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Chapter 4



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 rnoney.

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 calamity.

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

Adam Smith

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