Nearly twenty years ago, I reached the finals of a karate tournament. It was the third and final point-fighting tournament of my brief career and the first one in which I wasn’t ejected in the first match for “excessive contact”. (I never liked point-fighting, which is essentially a version of tag.) My opponent in the final was a good friend from my dojo, a sort of pocket Hercules who could do six reps at 275 and whose nickname was Terminator.
Our sensei encouraged the referee to let things go for once, we both fully unleashed on the other, but after the scheduled two minutes was up and the score was only 2-2, the referee turned to our sensei before the overtime and said “do these guys fight each other every day or something?” No matter how fast and hard we threw our kicks and punches, it was very hard to penetrate the other’s defenses because we both knew perfectly well what the other guy was intending.
In like manner, because Nate and I are both familiar, and more or less in accordance, with Austrian School economics, a lot of this debate is likely to strike readers less familiar with it as pointless. But rest assured, it is not. It is precisely because the windows of opportunity are going to be small that an amount of testing and probing for weakness is going to be required. Also, as a long-time reader of this blog, Nate is very familiar with my approach to critical discourse and is going to be exceedingly wary of the various traps I habitually lay for my interlocutors. So, be patient and try to resist the urge to try to leap ahead, because this is not going to proceed immediately to the superficially obvious chasm, which is the different opinions concerning debt, that separates us.
In his first response, Nate indicated his acceptance of the monetary tradition of Turgot with two critical addenda. He writes:
Note that nowhere in either of Vox’s proposed definitions do we find this critical factor. Turgot omits it. Law omits it. Mises, Rothbard, Salerno.. and pretty much every other Austrian has agreed that the key factor of money is the fact that it completes a transaction. Completing a transaction is the one thing that money does, that nothing else does. In the interest of charity and goodwill… I will suggest that Turgot’s characteristics of money are all fine with me… provided that we remember that the value supposedly stored by the money is subjective, and, we add the requirement that I have hitherto beaten into the ground. It must serve to complete the transaction.
I have no objection to either addendum and am content to accept it as a reasonable definition of money for the moment, although I reserve the right to propose alternative definitions should this definition prove to be insufficient in the course of the debate. So, this leaves us with the following characteristics of money:
- A medium of exchange
- A unit of expression
- An object of commerce i.e. an exchangeable good
- A tool of economic calculation
- An intrinsic store of subjective value
- A completer of transactions
Before I proceed further, I must first explicitly answer the question Nate posed to me:
Lots of things store value. Lots of things can be used to estimate value. Lots of things can be employed to aid in an exchange. Money does all of those things. But money is the only thing that does all of those things, and completes an exchange without creating a need for another transaction. True or false?
Again, for the sake of argument and in the interest of charity and goodwill, I can only answer one way: true. Armed as we now are with this expanded definition of money, we can proceed to begin considering the question of the money supply. In doing so, I would recall to Nate the following two statements by Mises, with which we already know, from his previous post, he is almost surely familiar.
“We may give the name of commodity money to that sort of money that is at the same time a commercial commodity; and that of fiat money to money that comprises things with a special legal qualification. A third category may be called credit money, this being that sort of money which constitutes a claim against any physical or legal person. But these claims must not be both payable on demand and absolutely secure; if they were, there could be no difference between their value and that of the sum of money to which they referred, and they could not be subjected to an independent process of valuation on the part of those who dealt with them.”
– Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit, p. 61
“The nominalists assert that the monetary unit, in modem countries at any rate, is not a concrete commodity unit that can be defined in suitable technical terms, but a nominal quantity of value about which nothing can be said except that it is created by law. Without touching upon the vague and nebulous nature of this phraseology, which will not sustain a moment’s criticism from the point of view of the theory of value, let us simply ask: What, then, were the mark, the franc, and the pound, before 1914? Obviously, they were nothing but certain weights of gold.”
– Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit, p. 66
The same, of course, is true of the thaler, or dollar, of which the U.S. version is 24.057 grams of silver. This, naturally, leads me to conclude with the following questions, to which I should like to see Nate’s answers:
- Are gold and silver commodity money?
- Are the Federal Reserve Notes, in both cash and deposit form, commodity money or fiat money?
- Does TMS2 represent your definition of the money supply?
- What are the various components of TMS2, commodity money, fiat money, or some combination therein?