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Money Is a Monopoly Government Will Never Surrender

Money Is a Monopoly Government Will Never Surrender

A major intellectual revelation from my youth came from reading Murray Rothbard’s “What Has Government Done to Our Money?” (1963). He includes a passing opinion that private markets are perfectly capable of producing money with no help from government. Under a sweeping monetary reform, private mints could compete in offering this good with full associated services. There is no need for any government intervention here.

It was the kind of claim that, at some point in one’s life, causes the jaw to hit the floor. Investigating this assertion more, I came to see that there was a large literature on the topic. Historically, money originated in the market economy itself, a naturally evolving institution that met the needs of trade. Whatever good was generally valued by everyone, and was as capable of being divided into consistent units with a stable value, could be deployed as money, with no need for government to do anything but watch.

But of course history has not panned out that way. Every government has a strong incentive to monopolize the good called money because this is how they can tax their citizens, reward the most compliant industries, cultivate close relationships with bankers, and inflate the currency at will through a variety of methods depending on the technology of the time.

We can of course imagine primitive tribes or pre-colonial native populations using rocks and shells, but is there a modern case where private coinage became normalized? In a major but often overlooked work of historical scholarship, economist George Selgin has written the most extensive treatment of the private coinage industry in the UK at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

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