measuring does not change. Our rug does not become larger just because we have increased the quantity of measurement units by painting additional markers onto our rulers.

If the supply of gold in relation to the supply of available goods is so small that a one-ounce coin would be too valuable for minor transactions, people simply would use half-ounce coins or tenth-ounce coins. The amount of gold in the world does not affect its ability to serve as money, it only affects the quantity that will be used to measure any given transaction.

Let us illustrate the point by imagining that we are playing a game of Monopoly. Each person has been given a starting supply of play money with which to transact business. It doesn't take long before we all begin to feel the shortage of cash. If we just had more money, we could really wheel and deal. Let us suppose further that someone discovers another game-box of Monopoly sitting in the

closet and proposes that the currency from that be added to the game under progress. By general agreement, the little bills are distributed equally among all players. What would happen?

The money supply has now been doubled. We all have twice as much money as we did a moment before. But would we be any better off? There is no corresponding increase in the quantity of property, so everyone would bid up the prices of existing pieces until they became twice as expensive. In other words, the law of supply and demand would rapidly seek exactly the same equilibrium as existed with the more limited money supply. When the quantity of money expands without a corresponding increase in goods, the effect is a reduction in the purchasing power of each monetary unit. In other words, nothing really changes except that the quoted price of everything goes up. But that is merely the quoted price, the price as expressed in terms of the monetary unit. In truth, the real price, in terms of its relationship to all other prices, remains the same. It's merely that the relative value of the money supply has gone down. This, of course, is the classic mechanism of inflation. Prices do not go up. The value of the money goes down.

If Santa Claus were to visit everyone on Earth next Christmas and leave in our stockings an amount of money exactly equal to the amount we already had, there is no doubt that many would rejoice over the sudden increase in wealth. By New Year's day, however, prices would have doubled for everything, and the net result on the world's standard of living would be exactly zero. 1

The reason so many people fall for the appealing argument that the economy needs a larger money supply is that they zero in only on the need to increase their supply. If they paused for a moment to reflect on the consequences of the total supply increasing, the nonsense of the proposal becomes immediately apparent.

Murray Rothbard, professor of economics at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, says:

We come to the startling truth that it doesn't matter what the supply of money is. Any supply will do as well as any other supply. The free market will simply adjust by changing the purchasing power, or effectiveness, of its gold-unit. There is no need whatever for any planned increase in the money supply, for the supply to rise to offset

any condition, or to follow any artificial criteria. More money does not supply more capital, is not more productive, does not permit "economic growth."'

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Additional disclosure: Concepts included herein with the consent of G E. Griffin