Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/641

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IN his pamphlet entitled "Paper-Money Inflation in France: How it came, What it Drought, and How it ended," President "White tells a very plain and direct, but a very exciting story of national folly and infatuation. It sounds like romance, and but for the constant citations we should almost suspect that the writer is treating us to a satire on American finance. Yet he only gives us a cool, matter-of-fact delineation of a great national experiment in the substitution of irredeemable paper for coin as a circulating medium. The lesson brought out by this impressive narration is, that there are natural laws which govern the business operations of society just as inexorable as the physical laws that maintain the harmonies of the solar system or the physiological laws that control the life-processes of the human body. But in the realm of social operations this truth is not recognized. In consequence of public ignorance upon this point, and the stupid superstitions of the people regarding the potency of legislation, this great field of human effort is the intrenchment of imposture in a hundred shapes, where designing quacks and credulous dupes, calculating demagogues, purblind reformers, and humbugs of every stripe, have free course and unrestrained revel. This is a sphere in which it is believed that Nature can be cheated, and the consequences of human actions escaped. The laws that connect human well-being with self-restraint, that require present sacrifice for future good, and make comfort and competence dependent upon industry and frugality, are held to be the mere hard conditions of human lot, which, being evaded by many, may be avoided by all through cunning political schemes and proper legislative ingenuity. There are still millions in this country who have a kind of vague faith that irredeemable paper-money such as a government can print and scatter without limit is a means of national prosperity, a fountain of public wealth, an equalizer of fortunes, a blessing to the poorer classes, and a grand defense of society against the evils of poverty and privation. That it is an illusion and a snare, full of danger, and offering transient benefits at the expense of final disaster, it is difficult to make them understand.

Let people in this state of mind acquaint themselves with the experience of the French upon the subject by reading President White's statement. We give its leading points, quoting his own words freely: The year 1789 was one of stagnation and financial embarrassment in France. The nation had a heavy debt and a serious deficit, and there was scarcity of money and a want of confidence. This was a time of trial and a test of statesmanship. There were those who saw that the evil could only be remedied by patience, careful management, and the strict adherence to established financial principles. But others, as Dr. White says, were "looking about for some short road to prosperity, and ere long the idea was set afloat that the great want of the country was more of the circulating medium; and this was speedily followed by calls for an issue of paper-money." There was then a struggle. The dangers of such a course were vividly depicted on the one hand, and on the other it was maintained that it would be the salvation of France. On the 19th of April, 1790. the finance committee of the