We construct a random matching model of a monetary economy with commodity money in the form of potentially different types of silver coins that are distinguishable by the quantity of metal they contain. The quantity of silver in the economy is assumed to be fixed, but agents can mint and melt coins. Coins yield no utility, but can be traded. Uncoined silver yields direct utility to the holder. We find that optimal coin size increases with the probability of trade and with the stock of silver. We use these predictions of our model to analyze the coinage decisions of the monetary authorities in medieval Venice and England. Our model provides theoretical support for the view that decisions about coin sizes and types during the medieval period reflected a desire to improve the economic welfare of the general population, not just the desire for seigniorage revenue.
Contemporaries, and economic historians, have noted several features of medieval and early modern European monetary systems that are hard to analyze using models of centralized exchange. For example, contemporaries complained of recurrent shortages of small change and argued that an abundance/dearth of money had real effects on exchange. To confront these facts, we build a random matching monetary model with two indivisible coins with different intrinsic values. The model shows that small change shortages can exist in the sense that adding small coins to an economy with only large coins is welfare improving. This effect is amplified by increases in trading opportunities. Further, changes in the quantity of monetary metals affect the real economy and the amount of exchange as well as the optimal denomination size. Finally, the model shows that replacing full-bodied small coins with tokens is not necessarily welfare improving.
This study examines the pricing of U.S. state banknotes before 1860 using discount data from New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. The study determines whether these banknotes were priced consistent with their expected net redemption value as securities are. The evidence is mixed. Prices for a bank’s notes were higher when the bank was redeeming its notes for specie than when it was not, and banknote prices generally reflected the costs of note redemption. However, the relationship between prices and redemption costs was not tight, and there were cases in which the notes of distant banks went at par.
We develop a model of commodity money and use it to analyze the following two questions motivated by issues in monetary history: What are the conditions under which Gresham’s Law holds? And, what are the mechanics of a debasement (lowering the metallic content of coins)? The model contains light and heavy coins, imperfect information, and prices determined via bilateral bargaining. There are equilibria with neither, both, or only one type of coin in circulation. When both circulate, coins may trade by weight or by tale. We discuss the extent to which Gresham’s Law holds in the various cases. Following a debasement, the quantity of reminting depends on the incentives offered by the sovereign. Equilibria exist with positive seigniorage and a mixture of old and new coins in circulation.
According to previous studies, the demand-liability feature of national bank notes did not present a problem for note-issuing banks because the nonbank public treated notes and other currency as perfect substitutes. However, that view, when combined with nonbindingness of the collateral restriction against note issue, itself an implication of the fact that some eligible collateral was not used for that purpose, implies that the safe short-term interest rate is pegged at the tax rate on note circulation. Since evidence on short-term interest rates is inconsistent with such a peg, that view must be rejected.
In this paper we present a consistent estimator for a linear filter (distributed lag) when the independent variable is subject to observational error. Unlike the standard errors-in-variables estimator which uses instrumental variables, our estimator works directly with observed data. It is based on the Hilbert transform relationship between the phase and the log gain of a minimum phase-lag linear filter. The results of using our method to estimate a known filter and to estimate the relationship between consumption and income demonstrate that the method performs quite well even when the noise-to-signal ratio for the observed independent variable is large. We also develop a criterion for determining whether an estimated phase function is minimum phase-lag.
This paper analyzes the variability of output under money supply and exchange rate rules in an open economy in which the slope of the aggregate supply curve depends on the variances of aggregate demand and market-specific innovations. It demonstrates that results regarding the dominance of one rule over the other when the slope of the aggregate supply curve is constant are reversed when the slope of the aggregate supply curve depends on the variances of innovations and these variances are sufficiently large.
Our study examines whether there is a systematic relationship between the monetary standard under which a country operates and the rate of inflation it experiences. It also explores whether there are other properties of inflation, money, and output that differ between economies operating under a commodity standard and economies operating under a fiat standard. The basis for our study is price, money, and output data for 15 countries that have operated under both types of monetary standards. For each of these countries the data cover 80 years, and for most the data cover more than 100 years. With these data we are able to establish several facts about the differences in inflation, money growth, and output growth between economies operating under commodity standards and those operating under fiat standards. Specifically, we find that the following facts emerge when comparing commodity standards to fiat standards: inflation, money growth, and output growth are all lower; growth rates of monetary aggregates are less highly correlated with each other; growth rates of monetary aggregates are less highly correlated with inflation; and growth rates of monetary aggregates are more highly correlated with output growth.
This paper explains why the risky notes of banks established during the Free Banking Era (1837–63) were demanded even when relatively safe specie (gold and silver coin) was an alternative. Free bank notes were demanded because they were priced to reflect the expected value of their backing. The empirical evidence supports this explanation. Specifically, in New York, Wisconsin, and Indiana the expected value of backing was sufficient for free bank notes to circulate at par, which they did. In Minnesota the backing for notes was very poor: they exchanged well below par, being treated as small-denomination securities.
The claim that bad money drives out good is one of the oldest and most cited in economics. Economists refer to this claim as Gresham’s law. Yet despite its seemingly universal acceptance, this claim does not warrant its status as a law. We find it has no convincing explanations and many overlooked exceptions. We propose an alternative hypothesis based on the costs of using a medium of exchange at a nonpar price: small-denomination currency undervalued at the mint tends to disappear from circulation while large-denomination currency usually circulates at premium. Examining a variety of historical episodes when market and legal prices were different, we find our “law” can explain history much better than Gresham’s.