Far more than the problem of the quantity of money, false money was the central issue in monetary debates that occurred in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It first referred to sovereignty, in a time of state-building, as well as to a serious economic problem. Beyond sovereignty and economy, justice and the public faith were endangered by those who falsified the currency. Yet, the thesis of this paper is that one cannot understand false money in the early modern period by reading texts of that time with today's understanding of false money in mind. The variety of falsifications and their interconnections appear especially when carefully reading the monetary discourses of Jean Bodin, Juan de Mariana, and John Locke. These authors developed arguments about the limits of political powers in the context of currency management. A general claim to counteract counterfeiting (as implemented by individuals) may conceal a claim to suppress any possibility of debasing, and even enhancing, currency (as decided by princes). Clarifying the monetary discourses on the topic and establishing a hierarchy between those dimensions help us understand why the false-money issue was first considered a matter of monetary justice by the prince himself. We identify the multiple dimensions of false money: counterfeiting, degradation of coins, debasement, and enhancement. Until the end of the seventeenth century, monetary instability impeded the development of production in the long run. Stabilizations, through a monetary revolution close to what had been proposed by Bodin, Mariana, and Locke, occurred between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Counteracting Counterfeiting? Bodin, Mariana, and Locke on False Money as a Multidimensional Issue
Ludovic Desmedt, Jérôme Blanc; Counteracting Counterfeiting? Bodin, Mariana, and Locke on False Money as a Multidimensional Issue. History of Political Economy 1 June 2010; 42 (2): 323–360. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-2010-005
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