Thursday, 16 August 2012

Capital I Chapter 3 - Part 6


b) Means of Payment

Marx describes a number of situations where sale and purchase can be separated.

One sort of article requires a longer, another a shorter time for its production. Again, the production of different commodities depends on different seasons of the year. One sort of commodity may be born on its own market place, another has to make a long journey to market. Commodity-owner No. 1, may therefore be ready to sell, before No. 2 is ready to buy. When the same transactions are continually repeated between the same persons, the conditions of sale are regulated in accordance with the conditions of production. On the other hand, the use of a given commodity, of a house, for instance, is sold (in common parlance, let) for a definite period. Here, it is only at the end of the term that the buyer has actually received the use-value of the commodity. He therefore buys it before he pays for it. The vendor sells an existing commodity, the purchaser buys as the mere representative of money, or rather of future money. The vendor becomes a creditor, the purchaser becomes a debtor. Since the metamorphosis of commodities, or the development of their value-form, appears here under a new aspect, money also acquires a fresh function; it becomes the means of payment.” (p 135)

This in itself creates a new social relation. Marx writes,

The following shows the debtor and creditor relations existing between English traders at the beginning of the 18th century. 'Such a spirit of cruelty reigns here in England among the men of trade, that is not to be met with in any other society of men, nor in any other kingdom of the world.' {“An Essay on Credit and the Bankrupt Act,” Lond., 1707 p2} (Note 1 P 135)

Marx relates it to the class struggles of the past between creditors and debtors, for example in Ancient Rome and in the Middle Ages, both of which ended in the ruin of the debtors. The same is true ofthe ruination of the French Peasants in the 19th Century as Marx described in "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte".  However, Marx points out that these relations in both periods, “reflected only the deeper-lying antagonism between the general economic conditions of existence of the classes in question.”

The same can be seen in the relation between creditors and debtors today, particularly within European states, and the end result of the destruction of the debtors (particularly within the Middle Class who have taken on huge amounts of Mortgage Debt, Credit Card and other Personal Debt, Student Loan debt etc., and within the Small Business Class who have taken on this, and other debt to keep their businesses afloat) is likely to be the same.

Now, money acts as a measure of value in determining the price of commodities to be sold. The commodity can change hands without payment, merely on the basis of a promise to pay. So, the money has acted only as an ideal means of purchase, not yet as a real payment. Only when the agreed payment date arrives does the money itself enter into circulation. In the intervening period, the currency was turned into a hoard. Now, the means of payment only enters circulation after the commodity has left it.

Money's functions have so far been identified as a unit of measurement, and of currency i.e. means of circulation. Now money has been identified as having another function that of means of payment, which here can be payment at a later date for goods already purchased, or else a pre-payment for goods to be received.

Just as with determining the quantity of money required to ensure the circulation of commodities, so a similar calculation is required to determine the amount of money needed to facilitate all of these payments.

Within a given period, that is made up of the sum of the prices of all those commodities to be paid for. Once again to determine how much money is required we need to know the velocity of money. The more quickly payments are made, the less money is required in circulation. It can be seen why Capital has an incentive in developing more efficient, faster methods of ensuring such payments through the development of Banking and Financial Services, because this reduces the amount of money that needs to be put into circulation.

The fact that a number of sales take place simultaneously, and side by side, limits the extent to which coin can be replaced by the rapidity of currency. On the other hand, this fact is a new lever in economising the means of payment. In proportion as payments are concentrated at one spot, special institutions and methods are developed for their liquidation. Such in the middle ages were the virements at Lyons. The debts due to A from B, to B from C, to C from A, and so on, have only to be confronted with each other, in order to annul each other to a certain extent like positive and negative quantities. There thus remains only a single balance to pay. The greater the amount of the payments concentrated, the less is this balance relatively to that amount, and the less is the mass of the means of payment in circulation.” (p 137)

Marx highlights the difference between a Monetary Crisis arising as a stage of an economic crisis, and Financial Crises rooted in the realm of Banking and the Stock Market.

The monetary crisis referred to in the text, being a phase of every crisis, must be clearly distinguished from that particular form of crisis, which also is called a monetary crisis, but which may be produced by itself as an independent phenomenon in such a way as to react only indirectly on industry and commerce. The pivot of these crises is to be found in moneyed capital, and their sphere of direct action is therefore the sphere of that capital, viz., banking, the stock exchange, and finance.” (note 1 p 137)

Marx is making the distinction between the kind of Financial Crisis that broke out in the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the 1987 Stock Market Crash, the Tech Wreck of 2000, the 2008 Financial Meltdown, or the Eurozone Debt Crisis, in contrast with the manifestation of a real economic crisis in what appears to be a shortage of Money. What precisely he is referring to is the crisis of 1847, which resulted not from an economic crisis, but from the application of the 1844 Bank Act, which created a Credit Crunch.

All of the former Financial Crises are premised on the blowing up of financial asset bubbles of one sort or another – stock markets, Bond markets, Property markets – which invariably collapse. The extent to which these financial crises affect the real economy depends on the actions of the Monetary and Fiscal Authorities, and the condition of the real economy at the time of the crisis.

The latter crises that Marx is describing, however, i.e. real economic crises, arise from within the real economy itself. It is manifest as a shortage of money simply because it erupts as a breakdown in the series of payments. If A owes B, owes C, owes D, owes E, owes A. Then if at at any point in this sequence, for example, if C fails to pay D, then the further series of payments may fail too. Why they fail at any point may be due to a number of causes. It may be a reflection of a real crisis of overproduction, or it may be a breakdown in the mechanism of commercial credit here described, or it may even be simply a case of over trading, inadequate cash flow provisioning etc. by a large or several firms.

The result is that the demand for money as real money (including bank notes and coin) increases even more. In other words, it creates a Credit Crunch.

Such a crisis occurs only where the ever-lengthening chain of payments, and an artificial system of settling them, has been fully developed. Whenever there is a general and extensive disturbance of this mechanism, no matter what its cause, money becomes suddenly and immediately transformed, from its merely ideal shape of money of account, into hard cash. Profane commodities can no longer replace it. The use-value of commodities becomes valueless, and their value vanishes in the presence of its own independent form. On the eve of the crisis, the bourgeois, with the self-sufficiency that springs from intoxicating prosperity, declares money to be a vain imagination. Commodities alone are money. But now the cry is everywhere: money alone is a commodity! As the heart pants after fresh water, so pants his soul after money, the only wealth. In a crisis, the antithesis between commodities and their value-form, money, becomes heightened into an absolute contradiction. Hence, in such events, the form under which money appears is of no importance. The money famine continues, whether payments have to be made in gold or in credit money such as bank-notes.” (p 138)

As a consequence of these changes,

even when prices, rapidity of currency, and the extent of the economy in payments, are given, the quantity of money current and the mass of commodities circulating during a given period, such as a day, no longer correspond. Money that represents commodities long withdrawn from circulation, continues to be current. Commodities circulate, whose equivalent in money will not appear on the scene till some future day.” (p 138)

It is on this basis that Credit-Money develops.

Credit-money springs directly out of the function of money as a means of payment. Certificates of the debts owing for the purchased commodities circulate for the purpose of transferring those debts to others. On the other hand, to the same extent as the system of credit is extended, so is the function of money as a means of payment. In that character it takes various forms peculiar to itself under which it makes itself at home in the sphere of great commercial transactions. Gold and silver coin, on the other hand, are mostly relegated to the sphere of retail trade.” (p 139)

Once commodity production has become generalised and extended, money begins to act not just to circulate commodities or as payment for commodities, but as the basis of all payments e.g. of rents, taxes etc. Originally, rents, taxes, tithes etc. were paid in kind. The peasant worked on the Lord of the Manor's land for three days a week. Tithes were a tenth of the peasant's produce handed over to the Church and so on. The more money inserts itself into economic life, the more these payments are instead made in cash.

Certain dates in the calendar are established as payment dates, and that continues today. Around these dates there can arise an increase in the demand for money. Large increases in the money put into ATM's occurs around Christmas, as a modern day equivalent. Although hoarding tends to decline with the development of economic activity, the growing significance of the need for money as a means of payment brings about an increase in the formation of money reserves.

c) Universal Money

Outside the remit of the State i.e. on the world stage, money is stripped of all its national peculiarities. The Pound or Dollar, as standards of prices have no meaning at an international level. Coins and notes are equally meaningless, in so far as they represent mere symbols or tokens of real value. Consequently, money at an international level has to revert to its original form, that of bullion, universal money.

It is only in the markets of the world that money acquires to the full extent the character of the commodity whose bodily form is also the immediate social incarnation of human labour in the abstract. Its real mode of existence in this sphere adequately corresponds to its ideal concept.” (p 141)

Unlike the home market, where one commodity acts as measure of value and becomes money, at an international level both gold and silver bullion operate. Marx sets out what is wrong with a Gold Standard.

Hence the absurdity of every law prescribing that the banks of a country shall form reserves of that precious metal alone which circulates at home. The “pleasant difficulties” thus self-created by the Bank of England, are well known. On the subject of the great epochs in the history of the changes in the relative value of gold and silver, see Karl Marx, l.c., p. 136 sq. Sir Robert Peel, by his Bank Act of 1844, sought to tide over the difficulty, by allowing the Bank of England to issue notes against silver bullion, on condition that the reserve of silver should never exceed more than one-fourth of the reserve of gold. The value of silver being for that purpose estimated at its price in the London market.” (note 3 p 141)

However, Engels in a further note for the 4th German edition of Capital Vol. I, set out the way changes in the method of producing gold and silver was raising the Exchange Value of the former against the latter. The consequence was that, as in the national sphere, silver would be pushed out by gold as the money commodity.

World money acts mainly as a means of payment, because the trade between nations can be netted off leaving only the difference between Exports and Imports (the Balance of Trade) to be made up. In addition it acts as “the universally recognised embodiment of all wealth.”

This Universal Money is also vital when it comes to transferring wealth rather than just in respect of payments. That is where Capital Transfers are being made such as loans to foreign governments.

Similar to the way reserves have to be established in the home market to facilitate the flow of payments, so reserves are needed to maintain the flow of international payments. In the national sphere reserves can be in the form of notes and coins acting as the symbols of money. However, at the time Marx was writing, of a period prior even to the role of the Pound as international reserve currency, only gold and silver themselves could fulfil this function, as reserves for international payments.

It is why Marx says,
On that account, Sir James Steuart, in order to distinguish them from their purely local substitutes, calls gold and silver 'money of the world.'” (p 143)

This flow of gold is two-fold. Firstly, commodity producing nations sell their commodities to the gold and silver producing nations. Commodities flow into the latter and gold world money flows out of the latter into the former. There it is transformed into articles of luxury etc. (Use Values) as well as to replace and supplement the existing coinage. In addition it is stored in hoards and reserves.

But, secondly, having entered circulation in the commodity producing countries and having been formed into hoards and reserves, it enters into a further international circulation moving back and forth between these countries as the balance of trade between them changes. Capital seeks to keep these reserves to a minimum.

What money is more than of absolute necessity for a Home Trade, is dead stock ... and brings no profit to that country it’s kept in, but as it is transported in trade, as well as imported.” (John Bellers, “Essays,” p. 13.) “What if we have too much coin? We may melt down the heaviest and turn it into the splendour of plate, vessels or utensils of gold or silver, or send it out as a commodity, where the same is wanted or desired; or let it out at interest, where interest is high.” (W. Petty: “Quantulumcunque,” p. 39.) “Money is but the fat of the Body Politick, whereof too much doth as often hinder its agility, as too little makes it sick ... as fat lubricates the motion of the muscles, feeds in want of victuals, fills up the uneven cavities, and beautifies the body; so doth money in the state quicken its action, feeds from abroad in time of dearth at home, evens accounts ... and beautifies the whole; altho more especially the particular persons that have it in plenty.” (W. Petty, “Political Anatomy of Ireland,” p. 14.)” (note 4 p144)

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