Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/198

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
186
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

point of value to the wants of retail trade, that in the former country it is made more useful by being halved and quartered, and in the latter is replaced with some even cheaper metal, as iron, or spelter. The wages in all such countries do not in general exceed twenty to twenty-five cents a day, and the sum of such wages, when represented in money, must be capable of division into as many parts in order to be exchanged for the many daily necessities of an individual or a family. But with wages at twenty-five cents per day, the use of coined gold would obviously be impracticable. The equivalent of a day's labor in gold would be too small to be conveniently handled; the equivalent of an hour's labor would be smaller than a pin's head. And in a lesser degree would be the inconvenience of using coined silver for effecting the division of similar small wages.[1]

In countries of higher civilization, but still of comparatively low prices and limited exchanges (and these last mainly internal or domestic), silver naturally takes the place of copper as the coin medium of exchange and as the standard of value; and as more than a thousand million people are the inhabitants of such countries, silver, reckoning transactions by number and probably also by amount, is to-day the principal money metal of the world.

On the other hand, in countries of high wages, rapid financial transactions, and extensive foreign commercial relations, the natural tendencies are altogether different, and favor the more extensive use of gold for money, without at the same time displacing from their legitimate monetary spheres either copper or silver.

The metal coinage system of the world is not therefore "mono--

  1. In many of the sugar-producing islands of the West Indies, the greatest number of the separate retail purchases at the established stores do not exceed from two to three cents in value. In the Island of Trinidad, probably 75 per cent of an annual importation of about 22,000,000 pounds of breadstuffs (110,000 barrels) pass into the ownership of the laboring-classes (whose average annual consumption is estimated at 31 pounds per bead), through purchases for cash of quantities rarely exceeding a pound at any one time.

    Corea, a country which until recently has been almost unknown to the civilized world, affords another striking illustration of the principle that the kind of money a people will have and use, if left free to choose, will be determined by the nature of their exchanges, through what may be termed a natural process of evolution, and not by artificial arrangements. Thus, Corea has been proved to be a very poor country; raising little more of any one product than will suffice for home consumption; and with a very restricted internal trade, owing to small production and the lack of facilities for personal intercommunication and product distribution. To a majority of her people a monthly income equivalent to two or three dollars, is represented to be sufficient to meet all their necessities. Yet even under these unfavorable and limited conditions of exchange, money has been found a necessity; and has come into use in Corea, in some unknown manner, in the shape of small metallic coinage—nominally copper, but really a sort of spelter-piece—500 to the dollar. With the opening of the ports of the country, a demand for certain foreign products has been created; and these, when obtained in exchange for hides and gold-dust, are sold to the people in quantities so small, that only coins of the value and character mentioned can be conveniently used as media of exchange—kerosene, for example, being sold by the half-gill, and matches in bunches of a dozen.