What Is Money

Posted 07 Sep 2009

The first section of the first chapter in The Great Credit Contraction addresses the conflicting definitions of money and currency.  

If one does not have a correct understanding of money and currency then they will have flawed conclusions regarding inflation or deflation.  This will lead to inaccuracies when performing mental calculations of value and result in poorly allocated capital.


The terms moneymoney substitutesillusions and currency are often used interchangeably.  Since they do not mean the same thing this misuse can be confusing.  Even many of the leading experts in this subject have difficulty agreeing on definitions.  The conflation of these terms causes great problems in understanding monetary science.  Therefore, we will separate and distinguish each.




Money must have intrinsic value by being a tangible asset.  This is because when A gives B the pizza, the pizza has intrinsic value.  For the transaction to be extinguished, A must receive from B an asset with intrinsic value.

 If B exchanges a 1oz. American Silver Eagle $1 coin for the pizza, then at the time of the transaction, a pizza and a silver coin would exchange hands.  Value would be exchanged for value at the time of settlement, and the transaction would be extinguished.


money substitute, on the other hand, is a negotiable instrument that promises the payment of money.  An example would be a silver certificate that reads:  ”This certifies that there have/has been deposited in the Treasury of the United States of America (number) silver dollar(s) payable to the bearer on demand.”

Chartalism, the State theory of money, asserts the government gives money or currency its value.  This theory completely opposes basic economic law.  In reality, the backing of government-issued money substitutes with bullion gives the currency value.

If A exchanged the pizza with B for a silver certificate, then the transaction would be settled but not extinguished until A passed on the silver certificate for value.  While A holds the silver certificate, its value could change and it could become worthless.  This happened on June 24, 1968 when the Treasury of the United States of America declared it would no longer honor redemption of silver certificates.

The use of a money substitute introduces risk to A in the transaction with B because A relinquishes value when he tenders the pizza to B but does not receive an asset with intrinsic value in exchange at settlement.  Instead, A must use the instrument in another transaction to receive value.


An illusion is a negotiable that promises nothing and has no intrinsic value.  It is like a silver certificate that promises the bearer no silver.  

It has value only because individuals are willing to bear the payment risk and other risks of the illusion.  The bearer usually tolerates the risks because their cost is lower than the value placed on the utility derived from the service the currency provides to the market participants.


In conclusion, currency is primarily used to settle transactions.  When money, such as gold, silver or platinum, is used to settle a transaction, then the transaction is extinguished.  

However, if either illusions or money substitutes are used, then the transaction is not extinguished and one or more parties to the contract are left to bear the risk of extinguishing the transaction.  This risk often leads to errors in accurately assessing the value and utility from the underlying consideration in determining the price for the transaction.  This is one of the largest risks with using fiat currency.

 As the illusions evaporate during The Great Credit Contraction, here is a free sample, it will be real tangible assets the remain and increase in purchasing power.