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so many 'pounds' and fractions of pounds. This is falsifying a measure, not establishing a
standard" [pp. 104-05].
10. Earlier editions of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy erroneously gave this figure
as £14,704,000. -- Ed.
11. Money is the measure of commerce...and therefore ought to be kept (as all other measures) as steady
and invariable as may be. But this cannot be, if your money be made of two metals, whose proportion ...
constantly varies in respect of one another" (John Locke, Some Considerations on the Lowering of
Interest, 1691; in his Works, 7th Edition, London, 1768, Vol. II, p.65.
Next: Theories of the Standard of Money
Table of Contents
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Karl Marx's
B. Theories of the Standard of Money
The fact that commodities are only nominally converted in the form of prices into gold and hence gold is
only nominally transformed into money led to the doctrine of the nominal standard of money. Because
only imaginary gold or silver, i.e., gold and silver merely as money of account, is used in the
determination of prices, it was asserted that the terms pound, shilling, pence, thaler, franc, etc., denote
ideal particles of value but not weights of gold or silver or any form of materialised labour. If, for
example, the value of an ounce of silver were to rise, it would contain more of these particles and would
therefore have to be divided or coined into a greater number of shillings. This doctrine, which arose at
the close of the seventeenth century, was again advanced during the last commercial crisis in England
and was even advocated by Members of Parliament in two special reports appended to the 1858 Report
of the Select Committee on the Bank Acts. In England at the time of the accession of William III, the
mint-price of an ounce of silver was 5s. 2d., that is 1/62 of an ounce of silver was called a penny and 12
of these pence were called a shilling. A bar of silver weighing say six ounces would, according to this
standard, be coined into 31 coins which would be called shillings. But whereas the mint-price of an
ounce of silver was 5s. 2d., its market-price rose to 6s. 3d., that is to say in order to buy an ounce of
uncoined silver 6s. 3d. had to be handed over. How was it possible for the market-price of an ounce of
silver to rise above its mint-price, if the mint-price was merely a name of account for fractions of an
ounce of silver? The solution of this riddle was quite simple. Four million of the £5,600,000 of silver
money in circulation at that time were worn out or clipped. A trial showed that £57,200 in silver coins,
whose weight ought to have been 220,000 ounces, weighed only 141,000 ounces. The mint continued to
coin silver pieces according to the same standard, but the lighter shillings which were actually in
circulation represented smaller fractions of an ounce than their name denoted. A larger quantity of these
reduced shillings had consequently to be paid for an ounce of uncoined silver on the market. When,
because of the resulting difficulties, it was decided to recoin all the money, Lowndes, the Secretary to the
Treasury, claimed that the value of an ounce of silver had risen and that in future accordingly 6s. 3d.
would have to be struck from an ounce instead of 5s. 2d. as previously. He thus in effect asserted that,
because the value of an ounce of silver had risen, the value of its aliquot parts had fallen. But his false
theory was merely designed to make a correct practical measure more palatable. The government debts
had been contracted in light shillings, were they to be repaid in coins of standard weight? Instead of
saying pay back 4 ounces of silver for every 5 ounces you received nominally but which contained in fact
only 4 ounces of silver, he said, on the contrary, pay back nominally 5 ounces but reduce their metal
content to 4 ounces and call the amount you hitherto called 4/5 of a shilling a shilling. Lowndes's action,
therefore, was in reality based on the metal content, whereas in theory he stuck to the name of account.
His opponents on the other hand, who simply clung to the name of account and therefore declared that a
shilling of standard weight was identical with a shilling which was 25 to 50 per cent lighter, claimed to
be adhering to the metal content. John Locke, who championed the new bourgeoisie in every way -- he
took the side of the manufacturers against the working classes and the paupers, the merchants against the
old-fashioned usurers, the financial aristocracy against governments that were in debt; he even
demonstrated in a separate work that the bourgeois way of thinking is the normal human way of thinking
Historical Notes on the Analysis of Commodities 
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-- took up Lowndes's challenge. John Locke won the day and money borrowed in guineas containing 10
to 14 shillings was repaid in guineas of 20 shillings. [1] Sir James Steuart gives the following ironical
summary of this operation:
"...the state gained considerably upon the score of taxes, as well as the creditors upon their capitals and
interest; and the nation, which was the principal loser, was pleased, because their standard" (the standard
of their own value) "was not debased." [2]
Steuart believed that in the course of further development of commerce the nation would become wiser.
But he was wrong. Some 120 years later the same quid pro quo was repeated.
Very fittingly it was Bishop Berkeley, the advocate of mystical idealism in English philosophy, who gave
the doctrine of the nominal standard of money a theoretical twist, which the practical Secretary to the
Treasury had omitted to do. Berkeley asks
"Whether the terms Crown, Livre, Pound Sterling, etc., are not to be considered as Exponents or
Denominations of such Proportions?" (i.e., proportions of abstract value as such). "And whether Gold,
Silver, and Paper are not Tickets or Counters for Reckoning, Recording and Transferring thereof?" (of
the proportion of value). "Whether Power to command the Industry" (social labour) "of others be not real
Wealth? And whether Money be not in Truth, Tickets or Tokens for conveying and recording such
Power, and whether it be of great consequence what Materials the Tickets are made of?" [3]
In this passage, the author, on the one hand, confuses the measure of value with the standard of price, and
on the other he confuses gold or silver as measure of value and as means of circulation. Because tokens
can be substituted for precious metals in the sphere of circulation, Berkeley concludes that these tokens
in their turn represent nothing, i.e., the abstract concept of value.
The theory of the nominal standard of money was so fully elaborated by Sir James Steuart, that his
followers -- they are not aware of being followers since they do not know him -- can find neither a new
expression nor even a new example. He writes:
"Money, which I call of account, is no more than an arbitrary scale of equal parts, invented for measuring
the respective value of things vendible. Money of account, therefore, is quite a different thing from
money-coin, which is price [Here, as in the works of seventeenth-century English economists, price is
used in the sense of a concrete equivalent -- note by Marx.] and might exist, although there was no such
thing in the world as any substance which could become an adequate and proportional equivalent, for
every commodity.... Money of account ... performs the same office with regard to the value of things,
that degrees, minutes, seconds, etc., do with regard to angles, or as scales do to geographical maps, or to
plans of any kind. In all these inventions, there is constantly