Monetary Progress

(From the entry on "Money," by Charles Francis Bastable, in the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica):

The very large number of the autonomous cities of Greece, which possessed the right of issuing money, was the cause of the competition between different currencies, each having legal tender power only within its own city. In its practical outcome this "free coinage" system proved beneficial, for it compelled the maintenance of the true standard in order to gain wider circulation. With the establishment of larger states the control over the issue of money grew more stringent. In the later Roman Empire the right of coining was reserved to the emperor exclusively. …

A long course of debasement is the characteristic aspect of the [imperial Roman] currency system. "Under the empire," we are told, "the history of silver coinage is one of melancholy debasement. The most extensive frauds in connexion with money were perpetuated by the Romans." The gold aureas, which in the time of Augustus was one forty-fifth of a pound, was under Constantine only one seventy-second of a pound. The alloy in the silver coins gradually rose to three-fourths of the weight. Plated coins came into extensive use. The practice of debasement was in accordance with the theories of the jurists, who seem to have regarded money as simply the creature of the state.

3 comments

  1. Thanks, George,
    But these were Greek cities after all, where democracy at least was presented as a construct for social betterment, but this 'local money solution' was also true elsewhere – as far as any truly 'autonomous' region goes.

    Autonomy in money is the follow on power to sovereignty in money.
    Our nation and our government have minimally 'demurred' to the world's rich and powerful, money-creating private elites. Funny that you blame the government for anything less than that.

    Seems likely that this coming monetary crisis will re-cause the emergence of 'city-money' to carry the day for the local, but real, economy. Meanwhile The Restofus ( you and I ) can argue over the correct construct for our national currency.

    The Money Apprentice

    1. Sparta was a monarchy. Corinth and Thebes were oligarchies. Democratic Athens was often quite tyrannical with its citizens and as war-like as any other Greek city state. (Indeed, its example was an argument against democracy to our Founding Fathers.) All had slavery. So nothing exceptional about Greek government that would take away from the example.

  2. This is history lesson demonstrates competing “currencies” (distinct brands of coin denominated by their makers in units of weight of silver) of a single “money” (silver by weight), as opposed to multiple competing moneys, being effective in maintaining the integrity of the market’s monetary system.

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