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K. Marx_Contribution_to_the_Critique_of_Political_Economy

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absurd theories. Gold as materialised
labour-time is a measure of value, as a piece of metal of definite weight it is the standard of price. Gold
becomes the measure of value because as an exchange-value it is compared with the exchange-values of
other commodities; in its aspect as a standard of price a definite quantity of gold serves as a unit for other
quantities of gold. Gold is the measure of value because its value is variable; it is the standard of price
because it has been established as an invariable unit of weight. Here, as in all cases of measuring
quantities of the same denomination, stability and exactitude of the proportions is essential. The necessity
of establishing a quantity of gold as the unit of measure and its aliquot parts as subdivisions of this unit
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has given rise to the idea that a fixed ratio of values has been set up between a definite quantity of gold,
whose value is of course variable, and the exchange-values of commodities. But such a view simply
ignores the fact that the exchange-values of commodities are turned into prices, into quantities of gold,
before gold becomes the standard of price. Quite irrespective of any changes in the value of gold,
different quantities of gold will always represent the same ratio of values with regard to one another. lf
the value of gold should fall by 1,000 per cent, then the value of twelve ounces of gold would still be
twelve times bigger than that of one ounce of gold, and so far as prices are concerned what matters is
only the proportion of the different quantities^ of gold to one another. Since, on the other hand, a rise or
fall in the value of an ounce of gold does not in any way affect its weight, the weight of its aliquot parts
remains likewise unaffected; gold can thus always serve as a stable standard of price, regardless of any
changes in its value. [3]
As a result of an historical process, which, as we shall explain later, was determined by the nature of
metallic currency, the names of particular weights were retained for constantly changing and diminishing
weights of precious metals functioning as the standard of price. Thus the English pound sterling denotes
less than one-third of its original weight, the pound Scots before the Union only 1/36, the French livre
1/74, the Spanish maravedi less than 1/1,000 and the Portuguese rei an even smaller proportion.
Historical development thus led to a separation of the money names of certain weights of metals from the
common names of these weights. [4] Because the designation of the unit of measure, its aliquot parts and
their names is, on the one hand, purely conventional, and on the other hand must be accepted as universal
and indispensable within the sphere of circulation, it had to be established by legal means. The purely
formal enactment thus devolved upon the government. [5] Which particular metal served as the material
of money depended on the given social conditions. The standard of price is of course different in
different countries. In England, for example, the ounce as a weight of metal is divided into pennyweights,
grains and carats troy; but the ounce of gold as the unit of money is divided into 3 7/8 sovereigns, the
sovereign into 20 shillings and the shilling into 12 pence, so that 100 pounds of 22-carat gold (1,200
ounces) equal 4,672 sovereigns and 10 shillings. But in the world market, where state frontiers disappear,
such national features of the standards of money disappear as well and are replaced by measures of
weight generally used for metals.
The price of a commodity, or the quantity of gold into which it is nominally converted, is now expressed
therefore in the monetary names of the standard of gold. Thus, instead of saying a quarter of wheat is
worth an ounce of gold, one would say in England it is worth £3 17s. 10/2d. All prices are thus expressed
in the same denomination. The specific form which the exchange-value of commodities assumes is
converted into denominations of money, by which their value is expressed. Money in turn becomes
money of account. [6]
The transformation of commodities into money of account in the mind, on paper or in words takes place
whenever the aspect of exchange-value becomes fixed in a particular type of wealth. [7] This
transformation needs the material of gold, but only in imagination. Not a single atom of real gold is used
to estimate the value of a thousand bales of cotton in terms of a certain number of ounces of gold and
then to express this number of ounces in £. s. d., the names of account of the ounce. For instance, not a
single ounce of gold was in circulation in Scotland before Sir Robert Peel's Bank Act of 1845, although
the ounce of gold, called £3 17s. 10/2d. as the British standard of account, served as the legal standard of
price. Similarly, silver serves as the standard of price in exchange of commodities between Siberia and
China, although this trade is in fact merely barter. It makes no difference, therefore, to gold as money of
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account whether or not its standard unit or its subdivisions are actually coined. During the reign of
William the Conqueror, one pound sterling, at that time a pound of pure silver, and the shilling, 1/20 of a
pound, existed in England only as money of account, while the penny, 1/240 of a pound of silver, was the
largest silver coin in existence. On the other hand, there are no shillings or pence in England today,
although they are legal names of account for definite fractions of an ounce of gold. Money as money of
account may exist only nominally, while actually existing money may be coined according to an entirely
different standard. Thus in many of the English colonies in North America, the money in circulation
consisted of Spanish and Portuguese coins till late in the eighteenth century, whereas the money of
account was everywhere the same as in England. [8]
Because as standard of price gold is expressed by the same names of account as the prices of
commodities -- for example £3 17s. 10/2d. may denote an ounce of gold just as well as a ton of iron --
these names of account are called the mint-price of gold. Thus the queer notion arose that gold is
estimated in its own material and that, unlike all other commodities, its price is fixed by the State. The
establishing of names of account for definite weights of gold was mistaken for the establishing of the
value of these weights. [9] Gold has neither a fixed price nor any price at all, when it is a factor in the
determination of prices and therefore functions as money of account. In order to have a price, in other
words to be expressed in terms of a specific commodity functioning as the universal equivalent, this
other commodity would have to play the same exclusive role in the process of circulation as gold. But
two commodities which exclude all other commodities would exclude each other as well. Consequently,
wherever silver and gold exist side by side as legal money, i.e., as measure of value, the vain attempt has
always been made to treat them as one and the same substance. If one assumes hat a given labour-time is
invariably materialised in the same proportion in silver and gold, then one assumes, in fact, that silver
and gold are the same substance, and that silver, the less valuable metal, represents a constant fraction of
gold. The history of the monetary system in England from the reign of Edward III up to the time of
George II consists of a continuous series of disturbances caused by conflict between the legally
established ratio between the values of gold and silver and the actual fluctuations in their value.
Sometimes the value of gold was too high, sometimes that of silver. The metal whose value was
estimated at too low a rate was withdrawn from circulation, melted down and exported. The value-ratio