Daily Archives: June 20, 2012

E. C. Riegel’s Money Quiz and the True Money System

How many people in the world really understand money—its essence, its purpose, its proper management, its potential either to free us or enslave us? Sadly the number is close to nil as Riegel discovered decades ago, an opinion that was shared by renowned monetary economist Irving Fisher of Yale University. According to Riegel, Prof. Fisher, in a public speech “indicated that most persons who undertook to discuss money did not understand the subject and that those ‘who understood the real meaning of money’ were very few.” That was sometime in the mid-1930s, but it seems that the same situation still prevails today.

A little later, Riegel wrote a letter asking Fisher to specify whom those few might be, to which Fisher responded with a list of ten names, along with the caveat that the list was by no means exhaustive, and that there were probably several other of which he (Fisher) was unaware.

Next, Riegel, under the banner of the Consumer Guild of America, prepared a questionnaire which he sent out to the ten “experts” that Fisher had named. Riegel then published, in 1935, the results of his survey in a book titled, The Meaning of Money. I’m not aware of the existence of any digital file of that book, but there are a few bound volumes and photocopies still available.

My intention here is not to review or summarize that book, but simply to provide some background showing Riegel’s diligent research of the subject and to set the stage for presenting some of his eventual conclusions.

Riegel died in 1953, but part of the vast legacy he left behind is a one page document that bears the heading, Are These Propositions Correct? This document bears no date, but was probably written late in his life, and seems to be a concise summary of what he discovered and came to believe as result of his many decades of research and cogitation in the areas of money and the exchange process. I have transcribed that document, and present it below for your consideration.

Are These Propositions Correct?

  1. Money is a means of facilitating trade by splitting transactions in halves, giving the buyer value and the seller a claim for equivalent value upon any one or more traders in the community of traders.
  2. The issuance of money arises out of a purchase and sale transaction requiring tender and acceptance. Therefore, it is a bi-lateral function that can be exerted only by a buyer and a seller and there can be no money issue on behalf of another. Therefore governments cannot issue money on behalf of their constituency.
  3. Implicit in the act of issue is the agreement of the issuer (in common with all others in the trading community) to accept the issue in exchange for value when tendered. Therefore, only one who is prepared to accept money in exchange for value, when tendered, is qualified to be a money issuer and all persons so qualified to accept are ipso facto qualified to issue. Thus the power to issue is inherent in all traders.
  4. Money circulation is a cycle wherein the money passes from issuer to acceptor and from acceptor to acceptor until finally accepted by the issuer and thus retired. The money system is therefore a bookkeeping system whereunder money springs from a debit and is retired by an offsetting credit. The instrument evidencing the bookkeeping process need have no intrinsic value.
  5. Money is actually backed by the value surrendered by the seller and potentially backed by the value in possession of the next seller. Therefore, all “reserves” such as precious metals or other values are purely gratuitous and irrelevant.

Conclusion

If the above propositions are correct, we must conclude that a true money system, not only may, but must be established as an integral part of the private enterprise system and the issuing power must be denied to all except private enterprisers, the exclusion to include all governments and non-profit institutions. The true money system must be based upon voluntary cooperation of the participants. Therefore no legislative or political action is required. Therefore, without political sponsorship or boundaries, the true money system is potentially universal and uniting all traders with one monetary language.

Sometimes Riegel’s statements require clarification and elaboration, which I have done in some of my own writings, and there are a (very) few points on which I disagree. But Riegel has given us here a clear view into the simple essence of money and the true nature of the exchange process, providing the material we need for building a solid foundation upon which economic democracy can be erected. –t.h.g.