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Coin Reconsidered: The Political Alchemy of Commodity Money

purchasing power

In metallic currencies, a government mint will coin money by placing a mark on metal tokens, typically gold or silver, which serves as a guarantee of their weight and purity. In issuing this coinage at a face value higher than its costs, the government gains a profit known as seigniorage. Gold-backed digital assets are both more secure and more fungible than gold itself.

That is to say, the commodity supply must be able to react to increasing demand. So when the economy starts to grow; the commodity must be able to supplied and represent the new goods in the market. Gold or other metals are sometimes used in a price system as a durable, easily warehoused store of value .

The value of this type of money is directly linked to the value of the asset that is backing the money. The additional $900 has been generated as debt by the bank and reflects commercial bank money. The value of fiat money is determined by supply and demand, and if there’s too much supply of fiat money in the economy, its value will decline. Fiat money was created as a substitute for commodity money and representative money in the early 20th century.

Commodity Money and the Price Level

Most types of cash used today do not have any real intrinsic value. For example, a banknote is virtually worthless in itself and only has value because society accepts it as a measure of currency and a unit of exchange. The main difference between commodity and fiat money is that commodity money has an intrinsic value. In other words, it has a use and value outside of its use as money.

  • This type of money does not need government regulation or recognition to be used as money.
  • Since the US dollar (the world’s reserve currency) is not backed by gold anymore, it essentially has no intrinsic value, which calls for a different approach to be taken when studying money as a commodity that holds value.
  • Nevertheless, there was a fundamental issue in the fact that the supply would eventually outstrip the demand; meaning there was a large supply of tobacco and/or salt.
  • Prior to the inception of money, bartering was the prime means of exchange.

There are four main characteristics of commodity money – it’s durable, divisible, easily exchangeable, and rare. Countries whose currencies are impacted profoundly by commodities are generally less willing to tighten their environmental policies which would reduce externalities. For example, the Canadian dollar is closely tied to soybeans and oil. The production of oil is extremely harmful to the environment. However, reducing oil production through cap-and-trade programs or production taxes can be devastating to the Canadian dollar.

In fact, without money, every transaction would require me to find producers who would exchange their goods and services for bassoon performances. In a money-based economy, I can sell my services as a bassoon player in an orchestra to those who are willing to pay for orchestra concerts with money. Then, I can take the money I earn and pay for a variety of goods and services.

Easily Exchangeable

You can think of commodity money as a good that can be used as money. Commodities such as meat would not be effective as they go bad over time. Similarly, metals such as iron would not suffice as it rusts easily. If the commodity cannot retain its intrinsic value, then the trust in it won’t last.


For instance, in addition to being commodity money, cigarettes can be smoked, while gold and silver can be used for making pieces of jewelry. In order to appreciate the conveniences that money brings to an economy, think about life without it. Imagine I am a musician-a bassoonist in an orchestra-who has a car that needs to be repaired.

He also has six years of writing experience complementing his qualified competence. Vertical integration is where two businesses at different stages of the supply chain join together. Mass production is the continuous production of standardized products, usually along an assembly line.

  • After all, if gold is more stable, its very lack of extrinsic value guarantors means it’s a much better target for theft.
  • It is important to note that while countries with commodity currencies benefit from higher demand of a commodity, countries that import this commodity face the opposite effects.
  • Because no one item serves as a medium of exchange in a barter economy, potential buyers must find things that individual sellers will accept.
  • Commercial bank money refers to money in an economy that is created through debts issued by commercial banks.

However, the views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis or the Federal Reserve System. We thank Arthur Rolnick and Bruce Smith for comments on an earlier draft. While the cow is difficult to transport to the store, the currency can be easily put in my pocket. A stack of U.S. 20-dollar bills equal to the value of one cow. Cattle have been used as money at different points in history. The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation.

Anyone could take backed fiat currency to the issuing government and exchange it for a certain amount of the commodity. Other functions of money are to serve as a unit of account and as a store of value. As financial assets other than checkable deposits have become more liquid, economists have had to develop broader measures of money that would correspond to economic activity.

We have already seen what commodity money is and why people trust it, but let’s dive in and see what characteristics it has. By contrast, other forms of money only derive value from the trust people place in it. For example, the $10 note in your pocket is unlikely to buy much in the unlikely event the US’ stops using it as its main currency.

Is cash a fiat or commodity?

Fiat money is a government-issued currency that is not backed by a commodity such as gold. Fiat money gives central banks greater control over the economy because they can control how much money is printed. Most modern paper currencies, such as the U.S. dollar, are fiat currencies.

For convenience and to avoid these comodity money changes, many governments issue fiat currency. Fiat money is a government-issued currency that is not backed by a physical commodity, such as gold or XLM silver, but rather by the government that issued it. The value of fiat money is derived from the relationship between supply and demand and the stability of the issuing government, rather than the worth of a commodity backing it as is the case for commodity money. Economists say that the invention of money belongs in the same category as the great inventions of ancient times, such as the wheel and the inclined plane, but how did money develop?

The commodity money definition refers to money in the form of a commodity that has intrinsic value. This element of intrinsic value is commodity money’s primary characteristic. This kind of money was first used during ancient days when trade, exchange, and economic activity, in general, were not very advanced compared to today. For example, it has to be in wide demand, durable, portable, and easy to store. In the past, any commodity that did not comply with these standards was not accepted as commodity money. A commodity currency is a currency that co-moves with the world prices of primary commodity products, due to these countries’ heavy dependency on the export of certain raw materials for income.

Beyond this, the federal government plays a big role in maintaining this structure through taxes. United States citizens cannot pay their taxes in anything other than dollars. They cannot pay taxes with cows, sheep, or financial assets like stocks or derivatives. They have to pay taxes in dollars, which essentially creates a demand for dollars. This demand is what fundamentally drives the value of money like the dollar.

Because money acts as a store of value, it can be used as a standard for future payments. When you borrow money, for example, you typically sign a contract pledging to make a series of future payments to settle the debt. These payments will be made using money, because money acts as a store of value. Houses, office buildings, land, works of art, and many other commodities serve as a means of storing wealth and value.

People would use them to trade with each other as they were commonly used goods. Even if nobody would accept it, the owner could use it for their purposes. So if XRP someone went to market with a pound of tobacco and nobody would accept it, they would be able to smoke it instead. In economic terms, commodity money has what is known as an ‘intrinsic value’. Therefore, anything that has an alternate use could be considered a commodity form of money. During this period, Lydian merchants produced a gold coin mixed with silver; otherwise known as electrum.

A commodity money has to be rare in the fact that the supply is limited. Without such, money can become almost unlimited – thereby leading to massive levels of inflation. Nevertheless, the money supply has to still be able to react to increasing economic output.

Since Money is Political – Michael Hudson

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Helene55 yesterday Coupons and tokens at are also commodity money. For example, giving someone a gift card for a store you don’t like, but they do, can be a way of providing them with commodity money. Things like two for one coupons might also work if you know someone who really wants or needs a certain product for which you have a coupon that you don’t plan on using. Something that serves as commodity money only has to have value in itself, rather than being of use to the bearer. For example, there is little most people can actually do with a gold coin and, if someone is a smoker, a cigarette is of more practical use.

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Imagine how hard it is to move gold worth millions of dollars around the world. It is pretty costly to arrange the logistics and transportation of large bars of gold. Commodity money is a form of money that has an intrinsic value, meaning it is worth something in its own right rather than simply being a token of financial value such as a banknote. The best known form is gold or silver coins, though any commodity can fulfill this role. This is hugely beneficial for economists and policymakers who want a reliable measure of future commodity prices.

Monetarist theory suggests that inflation is alternatively the reduction in the purchasing power of a unit of currency in an economy. Inflation measures the rate at which the average price levels in an economy increase over time. Commodity money, however, retains value based on the metal or other material content it has. Fiat money is therefore more at risk of inflation because its value is not intrinsic. After the Gulf War, the northern, mostly Kurdish area of Iraq was separated from the rest of Iraq though the enforcement of the no-fly-zone. Iraqi citizens in southern Iraq were given three weeks to exchange their old dinars for the new ones.

is not money because it is not used as a medium of exchange. For example, it took about 133 times as many “Saddam” dinars as “Swiss” dinars to buy a man’s suit in Iraq at the time. The new notes, sometimes called “Bremer” dinars, were printed in Britain and elsewhere and flown into Iraq on 22 flights using Boeing 747s and other large aircraft. In both the northern and southern parts of Iraq, citizens turned in their old dinars for the new ones, suggesting at least more confidence at that moment in the “Bremer” dinar than in either the “Saddam” or “Swiss” dinars.