This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
To observe further the operation of mixed currency as a standard of value, and its effect, not on trade generally, but on ordinary production, let us take the case of the wheat-grower.
A farmer, we will suppose, has a crop of one thousand bushels of wheat, which he sells at ninety cents per bushel, which is thirty cents more than it would bring under a real-money system. Now, the question — which is of great concern to him, and, if to him, to all producers of all commodities—is, whether he gains or loses by this transaction.
Take a single bushel. He gets ninety cents for it. With that, he purchases six pounds of sugar at fifteen cents. This, he observes, is five cents more than he used to pay for sugar, when his wheat was but sixty cents.* He perceives, that, having paid five cents per pound extra on the sugar, he has just lost all the additional price of thirty cents on the bushel of wheat.
On further reflection, he discovers that he is not so well off as when he sold his wheat at the money price of sixty cents, because it cost him more to raise the wheat. He had to pay more for the labor employed in its production,— equal, say, to five cents per bushel, which, on one thousand
* We here suppose, for simplicity of illustration, that the price of wheat may be enhanced, by mixed-currency expansion, to the extent of fifty per cent; but we shall hereafter show how far agricultural products, in general, are permanently influenced by such a currency bushels, amounts to fifty dollars; and that sum ho will actually lose, although selling his wheat at fifty per cent advance in price.
This transaction of selling one bushel of wheat for six pounds of sugar fairly represents the result of selling the whole crop, and investing the proceeds in other kinds of property; because all commodities have alike risen in price.
But it may be asked, Suppose the farmer paid a debt of nine hundred dollars with the money he obtained for his wheat, has he not gained by the rise in price? If he contracted the debt before the rise, he certainly has made a large gain in the payment of the debt; for, as things were when the debt was contracted, it would have taken fifteen hundred bushels of wheat at sixty cents to pay nine hundred dollars. Here he has gained three hundred dollars, or saved five hundred bushels of wheat, less, be it recollected, the extra expense of fifty dollars in the raising of the crop. His net gain is two hundred and fifty dollars.
But how is it with his creditor? He finds, on re-investing the money in cattle, horses, sheep, ploughs, wagons, and the like, that the nine hundred dollars will purchase but two-thirds as much as when he loaned the money. He has lost three hundred dollars. The farmer promised to pay "dollars ;" but he did not, he only paid the promise of dollars; and these promises were so easily made, became so plenty, proved so cheap, that they were really worth but two-thirds of what they professed to be. This he found when he came to use them in buying articles for his family.
But, to carry the inquiry entirely through, we must ask who gained the fifty dollars the farmer, in the case supposed, lost by the extra cost of labor? The laborer? He was certainly paid an extra price; but he gained no value by it, because all the commodities he purchased with the proceeds of his labor were raised more than his wages, so that he lost more than he gained. The rise in price has, in fact, benefited nobody but the debtor, and him only at the expense of the creditor, who was virtually swindled out of a part of his property. This is the final result, when carefully analyzed, of an expansion of prices through the expansion of the currency.
Every advance in price, occasioned by the depreciation of the currency, is sure to be followed ultimately by a return to the specie standard. Suppose that, during an expansion, a farmer, encouraged by the high price of wheat, purchases land to the amount of nine hundred dollars, in the expectation that he can pay for it with one thousand bushels of wheat, at ninety cents per bushel. A contraction takes place, the price of wheat goes down to sixty cents, and, to pay his note of nine hundred dollars, he must sell fifteen hundred bushels of wheat. He has lost five hundred bushels, just what the debtor, in the other case supposed, gained, less fifty dollars which he will now save in the labor cost of his wheat.
We here see that the effect of raising prices without increasing values is to vitiate all existing contracts to pay money. If the farmer, in the case supposed, had promised to pay so many bushels of wheat, all would have been well; but he promised to pay dollars; and, when the price of wheat was measured by dollars under a contraction, it made the difference stated.
Much misapprehension arises from confounding special and general prices, or the price of an individual article, as distinguished from that of the great mass of commodities. We are told that a variety of considerations enter into and affect prices; viz., demand and supply, cost of production, &c., &c. All this is perfectly true of an individual article, whose price may and does vary from time to time, as compared with other commodities, under the operation of these causes. One article may be very high, while all others are low, or the reverse; but this does not tend to disprove the principle, that general prices are determined by the quantity of the currency. We can take into view all the circumstances which act upon a particular commodity, and by which it is made, for the time being, an exception to the general rule, without disturbing the principle laid down, or casting any doubt upon its operation.