Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/595

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.


SEPTEMBER, 1893.


WHY SILVER CEASES TO BE MONEY.
By F. W. TAUSSIG, Ph. D.,

PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

THE striking fall in the price of silver and the unmistakable tendency among civilized countries to cease using it as a basis for currency, suggest the inquiry whether these results are accidental or flow from causes so regular and continuous in their application as to be analogous to physical law. Thirty years ago most economists would have hesitated little in seeking analogies of this sort. The general conclusions on which economists were then agreed were often stated to be natural laws, as certain and immutable in their application as the laws of the physical universe. The general rate of wages was governed by natural laws; prices were determined by natural laws, which combinations and speculators could not violate with impunity; monetary phenomena were subject to similar unalterable conditions. The value of the precious metals, like that of other commodities, was determined only by their cost of production, and legislative action seeking to regulate their value and bring about their concurrent circulation must of necessity be futile.

Of late the language even of conservative economists has been more guarded. The more ardent representatives of the new movement in economic thought go further, and reject once for all the notion of natural law in economic phenomena. Even those who appeal with confidence to economic laws must admit that their operation is in many ways unlike that of physical law. They are stated to be tendencies; they are conclusions hypothetically true, or true only in the long run. Above all, the play of human volition, and of legislation as reflecting