This summer I have had the privilege of spending two months at the Mises Institute as a Fellow in Residence. The Institute’s Fellowship programme offers the opportunity for independent study and research, along with access to the Institute’s libraries and on-site academics, to around a dozen students each year, allowing them to either work on a chapter for their dissertation, an article for an academic journal, or some other such thing.
Most of the Fellows this year are Masters, PhD, and post-doc students in their 20s to early-30s, although admittance to the Fellowship programme is by no means exclusive to this age range, and I myself am a mere second-year undergraduate. I am currently around half way through my time at the Institute for 2017, which is the first time I’ve been a Fellow here, and it’s been the absolute time of my life; I’ve already made some great friends and wonderful memories, aside from getting some seriously good work done and improving my CV all at the same time.
However, when I was going through the application process a few months ago, I would have been grateful to have had a better idea of what sort of thing they were looking for in a successful application, as I hadn’t applied to this sort of thing before.
For anyone else out there who’s thinking about applying, but would feel more certain of their application if they were able to see a successful one first, I am including my research proposal for this year below, which formed the biggest part of my application. Obviously you won’t get far by simply copying my proposal, but it should at least help to give you an idea of the sort of thing they’re looking for in a successful application.
For more info about the Mises Institute’s summer Fellowship programme, go to https://mises.org/about-mises/fellowships
Mises Institute Fellowship in Residence 2017 Research Proposal
Competing views on the Origin of Money: A Critical Review of the Literature since Menger
I am applying for this 2017 Fellowship in Residence at the Mises Institute in the hope of conducting research on the topic of the origin of money; specifically on whether and to what extent the Mengerian/Austrian explanation of this topic could be complemented by, or is incompatible with, subsequent theories. My aim is not necessarily to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature, but rather to consider the major competing theories which have appeared since Menger’s On the Origin of Money, and assess the extent to which they are or are not compatible with Menger’s conclusions and methodology. While Menger’s explanation demonstrated that state intervention is not necessary in order for money to originate, I feel that an assessment of subsequent ‘State Theories’ of the origins of money might allow for a more full theoretical explanation of the process by which monies develop in cases when states do intervene. In particular, I am interested to consider the possible distortive effects of the institution of taxation on this process, a topic which I feel has not yet been fully explored in pre-existing Austrian literature on the origins of money.
In order to assess the compatibility of subsequent theories with the Mengerian/Austrian explanation, I intend to primarily use Menger’s own deductive methodology, (except, of course, in cases when comment is required on questionable empirical points raised by other authors.) I feel that this is an important and worthwhile topic of research not only due to the great importance of the concept of money to the study of economics, but also due to the ongoing significance of the economic forces which Menger identified as having led to the development of money. Menger’s explanation of the origins of money is not framed as a historical account of a series of events which took place by happenstance, but rather as a description of how still existing characteristics of human action could logically be expected to lead to the development of monies. As Menger’s himself stressed, inquiry into this topic is essential to a proper understanding of “not only the origin but also the nature of money” (Menger 2009, p.18). Indeed, a proper understanding of the origin of money is not only necessary to understand monetary history, but also to understand the forces still influencing monies and their related institutions in the present.
While the number of citations will undoubtedly increase before the paper is completed, the list included here is intended to present a selection of those sources which will be most central to the argument I anticipate making, either as key selections from the literature under review, or as important supporting documents. For this reason, I have grouped them here in a way that relates to their places in the structure of the paper, rather than listing them alphabetically.
i) Menger’s Theory of the Origin of Money:
I intend to begin by presenting the theory of the origin of money out of barter, as laid out by Menger (2009). Due to the central place of Menger’s explanation in the framework of Austrian economics, not to mention its early date and great influence on later theories of the origins of money, I plan to consider these subsequent theories in the context of how far they are compatible with or contrary to Menger’s explanation and methodology. The later adumbrations of Menger’s explanation by Mises (1998 and 2009) and Rothbard (2009), will be considered as complements to Menger’s theory, particularly given the development of the terminology surrounding this field by Mises (2009). Luther (2014) and Latzer and Schmitz (2002) will be used to provide context to Menger’s explanation, both in terms of its consistency with Menger’s methodology, and by highlighting a selection of its subsequent iterations and extensions.
- Menger, Carl.  2009. On the Origin of Money. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute
- Mises, Ludwig von.  1998. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, The Scholar’s Edition. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute
- ——.  2009. The Theory of Money and Credit. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute
- Rothbard, Murray N. 2009. Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market, Scholar’s Edition, second edition. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute
- Sennholz, Hans. 1992. “The Monetary Writings of Carl Menger”. in The Gold Standard: Perspectives in the Austrian School. edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. Auburn, Ala: Ludwig von Mises Institute
- Luther, William J., 2014. Preface to On the Origins of Money by Carl Menger, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2446645
- Latzer, Michael, and Stefan W. Schmitz. ed. 2002. Carl Menger and the Evolution of Payments Systems: From Barter to Electronic Money, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
ii) The State Theory of Money:
Having outlined the Mengerian/Austrian explanation of the origin of money, I plan to contrast it with literature which emphasises the role of the state in that process. As well as addressing the theories presented in the literature, I hope to consider whether and to what extent the existing, non-Austrian descriptions of the influence of the state on the development of money might complement the Austrian theory. To the extent that the ‘State Theories’ can provide insights into how state action can influence the development of monies, while still accepting that Menger’s theory correctly describes characteristics of human action which propel that process, the question then arises of which of those two forces tends to exert the greater influence, and whether that is a matter for theoretical or empirical enquiry. Furthermore, how much can be said from a theoretical perspective about the necessary outcomes of state intervention per se, into the process of the development of a monetary commodity out of media of exchange, or is this an empirical question dependent upon the specifics of each given intervention? The literature on this subject is naturally extensive, but I anticipate that the history of these ideas presented by Wray (2014) will provide a very valuable aid in the writing of this section.
- Knapp, George Friedrich. 1924. The State Theory of Money. London: Macmillan & Company Limited
- Lerner, Abba P., 1947. Money as a Creature of the State. The American Economic Review, Vol. 37, No. 2
- Desan, Christine A., 2013. Creation Stories: Myths About the Origins of Money. Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 13-20.
- ——. 2014. Making Money: Coin Currency and the Coming of Capitalism. Oxford University Press
- Wray, L. Randall. 2014. From the State Theory of Money to Modern Monetary Theory: An Alternative to Economic Orthodoxy. Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. Working Paper No.792
iii) The Effect of Taxation on the development of a Money out of Media of Exchange
During my assessment of the state theories of the origins of money, I am particularly interested to consider the influence of the institution of taxation, when introduced to the chain of events described in Menger’s theory. It is true to say that the economic forces described in Menger’s framework are logically sufficient to explain the development of monies (i.e. generally accepted media of exchange). However, given that states stand to benefit by restricting the number of commodities accepted in payment of taxation, they can thus be expected to accelerate and influence the process by which a single money eventually develops out of media of exchange. This is so because, if a state stipulates that taxation must be paid in a particular commodity, citizens who expect they will be forced to pay those taxes will tend to wish to acquire that commodity more strongly than would otherwise be the case. To the extent that this increases the valuation of that commodity by a large part of the population within that state’s borders, and therefore makes that commodity more saleable, the desirability of using that commodity as a medium of exchange would also increase, other things being equal. For this reason, the institution of taxation can be expected to distort the process by which a money develops out of media of exchange, away from what would have taken place if that process had developed along exclusively Mengerian lines. The selection of chartalist literature outlined by Wray (2014) could provide valuable insights into the impacts on the development of money when states restrict the number of commodities accepted in payment of taxation. Furthermore, Tilly (1982) provides an interesting illustration of the process by which taxation likely developed in early societies, through the nature of coercion and obligation.
- Tilly, Charles. 1982. Warmaking and Statemaking as Organized Crime. University of Michigan CRSO Working Paper No.256
iv) The Credit Theory of Money:
I also hope to consider a range of theories which emphasise the importance of credit in pre-monetary societies, to the development of money. Wray (2004) collects several interesting contributions to this literature, including by A. Mitchell Innes and Geoffrey W. Gardiner, (as well as chapters relevant to the state theory of money.) However, I am particularly eager to consider the chapter “The Myth of Barter” by Graeber (2011), which directly and forcefully attacks theories such as that of Carl Menger (whom Graeber apparently confuses with Karl Menger, the mathematician). Concerningly, Graeber seems to take issue with the very idea that economists should use hypotheticals or thought experiments in their analysis of this issue, and therefore dismisses descriptions of barter in his opponents’ explanations as “faraway fantasylands” (Graeber 2011, p.25). Given the lengths Graeber goes to in his attempt to dismiss barter theories of the origins of money, it is less clear whether credit theories such as his own would be at all compatible with Menger’s explanation.
- Wray, L. Randall. ed. 2004. Credit and State Theories of Money. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
- Graeber, David. 2011. Debt: The First 5000 Years. New York: Melville House Publishing
- Watson, Michael V. Szpindor. “A Cheer for Innes: Incorporating Inter-temporal Barter into Menger’s Account on the Emergence of Money.” Presented to the Austrian Economics Research Conference, March 10-11, 2017. (Due to the very recent date of this paper, I have not yet been afforded the opportunity to fully consider how closely it will relate to my own line of inquiry. However, I suspect that my work on this topic will be benefitted by an assessment of Watson’s insights.)
Other sources of interest:
- Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1975. Money: Whence it came, where it went. London: André Deutsch Limited
While it does not necessarily present a systematic theoretical explanation of the causes of the development of money, Galbraith’s work nevertheless provides an interesting account of the history of the development of money.
While Menger’s pathbreaking work brilliantly demonstrated that state intervention is not necessary in order for money to originate, he himself nevertheless recognised the distortive influence which “state recognition and state regulation” (Menger 2009, p.51) could have on the process by which monies develop. I feel that a sound assessment of the competing theories of the origins of money since Menger, particularly of the extent to which they are compatible with the praxeological method, could prove to be a valuable resource in the development of a theoretical explanation of the impacts of state intervention on the origins of money. Not only would such an explanation expand the scope of sound, Austrian economic theory, but it would also provide valuable insights into the nature of the forces which still influence the monetary landscape of the world today. In the event that I am fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to pursue this topic as a Fellow in Residence at the Mises Institute, it is my hope that the resultant research might go some way toward developing a better understanding of this important topic.