Pass opp for alkymistene

Bettina Bien Greaves har redigert sine stenografiske notater fra flere foredrag Ludwig von Mises holdt for The Foundation for Economic Education. Resultatet er en lengre artikkel på 20 kapitler. Ludwig von Mises Institute publiserte artikkelen på sine nettsteder for første gang fredag.

Artikkelen inneholder blant annet argumentasjon mot inflasjon og for gullstandard. Artikkelen anbefales, men sett av godt med til lesningen.

Vi gir her noen smakebiter.

Mises gir oss en kortversjon av definisjonen av penger:

The definition of money is very simple. Money is the general medium of exchange used on the market. Money, the medium of exchange, is something that individuals choose in order to facilitate the exchange of commodities. Money is a market phenomenon. What does that mean? It means that money developed on the market, and that its development and its functioning have nothing to do with the government, the state, or with the violence exercised by governments.

Om Statens ”rett” til å definere penger sier Mises blant annet:

The government does not have the power to call something “money” which the parties didn’t have in mind as money when concluding their contract any more than it has the power to call non-potatoes “potatoes,” or to call a piece of iron, let us say, “copper.” It is not that the government says what money is originally; it is just that it must say what is meant by “money” in the case of the contract that is in conflict. I have to say all these things in order to point out something people do not seem to know today, namely that money is not created by government. People today don’t know this because the étatist, statist, ideas about the market and about money have destroyed knowledge of how money is created.

En analogi viser hvor meningsløst Statens ”rett” til å definere penger er:

If a judge were to say that whatever the government calls a horse is whatever the government calls a horse, and that the government has the right to call a chicken a horse, everybody would consider him either corrupt or insane.

Om utviklingen av penger sier Mises blant annet:

Over centuries traders eliminated everything else from among the various articles and commodities used as media of exchange until only the precious metals — gold and silver — remained. All other commodities were eliminated as media of exchange. When I say that the other things were eliminated from being used as money, what I mean is that people in making agreements eliminated them; people in making agreements rejected other things as media of exchange and turned to using only gold and silver; they specified gold and silver in the contracts they made when trading with other parties. Thus we must realize that the evolution to gold and silver money was brought about by private persons. Then silver also disappeared as a medium of exchange in the last centuries and the fact remained that the commodity gold was used as the medium of exchange.

Om innføringen av Statens adgang til å trykke penger sier Mises blant annet:

In the history of money, which is identical with the history of government attempts to destroy money, we must distinguish two great periods. And these two periods are not separated from one another by some monetary fact or by some specific monetary problem — they are separated from one another by the great invention made in the 15th century by a man named Gutenberg. If the governments need more money — and they always need more money because they don’t earn it — the simplest way for them to increase the quantity of money since Gutenberg is just to print it.

Mises fortsetter med sitt angrep på Statens juks og fanteri:

Just as the government says “dollar” — but let us not use the term of a country with money which still functions today — let us say “ducats.” You have agreed upon a definite quantity of ducats. And then, because the government doesn’t want to restrict its expenditures, it declares: “What I have printed in my printing office, in my government printing office and called a Ducat is also a Ducat, the same thing as a gold Ducat.” These things started when there were private banks to which the government gave privileges. At the time you made this agreement a Ducat meant a definite quantity of gold. But the government now says it is something else. When the government does this, the situation is similar to what it would be if you agreed to deliver a horse to another party but instead of a horse you delivered a chicken, saying, “This is all right … I say that this chicken means a horse.” It is such a system that destroys the markets, you know.

Og så får vi et forsvar for gullstandarden:

I want to say something about the reason why the gold standard was adopted in the first place and also why today it is considered as the only really sound system of money. It is because gold alone makes the determination of the purchasing power of the monetary unit independent of the changes in ideas of governments and political parties. Gold has one advantage. It cannot be printed. It cannot be increased ad libitum [at pleasure]. If you think that you, or an institution with which you are connected doesn’t have enough gold money, you cannot do anything about it that would increase the quantity of gold money in a very simple and cheap way. The reason why there is the gold standard, why the gold standard was accepted, is that an increase in the quantity of gold costs money. Gold is restricted; it is limited by nature; the production of an additional quantity of gold is not cheaper than the acquisition of such a quantity by exchanges on the market. That means that the metal gold was used as a medium of exchange.

Vi har muligens lesere som er blitt satt på plass med påstander om at gullstandarden ikke fungerte, og som er blitt latterliggjort for å stå for en gullstandard. Mises gir disse leserne et forsvar til neste gang:

Governments and writers for governments make fun of the fact that the world, the nations of the world, consider gold as money. They say a lot of things against the gold standard. But what they say is not what matters. What matters is that, without any interference on the part of a central authority, without any government action, individuals chose gold as “money” through the process of trading on the market. People make jokes about the uselessness of gold. It is just a silly yellow metal. We can’t eat it, they say. It is only good for dentists and for unimportant things like jewelry. There are people who say, “Why gold? Why use precisely this yellow metal as money? Leave the gold to the dentists. Don’t use it for monetary purposes.” Now I do not have the right to talk about the dentists; I use the dentists only as an illustration. Whether they want the gold is another question. Lord Keynes called the gold standard a “barbarous relic.” Many books say that the government had to step in because the gold standard failed. But the gold standard didn’t fail! The government abolished the gold standard by making it illegal to hold gold. But still today, all international trade is calculated in gold. Critics have no valid arguments against the gold standard because the gold standard works while the paper standard of the government does not work, not even in a way which the government itself considers satisfactory.

Mises råder videre oss om å bekymre oss om vår tids ”alkymisme” – ikke om en alkymisme som muligens kan komme i fremtiden:

One may ask the question: “What would have happened if there hadn’t been any gold?” Or one may ask the question: “What will happen one day,” nobody can say anything today about it, “if people discover a method to produce gold at such a cheap price that gold will no longer be useful for the monetary purpose?” To this question, I answer: “Ask me again when this is the case.” Perhaps — I don’t know, nobody knows — perhaps one day people will discover a method of producing gold out of nothing, or, let us say, out of non-gold. Perhaps gold will become as plentiful as air, and free to everyone. If everyone could have as much gold as he wanted, it would have no value on the market. No one would then be willing to take such a value-less commodity in trade for other goods or services and it would not then become a “medium of exchange.” If you have sleepless nights and have nothing else to think about, you could think about what will happen, you know, if one day gold could be produced in such a cheap way as, let us say, paper can be produced today. It could happen! But nobody thinks it will happen. It probably will not happen. But if it does happen then people will have to deal with the new problem. And perhaps they will solve it; perhaps they will not solve it; we don’t know that today. But it is useless today to speculate what will happen, if this should happen. And as we don’t know anything about what the conditions will be at that time, we can say, “Let us wait. Let us wait to see whether really one day gold will be so abundant that it can no longer serve monetary purposes.” All right. If this should happen, the people living then — at that time — would have a problem to solve. But today we have another problem. Our problem is to keep the quantity of money from being increased and its purchasing power from being decreased through inflation.

Mises forteller også om at han før den første verdenskrig var bekymret for inflasjon. Han skrev en artikkel om inflasjon. Han ble møtt med følgende:

I am astonished that a young man like you is interested in a problem of the past like inflation. There was really, in the 19th century, in almost every country of the world, inflation. But it will not return. This will never come again. Can you imagine that the British Empire, Germany, France, the United States, will go off the gold standard? No! Impossible! And the fact that these countries will keep to the gold standard will force all the other nations also to remain with the gold standard.”

Fra en noe senere opplevelse i Wien forteller Mises:

In the years after the First World War, American economists frequently visited Vienna and I had the pleasure of talking with them, and explaining inflation and conditions as they prevailed at that time in Austria and in other European countries. And, as you know, when people are talking about economic problems, they are talking and talking until finally it is late in the evening, very late in the evening. And so it was. Then I told them, “I will now give you an explanation as to why conditions in the country are not so satisfactory. I will take you for a little walk to the center of the city, past a definite building.” This was at 11 o’clock or midnight. And we went. It was very quiet. But then they heard a noise, the sound of the printing machines that were printing banknotes day and night for the government. The result in Vienna was very modest you know; the American dollar which had been five Austrian crowns became 14,000 or 17,000 Austrian crowns. The inflation was bad, you are right. But this was a very modest inflation; the achievement of inflation in Germany was much greater you know. It took billions of marks you know to make one U.S. dollar. You consider this a joke, but it was a tragedy of course. For the people whose property it destroyed, it was a catastrophe.

Om krigen mot fattigdom sier Mises blant annet:

It is ridiculous for the government to finance a “war on poverty” by taxing, inflating, and spending, and so sacrificing the savings of the masses who are trying to improve themselves through their own efforts. This is one of the many contradictions which we have in our political, not our economic, system. To explain what I have in mind, consider the dreadful contradiction of the American government when it says: “We have to wage a war against poverty. Certainly many people are poor and we must make them wealthier.” And yet this government taxes the people in order to make bread more expensive. You will say, “So, bread is more expensive; this is an exception.” But it is not an exception! The American government spends also billions of tax money in order to make cotton more expensive. Cotton goods are certainly not luxury goods; they are perhaps luxury goods when compared with bread, but the government does the same thing, it follows the same policy, with bread.

Mises gir flere eksempler på at inflasjon legger livsverk i grus. Et av dem er:

To give an example of how inflation destroys savings, there was in a European country a poor boy educated in an asylum for orphans, very well educated because when he had finished school and his life in the orphanage he emigrated to the United States. In the course of a long life he accumulated a considerable fortune by producing and selling something which was very successful. When he died, after living 45 years in the United States, he left a considerable fortune of $2,000,000. Not everybody leaves such a fortune. this was certainly exceptional. This man made a will according to which this $2,000,000 was to be sent back to Europe to establish another orphan asylum such as that in which this man had been educated. This was just before World War I. The money was sent back to Europe. According to the usual procedure it had to be invested in government bonds of this country, interest to be paid every year to keep up the asylum. But the war came, and the inflation. And the inflation reduced to zero this fortune of $2,000,000 invested in European Marks — simply to zero.

Mises går også til angrep på diverse økonomiprofessorer med blant annet:

Many famous professors of economics think that the supply of money is insufficient. It’s unbelievable but we have now already for a long time, for many years, textbooks that say, in every new edition, that the quantity of money must increase by 2%, or 5%, or 7%. They change it from year to year — this is without any importance, what quantity they recommend is not so important — what is important is that they say that such an increase is good from the point of view of their policies. Wonderful! The government, the banks, can distribute more money, but they cannot distribute more goods. And this is the problem. As this additional money will raise the prices of goods, those who do not get any of this additional money are hurt. And this is what people don’t realize, what they don’t see. If this money is increased every year it means only that other groups can say “Why did we not get more?” And then the government gives them a quantity too and then again to others also. And this is situation we have today. The question will always be: To whom do you give this additional quantity? Because if the additional quantity is given to somebody else, your conditions will be impaired.

Mises gir oss også en leksjon i hva inflasjon er:

Today the terminology, the official terminology, has been changed. We have to realize that the term “inflation” is used today in popular discussions of the subject in a way which is very different from the meaning attached to it in the past. People now call the increase in prices “inflation,” while in fact inflation is not the increase in prices but the increase in the quantity of money that brings about the increase in prices.

Mange ser på Sveits som et land som tar imot penger fra diktatorer, mafia og skattesnytere. Mises gir oss et noe annet perspektiv:

Not all countries inflate, or if they do inflate, they do not inflate to the same extent. Switzerland is considered a “bad” country because it does not inflate sufficiently. Therefore, there are continual problems with the flow of money from countries which have more inflation to others which have not inflated to the same extent.

Mises er ikke nådig mot Keynes og hans kumpaner:

[O]ne doesn’t need more and more money generally. And if one increases the money, one can never increase the quantity in a neutral way, in such a way that it does not further the economic conditions of one group at the expense of other groups. This is, for instance, something that wasn’t realized in this great error — I don’t find a nice word to describe it — in starting the International Monetary Fund. Even that dreadful ignoramus who was called Lord Keynes had not the slightest idea of it. Neither did the other people. It was not all his fault — why did they permit him to do this?

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One Comment

  1. Hans Jørgen Lysglimt
    Posted 5 February, 2006 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Har kost meg stort med dette stykket “av” Mises søndag ettermiddag. Den historiske klarsyntheten han oppviser er imponerende. Skremmende at hans perspektiv ikke blir diskutert mer i den aktuelle debatten. Som han selv sier kan vi være på vei mot en finansiell kollaps som kan ruinere alt den vestlige sivilisasjon har bygget opp over de seneste hundreårene. Skremmende.

    Mises ønsker at vi bruker begrepene slik de opprinnelig var definert. Han ønsker å bruke inflasjon for økning i pengemengden. I USA mente han også at libertarianerne burde ta tilbake ordet “liberal” som der borde er blitt korrumpert til å bety noe helt annet.