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Wealth of Nations: Book 1, Chapter 5

tseka
Posts: 2
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12/28/2012 10:00:21 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Can someone interpret the currency value comparisons for me?

I enjoy reading this book but grow frustrated every time Smith whips out the numbers

In the English mint, a pound weight of standard silver bullion is coined into sixty-two
shillings, containing, in the same manner, a pound weight of standard silver. Five shillings and twopence an ounce, therefore, is said to be the mint price of silver in England, or the quantity of silver coin which the mint gives in return for standard silver bullion. Before the reformation of the gold coin, the market price of standard silver bullion was, upon different occasions, five shillings and fourpence, five shillings and fivepence, five shillings and sixpence, five shillings and sevenpence, and very often five shillings and eightpence an ounce. Five shillings and sevenpence, however, seems to have been the most common price. Since the reformation of the gold coin, the market price of standard silver bullion has fallen occasionally to five shillings and threepence, five shillings and fourpence, and five shillings and fivepence an ounce, which last price it has scarce ever exceeded. Though the market price of silver bullion has fallen considerably since the reformation of the gold coin, it has not fallen so low as the mint price. In the proportion between the different metals in the English coin, as copper is rated very much above its real value, so silver is rated somewhat below it. In the market of Europe, in the
French coin and in the Dutch coin, an ounce of fine gold exchanges for about fourteen ounces of fine silver. In the English coin, it exchanges for about fifteen ounces, that is, for more silver than it is worth, according to the common estimation of Europe. But as the price of copper in bars is not, even in England, raised by the high price of copper in English coin, so the price of silver in bullion is not sunk by the low rate of silver in English coin. Silver in bullion still preserves its proper proportion to gold, for the same reason that copper in bars preserves its proper proportion to silver. Upon the reformation of the silver coin, in the reign of William III., the price of silver bullion still continued to be somewhat above the mint price. Mr Locke imputed this high price to the permission of exporting silver bullion, and to the prohibition of exporting silver coin. This permission of exporting, he said, rendered the demand for silver bullion greater than the demand for silver coin. But the number of people who want silver coin for the common uses of buying and selling at home, is surely much greater than that of those who want silver bullion either for the use of exportation or for any other use. There subsists at present a like
permission of exporting gold bullion, and a like prohibition of exporting gold coin; and yet the price of gold bullion has fallen below the mint price. But in the English coin, silver was then, in the same manner as now, under-rated in proportion to gold; and the gold coin (which at that time, too, was not supposed to require any reformation) regulated then, as well as now, the real value of the whole coin. As the reformation of the silver coin did not then reduce the price of silver bullion to the mint price, it is not very probable that a like reformation will do so now.

Were the silver coin brought back as near to its standard weight as the gold, a guinea, it is
probable, would, according to the present proportion, exchange for more silver in coin than it
would purchase in bullion. The silver coin containing its full standard weight, there would in
this case, be a profit in melting it down, in order, first to sell the bullion for gold coin, and
afterwards to exchange this gold coin for silver coin, to be melted down in the same manner.
Some alteration in the present proportion seems to be the only method of preventing this
inconveniency.

The inconveniency, perhaps, would be less, if silver was rated in the coin as much above its
proper proportion to gold as it is at present rated below it, provided it was at the same time
enacted, that silver should not be a legal tender for more than the change of a guinea, in the
same manner as copper is not a legal tender for more than the change of a shilling. No creditor
could, in this case, be cheated in consequence of the high valuation of silver in coin ; as no
creditor can at present be cheated in consequence of the high valuation of copper. The bankers
only would suffer by this regulation. When a run comes upon them, they sometimes
endeavour to gain time, by paying in sixpences, and they would be precluded by this
regulation from this discreditable method of evading immediate payment.They would be
obliged, in consequence, to keep at all times in their coffers a greater quantity of cash than at
present ; and though this might, no doubt, be a considerable inconveniency to them, it would,
at the same time, be a considerable security to their creditors.

Three pounds seventeen shillings and tenpence halfpenny (the mint price of gold) certainly
does not contain, even in our present excellent gold coin, more than an ounce of standard
gold, and it may be thought, therefore, should not purchase more standard bullion. But gold in
coin is more convenient than gold in bullion ; and though, in England, the coinage is free, yet
the gold which is carried in bullion to the mint, can seldom be returned in coin to the owner
till after a delay of several weeks. In the present hurry of the mint, it could not be returned till
after a delay of several months. This delay is equivalent to a small duty, and renders gold in
coin somewhat more valuable than an equal quantity of gold in bullion. If, in the English coin,
silver was rated according to its proper proportion to gold, the price of silver bullion would
probably fall below the mint price, even without any reformation of the silver coin ; the value
even of the present worn and defaced silver coin being regulated by the value of the excellent
gold coin for which it can be changed.

A small seignorage or duty upon the coinage of both gold and silver, would probably increase
still more the superiority of those metals in coin above an equal quantity of either of them in
bullion. The coinage would, in this case, increase the value of the metal coined in
proportion to the extent of this small duty, for the same reason that the fashion increases the
value of plate in proportion to the price of that fashion. The superiority of coin above bullion
would prevent the melting down of the coin, and would discourage its exportation. If, upon
any public exigency, it should become necessary to export the coin, the greater part of it
would soon return again, of its own accord. Abroad, it could sell only for its weight in bullion.
At home, it would buy more than that weight. There would be a profit, therefore, in bringing it
home again. In France, a seignorage of about eight per cent. is imposed upon the coinage, and
the French coin, when exported, is said to return home again, of its own accord.

The occasional fluctuations in the market price of gold and silver bullion arise from the same
causes as the like fluctuations in that of all other commodities. The frequent loss of those
metals from various accidents by sea and by land, the continual waste of them in gilding and
plating, in lace and embroidery, in the wear and tear of coin, and in that of plate, require, in all
countries which possess no mines of their own, a continual importation, in order to repair this
loss and this waste. The merchant importers, like all other merchants, we may believe,
endeavour, as well as they can, to suit their occasional importations to what they judge is
likely to be the immediate demand. With all their attention, however, they sometimes overdo
the business, and sometimes underdo it.

....cont. on next post
darkkermit
Posts: 11,204
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12/28/2012 10:01:55 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
i'm going to save you the trouble, and tell you nobody is going to help you out, and unlikely to read your post.
Open borders debate:
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tseka
Posts: 2
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12/28/2012 10:03:00 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
The occasional fluctuations in the market price of gold and silver bullion arise from the same
causes as the like fluctuations in that of all other commodities. The frequent loss of those
metals from various accidents by sea and by land, the continual waste of them in gilding and
plating, in lace and embroidery, in the wear and tear of coin, and in that of plate, require, in all
countries which possess no mines of their own, a continual importation, in order to repair this
loss and this waste. The merchant importers, like all other merchants, we may believe,
endeavour, as well as they can, to suit their occasional importations to what they judge is
likely to be the immediate demand. With all their attention, however, they sometimes overdo
the business, and sometimes underdo it. When they import more bullion than is wanted, rather
than incur the risk and trouble of exporting it again, they are sometimes willing to sell a part
of it for something less than the ordinary or average price. When, on the other hand, they
import less than is wanted, they get something more than this price. But when, under all those
occasional fluctuations, the market price either of gold or silver bullion continues for several
years together steadily and constantly, either more or less above, or more or less below the
mint price, we may be assured that this steady and constant, either superiority or inferiority of
price, is the effect of something in the state of the coin, which, at that time, renders a certain
quantity of coin either of more value or of less value than the precise quantity of bullion
which it ought to contain. The constancy and steadiness of the effect supposes a
proportionable constancy and steadiness in the cause.

The money of any particular country is, at any particular time and place, more or less an
accurate measure or value, according as the current coin is more or less exactly agreeable to
its standard, or contains more or less exactly the precise quantity of pure gold or pure silver
which it ought to contain. If in England, for example, forty-four guineas and a half contained
exactly a pound weight of standard gold, or eleven ounces of fine gold, and one ounce of
alloy, the gold coin of England would be as accurate a measure of the actual value of goods at
any particular time and place as the nature of the thing would admit. But if, by rubbing and
wearing, forty-four guineas and a half generally contain less than a pound weight of standard
gold, the diminution, however, being greater in some pieces than in others, the measure of
value comes to be liable to the same sort of uncertainty to which all other weights and
measures are commonly exposed. As it rarely happens that these are exactly agreeable to their
standard, the merchant adjusts the price of his goods as well as he can, not to what those
weights and measures ought to be, but to what, upon an average, he finds, by experience, they
actually are. In consequence of a like disorder in the coin, the price of goods comes, in the
same manner, to be adjusted, not to the quantity of pure gold or silver which the coin ought to
contain, but to that which, upon an average, it is found, by experience, it actually does
contain.

By the money price of goods, it is to be observed, I understand always the quantity of pure
gold or silver for which they are sold, without any regard to the denomination of the coin. Six
shillings and eight pence, for example, in the time of Edward I., I consider as the same money
price with a pound sterling in the present times, because it contained, as nearly as we can
judge, the same quantity of pure silver.
Danielle
Posts: 21,330
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12/29/2012 1:15:09 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 12/29/2012 1:01:44 PM, darkkermit wrote:
i warned you and you wasted your time typing w/ no help in return.

That's because most of the self-professed capitalists on this site don't know how to reason on their own, or discuss economics via analytical thought they can't copy and paste from mises.org. They also don't do well without strength in numbers. Granted, some can, but I don't see why this thread hasn't been responded to. Many people here have claimed to read Smith, and even if they haven't, why not try to read this little snippet? It's about the gold standard which if I'm not mistaken many people on this site are in favor of. I'm betting someone takes the lead and gives a watered down TLDR explanation (which wouldn't be the worst thing) and others will respond to the poster above, but not read the actual text. I wish the OP luck lol
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