By Louise Seaward, on 17 January 2017
Below is an update from Dr Michael Quinn of the Bentham Project. He gives some details of his editorial work on Bentham’s Writings on Political Economy and asks for help in transcribing the remaining documents from Boxes 1 and 2.
Money, money money
It’s high time to check-in with the TB volunteers and to provide an update on progress with editing Bentham’s Writings on Political Economy. I’m happy to report that all your efforts on transcribing box 150 are now coming to fruition with the submission of the draft text of Vol. III, Writings on Preventive Police, to the critical-corrective pencil of the General Editor. With luck and a following wind, we should be in a position to post the text of the volume on the Project website around the end of 2017. I’ll speak a little about some more Benthamic gems in Vol. III in another blog, but now I’d like to say a little about Vol. IV of Writings on Political Economy, which will contain Bentham’s Annuity Note scheme.
Thanks to TB volunteers, only 135 folios have yet to be tackled (103 in Box 1 and 32 in Box 2). This is in large part thanks to the efforts of TB user Phillip Fawcet, whose Herculean labours on Box 1 have not gone unnoticed.
Early investigations have turned up a sustained discussion of Adam Smith’s view that paper money could not increase wealth, since it simply served to drive out metallic money (Wealth of Nations (Glasgow Edition), i. 300–1). The sequence begins in Bentham’s hand, and is completed in that of a copyist. We knew that Bentham disagreed with Smith, and Werner Stark, who edited the only previous edition of Bentham’s writings in this area, mentions this discussion in passing, but it has never been published. It will (if I have anything to do with it) finally appear in the new volume:
‘Another supposition is—that the commerce is the same, that is the quantity of wealth constituting the subject-matter of commerce is the same, that is, or at least may be, no greater after the introduction of a mass of paper money to any amount than it would have been without it. But this is altogether impossible, for:
- If the quantity of that which passes for money has been encreased, it is impossible but that the quantity of wealth of all sorts (unless the money, as in Spain, were sent out of the country without being expended in it) should not have encreased likewise.
- It can make no difference in this respect whether that which passes for money be gold and silver money, or paper money, so long as paper money is received for its nominal amount. A week’s labour for which the master-manufacturer pays a guinea, and the labourer receives a guinea, whether that labour were paid for by a guinea in gold, or by a £1 note and a shilling, the produce of that labour and the value of that produce is just the same. True it is, that if the £1 note be burnt, or—what comes to the same thing, whether because the payment of the £ in hard cash is refused by the issuer, or from whatever other cause—nobody will receive it, no more labour will be produced by that same note: but by the annihilation of the note the result of that labour will not be annihilated: if so many feet of walling have been built with it, the note may cease to pass current, but the Wall will not on that account fall down. It will be no more in danger of falling down than if the money with which the Bricklayer had been paid for it had been hard cash.
- It is only by an addition made to the quantity of money (metallic or paper) held out to labouring hands that the quantity of other species of wealth can—barter out of the question—receive any encrease. For (barter out of the question) who is it that will perform labour without being paid for it?—and—barter out of the question—wherewith can a man be paid for his work, but with money?’ (UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, Box I, fo. 309–10, transcribed by Phillip Fawcet)
Bentham accuses Smith of begging the question, and concludes that ‘the currency of any given quantity of it [i.e. paper money] depends much more upon the temper of the times, upon the opinion casually entertained of it, than upon the ratio of its amount to the amount of metallic money; and if there be in this respect a maximum or greatest ratio beyond which the proportion of paper money to metallic money cannot be carried, the Author does not appear to have given any sufficient reason for fixing that maximum at the point at which he appears to fix it’ (UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, Box I, fo. 314, transcribed by Keith Thompson and G. L. J. Willis).
I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the attempt to edit Bentham’s other discussions of Smith, and trying to reconstruct his unexpurgated draft of ‘Circulating Annuities’. In the meantime, I need to ask the transcribers for one more heave to finish the transcription of Boxes 1 and 2. It will be worth it in the end …