This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
Neither is it an arbitrary act on the part of the government. It is purely a favor, an accommodation, provided at great cost, for the benefit of the public. All objections, on the ground that it is arbitrary and unjust to compel men to discharge indebtedness in coin, are idle and absurd. Those who make them are bound to show, what has never yet been found, a better standard.
During the suspension of the Bank of England from 1796 to 1819, it was gravely argued, by some gentlemen in the House of Commons, that " the pound sterling was really an abstraction;" but the return to specie payments in the latter year showed that the pound sterling was really a concretion of 113.001 grains of fine gold, by which all debts, public and private, were to be discharged.
A mixed currency, wherever it exists, forms the standard of value for the community, just as certainly as the precious metals where they alone are used. That of the United States, to be sure, is not a legal tender,* like the Bank-of-England notes; but, as no other currency exists, as there is no other money of importance in circulation, it must be employed for all purposes, and so, to all practical intents, is the standard of value.
We are now prepared to inquire how a mixed currency performs this function.
We have seen its fluctuations, certain to occur, yet wholly uncertain as to direction and degree. These fluctuations make it plain enough, that, as a standard of value, a mixed currency must work injustice and mischief, both in expansion and contraction. Destructive as are the great occasional convulsions of trade, it is doubtful whether they produce as extensive evil as those minor disturbances which come every year, and, indeed, affect the entire transactions of the people. Arithmetic will hardly suffice to compute losses on a scale of such magnitude. Every bargain, in an, industry of three thousand millions a year, is more or less vitiated by a harsh and unnatural change, one way or the other, of the currency.
* This whole discussion supposes this currency in the state it occupied before the war of the Rebellion.
In the mildest form of such a currency, fluctuations to the extent of fifteen per cent arc shown by our diagrams to be as commonplace as yearly occurrence can make them. If the yardstick were stretched to 42 inches one year, and shrunk to 30 another, or both should happen the same year, without any possibility of anticipating the change, or any public proclamation of it, that fact would influence manufactures, and every branch of production, greatly; would not only cause injustice to individuals, buyers and sellers, but would have a bearing on the trade and public prosperity; would influence investments, and affect labor no less.
Yet, under the fluctuations of a mixed currency, buyers and sellers of all classes experience injustice as great and as distressing as would result to the dealers in cloth from the falsification of the yardstick. If the great changes are destructive, the more ordinary are constantly embarrassing. Arbitrary interference with currency produces mischief and injustice, just so far as it operates at all. The quantity cannot be artificially increased or diminished, but some one is wronged; either he who relied on obtaining it at ordinary rates to discharge his obligation, or he who trusted to get quite another value from what he does.
Enormous transfers of property take place under this system, without any desert in the party who receives what is another's, and without any fault in the party who gives up what is his own. This it is which makes business a very complicated kind of gambling. This it is which tosses up or pulls down prices enough to ruin the merchant and manufacturer or make their fortunes, while their goods are in their hands, before they can be turned.
Not to insist here that injustice between the parts is injury to the whole, or to dwell on the claims of public morals, if we turn to that large class especially entitled to social and governmental care and consideration, who put out money at interest or invest in stocks, or rely on permanent salaries or wages for support, we shall here find a mischief without relief, a wrong without a remedy. These receive no appreciable benefit from any of the changes of a mixed currency, but all its evils fall heavy and unbroken upon them.
This matter is so near our daily observation as scarcely to need enforcement, so plain as to be scarcely susceptible of illustration. The sad effects of such a currency are strongly set forth in the following extract from an article in the " North-American Review" of January, 1840, understood to have been written by one who has been long and intimately connected with the banking institutions of Massachusetts : —
" It is the standing reproach of our commercial life, that it involves more intellectual suffering from violent fluctuations than any other pursuit. With all our recuperative powers, there is a vast waste of life amongst us as a people, growing out of our financial disasters. Witness the fact, stated to be derived from accurate statistics, that, among one hundred merchants or traders, not over three ever acquire independence. Add to this the other fact, also deduced from trustworthy records, that commercial and financial revolutions produce excessive mortality amongst business men in maritime cities. Here we have the cause and effect. Meanwhile we have statistical data of the still severer calamities to widows and orphans."