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Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

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What Has Government Done to Our Money?
Murray N. Rothbard

III.
Government Meddling With Money



3. Compulsory Monopoly of the Mint

For government to use counterfeiting to add to its revenue, many lengthy steps must be travelled down the road away from the free market. Government could not simply invade a functioning free market and print its own paper tickets. Done so abruptly, few people would accept the government's money. Even in modern times, many people in "backward countries" have simply refused to accept paper money, and insist on trading only in gold. Governmental incursion, therefore, must be far more subtle and gradual.

Until a few centuries ago, there were no banks, and therefore the government could not use the banking engine for massive inflation as it can today. What could it do when only gold and silver circulated?

The first step, taken firmly by every sizeable government, was to seize an absolute monopoly of the minting business. That was the indispensable means of getting control of the coinage supply. The king's or the lord's picture was stamped upon coins, and the myth was propagated that coinage is an essential prerogative of royal or baronial "sovereignty." The mintage monopoly allowed government to supply whatever denominations of coin it, and not the public, wanted. As a result, the variety of coins on the market was forcibly reduced. Furthermore, the mint could now charge a high price, greater than costs ("seigniorage"), a price just covering costs ("brassage"), or supply coins free of charge. Seigniorage was a monopoly price, and it imposed a special burden on the conversion of bullion to coin; gratuitous coinage, on the other hand, overstimulated the manufacture of coins from bullion, and forced the general taxpayer to pay for minting services utilized by others.

Having acquired the mintage monopoly, governments fostered the use of the name of the monetary unit, doing their best to separate the name from its true base in the underlying weight of the coin. This, too, was a highly important step, for it liberated each government from the necessity of abiding by the common money of the world market. Instead of using grains or grams of gold or silver, each State fostered its own national name in the supposed interests of monetary patriotism: dollars, marks, francs, and the like. The shift made possible the pre-eminent means of governmental counterfeiting of coin: debasement.

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