The Economist on the Origin of Money

A Principles of Macroeconomics Post

This article in the Economist discusses the types of money that tend to arise with and without the assistance of governments. 

Here, David Glasner adds his two bits to what the Economist article said:

Again, my reading of the historical evidence – and I don’t claim more than a superficial knowledge of the historical evidence – is that there is evidence of early private minting operations. However, the early private mints were quickly displaced by mints operated by the state (or whatever you care to call the organizations headed by early monarchs). In my book Free Banking and Monetary Reform, I argued that having a monopoly over the mint was beneficial to the survival chances of any “state” competing for survival against other nearby states. To be able to survive, a state needed to be able to hire soldiers and pay for weapons. How could a monarch do that if he didn’t have an efficient system of collecting taxes? One very good way was to own a mint, and have at least a local monopoly over the minting of coins, which gave the monarch the ability to raise funds in an emergency by debasing the coinage. A prudent state would not debase the coinage except under dire circumstances, but in order to be able to engage in currency debasement, the state needed a monopoly over the coinage, and the ability to force its subjects to accept those coins at face value to discharge previously contracted obligations.  Monarchs that were also monopolists over mints had an important advantage in competition with monarchs without a mint.  So mints became part of the essential equipment of any self-respecting monarch.