home | authors | books | about

Home -> Adam Smith -> An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations -> Chapter 4

An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations - Chapter 4

1. Introduction And Plan Of The Work

2. Book 1, Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 8 continue

11. Chapter 9

12. Chapter 10

13. Chapter 10 continue

14. Chapter 11

15. Chapter 11 continue

16. Chapter 11 continue.

17. Chapter 11 continue..

18. Chapter 11 continue...

19. Conclusion of the Chapter 11

20. Book 2 Introduction

21. Chapter 1

22. Chapter II

23. Chapter II continue

24. Chapter II continue

25. Chapter 3

26. Chapter 4

27. Chapter 5

28. Book 3, Chapter 1

29. Chapter 2

30. Chapter 3

31. Chapter 4

32. Book 4, Chapter 1

33. Chapter 1 continue

34. Chapter 2

35. Chapter 3, Part 1

36. Chapter 3, Part 2

37. Chapter 4

38. Chapter 5

39. Chapter 5 continue

40. Chapter 6

41. Chapter 7, Part 1

42. Chapter 7, Part 2

43. Chapter 7, Part 3

44. Chapter 7, Part 3 continue

45. Chapter 8

46. Chapter 9

47. Book 5, Chapter 1, Part 1

48. Chapter 1, Part 2

49. Chapter 1, Part 3

50. Chapter 1, Part 3 continue

51. Chapter 1, Part 3 continue B

52. Chapter 1, Part 4

53. Chapter 2, Part 1

54. Chapter 2, Part 2

55. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue

56. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue B

57. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue C

58. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue D

59. Chapter 3

60. Chapter 3 continue

Chapter IV. Of The Origin And Use Of Money.

When the division of labour has been once thoroughly established, it
is but a very small part of a man's wants which the produce of his
own labour can supply. He supplies the far greater part of them by
exchanging that surplus part of the produce of his own labour, which
is over and above his own consumption, for such parts of the produce
of other men's labour as he has occasion for. Every man thus lives by
exchanging, or becomes, in some measure, a merchant, and the society
itself grows to be what is properly a commercial society.

But when the division of labour first began to take place, this power of
exchanging must frequently have been very much clogged and embarrassed
in its operations. One man, we shall suppose, has more of a certain
commodity than he himself has occasion for, while another has less. The
former, consequently, would be glad to dispose of; and the latter to
purchase, a part of this superfluity. But if this latter should chance
to have nothing that the former stands in need of, no exchange can be
made between them. The butcher has more meat in his shop than he himself
can consume, and the brewer and the baker would each of them be willing
to purchase a part of it. But they have nothing to offer in exchange,
except the different productions of their respective trades, and the
butcher is already provided with all the bread and beer which he has
immediate occasion for. No exchange can, in this case, be made between
them. He cannot be their merchant, nor they his customers; and they are
all of them thus mutually less serviceable to one another. In order to
avoid the inconveniency of such situations, every prudent man in every
period of society, after the first establishment of the division of
labour, must naturally have endeavoured to manage his affairs in such a
manner, as to have at all times by him, besides the peculiar produce
of his own industry, a certain quantity of some one commodity or other,
such as he imagined few people would be likely to refuse in exchange
for the produce of their industry. Many different commodities, it
is probable, were successively both thought of and employed for this
purpose. In the rude ages of society, cattle are said to have been the
common instrument of commerce; and, though they must have been a most
inconvenient one, yet, in old times, we find things were frequently
valued according to the number of cattle which had been given in
exchange for them. The armour of Diomede, says Homer, cost only nine
oxen; but that of Glaucus cost a hundred oxen. Salt is said to be the
common instrument of commerce and exchanges in Abyssinia; a species of
shells in some parts of the coast of India; dried cod at Newfoundland;
tobacco in Virginia; sugar in some of our West India colonies; hides
or dressed leather in some other countries; and there is at this day a
village In Scotland, where it is not uncommon, I am told, for a workman
to carry nails instead of money to the baker's shop or the ale-house.

In all countries, however, men seem at last to have been determined by
irresistible reasons to give the preference, for this employment, to
metals above every other commodity. Metals can not only be kept with
as little loss as any other commodity, scarce any thing being less
perishable than they are, but they can likewise, without any loss, be
divided into any number of parts, as by fusion those parts can easily
be re-united again; a quality which no other equally durable commodities
possess, and which, more than any other quality, renders them fit to be
the instruments of commerce and circulation. The man who wanted to buy
salt, for example, and had nothing but cattle to give in exchange for
it, must have been obliged to buy salt to the value of a whole ox, or a
whole sheep, at a time. He could seldom buy less than this, because what
he was to give for it could seldom be divided without loss; and if he
had a mind to buy more, he must, for the same reasons, have been obliged
to buy double or triple the quantity, the value, to wit, of two or three
oxen, or of two or three sheep. If, on the contrary, instead of sheep
or oxen, he had metals to give in exchange for it, he could easily
proportion the quantity of the metal to the precise quantity of the
commodity which he had immediate occasion for.

Different metals have been made use of by different nations for this
purpose. Iron was the common instrument of commerce among the ancient
Spartans, copper among the ancient Romans, and gold and silver among all
rich and commercial nations.

Those metals seem originally to have been made use of for this purpose
in rude bars, without any stamp or coinage. Thus we are told by Pliny
(Plin. Hist Nat. lib. 33, cap. 3), upon the authority of Timaeus, an
ancient historian, that, till the time of Servius Tullius, the Romans
had no coined money, but made use of unstamped bars of copper, to
purchase whatever they had occasion for. These rude bars, therefore,
performed at this time the function of money.

The use of metals in this rude state was attended with two very
considerable inconveniences; first, with the trouble of weighing, and
secondly, with that of assaying them. In the precious metals, where a
small difference in the quantity makes a great difference in the value,
even the business of weighing, with proper exactness, requires at least
very accurate weights and scales. The weighing of gold, in particular,
is an operation of some nicety In the coarser metals, indeed, where
a small error would be of little consequence, less accuracy would, no
doubt, be necessary. Yet we should find it excessively troublesome if
every time a poor man had occasion either to buy or sell a farthing's
worth of goods, he was obliged to weigh the farthing. The operation of
assaying is still more difficult, still more tedious; and, unless a part
of the metal is fairly melted in the crucible, with proper dissolvents,
any conclusion that can be drawn from it is extremely uncertain. Before
the institution of coined money, however, unless they went through this
tedious and difficult operation, people must always have been liable to
the grossest frauds and impositions; and instead of a pound weight of
pure silver, or pure copper, might receive, in exchange for their goods,
an adulterated composition of the coarsest and cheapest materials, which
had, however, in their outward appearance, been made to resemble those
metals. To prevent such abuses, to facilitate exchanges, and thereby
to encourage all sorts of industry and commerce, it has been found
necessary, in all countries that have made any considerable advances
towards improvement, to affix a public stamp upon certain quantities of
such particular metals, as were in those countries commonly made use of
to purchase goods. Hence the origin of coined money, and of those public
offices called mints; institutions exactly of the same nature with those
of the aulnagers and stamp-masters of woollen and linen cloth. All of
them are equally meant to ascertain, by means of a public stamp, the
quantity and uniform goodness of those different commodities when
brought to market.

The first public stamps of this kind that were affixed to the current
metals, seem in many cases to have been intended to ascertain, what it
was both most difficult and most important to ascertain, the goodness or
fineness of the metal, and to have resembled the sterling mark which
is at present affixed to plate and bars of silver, or the Spanish mark
which is sometimes affixed to ingots of gold, and which, being struck
only upon one side of the piece, and not covering the whole surface,
ascertains the fineness, but not the weight of the metal. Abraham weighs
to Ephron the four hundred shekels of silver which he had agreed to pay
for the field of Machpelah. They are said, however, to be the current
money of the merchant, and yet are received by weight, and not by tale,
in the same manner as ingots of gold and bars of silver are at present.
The revenues of the ancient Saxon kings of England are said to have been
paid, not in money, but in kind, that is, in victuals and provisions of
all sorts. William the Conqueror introduced the custom of paying them
in money. This money, however, was for a long time, received at the
exchequer, by weight, and not by tale.

The inconveniency and difficulty of weighing those metals with
exactness, gave occasion to the institution of coins, of which the
stamp, covering entirely both sides of the piece, and sometimes the
edges too, was supposed to ascertain not only the fineness, but the
weight of the metal. Such coins, therefore, were received by tale, as at
present, without the trouble of weighing.

The denominations of those coins seem originally to have expressed the
weight or quantity of metal contained in them. In the time of Servius
Tullius, who first coined money at Rome, the Roman as or pondo contained
a Roman pound of good copper. It was divided, in the same manner as our
Troyes pound, into twelve ounces, each of which contained a real ounce
of good copper. The English pound sterling, in the time of Edward I.
contained a pound, Tower weight, of silver of a known fineness. The
Tower pound seems to have been something more than the Roman pound, and
something less than the Troyes pound. This last was not introduced into
the mint of England till the 18th of Henry the VIII. The French livre
contained, in the time of Charlemagne, a pound, Troyes weight, of silver
of a known fineness. The fair of Troyes in Champaign was at that time
frequented by all the nations of Europe, and the weights and measures
of so famous a market were generally known and esteemed. The Scots money
pound contained, from the time of Alexander the First to that of Robert
Bruce, a pound of silver of the same weight and fineness with the
English pound sterling. English, French, and Scots pennies, too,
contained all of them originally a real penny-weight of silver, the
twentieth part of an ounce, and the two hundred-and-fortieth part of a
pound. The shilling, too, seems originally to have been the denomination
of a weight. "When wheat is at twelve shillings the quarter," says an
ancient statute of Henry III. "then wastel bread of a farthing shall
weigh eleven shillings and fourpence". The proportion, however, between
the shilling, and either the penny on the one hand, or the pound on the
other, seems not to have been so constant and uniform as that between
the penny and the pound. During the first race of the kings of France,
the French sou or shilling appears upon different occasions to have
contained five, twelve, twenty, and forty pennies. Among the ancient
Saxons, a shilling appears at one time to have contained only five
pennies, and it is not improbable that it may have been as variable
among them as among their neighbours, the ancient Franks. From the time
of Charlemagne among the French, and from that of William the Conqueror
among the English, the proportion between the pound, the shilling, and
the penny, seems to have been uniformly the same as at present, though
the value of each has been very different; for in every country of the
world, I believe, the avarice and injustice of princes and sovereign
states, abusing the confidence of their subjects, have by degrees
diminished the real quantity of metal, which had been originally
contained in their coins. The Roman as, in the latter ages of the
republic, was reduced to the twenty-fourth part of its original value,
and, instead of weighing a pound, came to weigh only half an ounce. The
English pound and penny contain at present about a third only; the Scots
pound and penny about a thirty-sixth; and the French pound and penny
about a sixty-sixth part of their original value. By means of those
operations, the princes and sovereign states which performed them were
enabled, in appearance, to pay their debts and fulfil their engagements
with a smaller quantity of silver than would otherwise have been
requisite. It was indeed in appearance only; for their creditors were
really defrauded of a part of what was due to them. All other debtors in
the state were allowed the same privilege, and might pay with the same
nominal sum of the new and debased coin whatever they had borrowed in
the old. Such operations, therefore, have always proved favourable to
the debtor, and ruinous to the creditor, and have sometimes produced
a greater and more universal revolution in the fortunes of private
persons, than could have been occasioned by a very great public

It is in this manner that money has become, in all civilized nations,
the universal instrument of commerce, by the intervention of which goods
of all kinds are bought and sold, or exchanged for one another.

What are the rules which men naturally observe, in exchanging them
either for money, or for one another, I shall now proceed to examine.
These rules determine what may be called the relative or exchangeable
value of goods.

The word VALUE, it is to be observed, has two different meanings, and
sometimes expresses the utility of some particular object, and sometimes
the power of purchasing other goods which the possession of that object
conveys. The one may be called 'value in use;' the other, 'value
in exchange.' The things which have the greatest value in use have
frequently little or no value in exchange; and, on the contrary, those
which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no
value in use. Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase
scarce any thing; scarce any thing can be had in exchange for it. A
diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great
quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it.

In order to investigate the principles which regulate the exchangeable
value of commodities, I shall endeavour to shew,

First, what is the real measure of this exchangeable value; or wherein
consists the real price of all commodities.

Secondly, what are the different parts of which this real price is
composed or made up.

And, lastly, what are the different circumstances which sometimes raise
some or all of these different parts of price above, and sometimes sink
them below, their natural or ordinary rate; or, what are the causes
which sometimes hinder the market price, that is, the actual price
of commodities, from coinciding exactly with what may be called their
natural price.

I shall endeavour to explain, as fully and distinctly as I can, those
three subjects in the three following chapters, for which I must very
earnestly entreat both the patience and attention of the reader: his
patience, in order to examine a detail which may, perhaps, in some
places, appear unnecessarily tedious; and his attention, in order to
understand what may perhaps, after the fullest explication which I am
capable of giving it, appear still in some degree obscure. I am always
willing to run some hazard of being tedious, in order to be sure that
I am perspicuous; and, after taking the utmost pains that I can to be
perspicuous, some obscurity may still appear to remain upon a subject,
in its own nature extremely abstracted.

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary