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K. Marx_Contribution_to_the_Critique_of_Political_Economy

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some denomination taken for the unit.... The
usefulness of all these inventions being solely confined to the marking of proportion. Just so the unit in
money can have no invariable determinate proportion to any part of value, that is to say it cannot be fixed
to any particular quantity of gold, silver, or any other commodity whatsoever. The unit once fixed, we
can, by multiplying it, ascend to the greatest value.... The value of commodities, therefore, depending
upon a general combination of circumstances relative to themselves and to the fancies of men, their value
ought to be considered as changing only with respect to one another; consequently, anything which
troubles or perplexes the ascertaining those changes of proportion by the means of a general, determinate
and invariable scale, must be hurtful to trade.... Money ... is an ideal scale of equal parts. If it be
demanded what ought to be the standard value of one part? I answer by putting another question: What is
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the standard length of a degree, a minute, a second? It has none ... but so soon as one part becomes
determined by the nature of a scale, all the rest must follow in proportion. Of this kind of money ... we
have two examples. The bank of Amsterdam presents us with the one, the coast of Angola with the
other." [4]
Steuart simply considers money as it appears in the sphere of circulation, i.e., as standard of price and as
money of account. If different commodities are quoted at 15s., 20s. and 36s. respectively in a price list,
then in a comparison of their value both the silver content of the shilling and its name are indeed quite
irrelevant. Everything is now expressed in the numerical relations of 15, 20 and 36, and the numeral one
has become the sole unit of measure. The purely abstract expression of a proportion is after all only the
abstract numerical proportion. In order to be consistent, Steuart therefore had to abandon not only gold
and silver but also their legal designations. But since he does not understand how the measure of value is
transformed into the standard of price, he naturally thinks that the particular quantity of gold which
serves as a unit of measure is, as a measure, related to values as such, and not to other quantities of gold.
Because commodities appear to be magnitudes of the same denomination as a result of the conversion of
their exchange-values into prices, Steuart denies the existence of the characteristic feature of the measure
which reduces commodities to the same denomination, and since in this comparison of different
quantities of gold the quantity of gold which serves as a standard is conventionally established, he denies
that it must be established at all. Instead of calling a 360th part of a circle a degree, he might call a 180th
part a degree; the right angle would then measure not 90 degrees but 45, and the measurements of acute
and obtuse angles would change correspondingly. Nevertheless, the measure of the angle would remain
firstly a qualitatively determined mathematical figure, the circle, and secondly a quantitatively
determined section of the circle. As for Steuart's economic examples one of these disproves his own
assertions, the other proves nothing at all. The money of the Bank of Amsterdam was in fact only the
name of account for Spanish doubloons, which retained their standard weight because they lay idle in the
vaults of the bank, while the coins which busily circulated lost weight as a result of intensive friction
with their environment. As for the African idealists, we must leave them to their fate until reliable
accounts of travellers provide further information about them. [5] One might say that the French assignat
-- "National property, Assignment of 100 francs" -- is nearly ideal money in Steuart's sense. The
use-value which the assignat was supposed to represent, i.e., confiscated land, was indeed specified, but
the quantitative definition of the unit of measure had been omitted, and "franc" was therefore a
meaningless word. How much or little land this franc represented depended on the outcome of public
auctions. But in practice the assignat circulated as a token representing silver money, and its depreciation
was consequently measured in terms of this silver standard.
The period when the Bank of England suspended cash payments was hardly more prolific of war
bulletins than of monetary theories. The depreciation of bank-notes and the rise of the market-price of
gold above its mint-price caused some defenders of the Bank to revive the doctrine of the ideal measure
of money. Lord Castlereagh found the classically confused expression for this confused notion when he
declared that the standard of money is "a sense of value in reference to currency as compared with
commodities". A few years after the Treaty of Paris when the situation permitted the resumption of cash
payments, the problem which Lowndes had broached during the reign of William III arose again in
practically the same form. A huge national debt and a mass of private debts, fixed obligations, etc., which
had accumulated in the course of over 20 years, were incurred in depreciated bank-notes. Should they be
repaid in bank-notes £4,672 10s. of which represented, not in name but in fact, 100 lbs. of 22-carat gold?
Thomas Attwood, a Birmingham banker, acted like a resurrected Lowndes. He advocated that as many
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shillings should be returned to the creditors as they had nominally lent, but whereas according to the old
monetary standard, say, 1/78 of an ounce of gold was known as a shilling, now perhaps 1/90 of an ounce
should be called a shilling. Attwood's supporters are known as the Birmingham school of "little shilling
men". The quarrel about the ideal standard of money, which began in 1819, was still carried on in 1845
by Sir Robert Peel and Attwood, whose wisdom in so far as it concerns the function of money as a
measure is fully summarised in the following quotation:
During "the recent discussion between Sir Robert Peel and the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce....
The Minister was quite satisfied with asking the question, 'What will your pound note represent?' ....What
is to be understood by the present standard of value? Is £3 17s. 10 1/2d. an ounce of gold, or is it only of
the value of an ounce of gold? If £3 17s. 10 1/2d. be an ounce of gold, why not call things by their proper
names, and, dropping the terms pounds, shillings and pence, say ounces, penny-weights and grains?... If
we adopt the terms ounces, pennyweights and grains of gold, as our monetary system, we should pursue
a direct system of barter.... But if gold be estimated as of the value of £3 17s. 10 1/2d. per ounce ... how
is this ... that much difficulty has been experienced at different periods to check gold from rising to £5 4s.
per ounce, and we now notice that gold is quoted at £3 17s. 9d. per ounce?... The expression pound has
reference to value, but not a fixed standard value.... The term pound is the ideal unit.... Labour is the
parent of cost and gives the relative value to gold or iron. Whatever denomination of words are used to
express the daily or weekly labour of a man, such words express the cost of the commodity produced."
The hazy notion about the ideal measure of money fades away in the last words and its real mental
content becomes clear. Pound, shilling, etc., the names of account of gold, are said to be names
representing definite quantities of labour-time. Since labour-time is the substance and the inherent
measure of value, the names thus indeed express the value relations themselves. In other words it is
asserted that labour-time is the real standard of money. Here we leave the Birmingham school and
merely note in passing