An Introduction to Austrian Economics Thomas C. Taylor
Uses of Money
In most modern economies, money is primarily fiat money, and its use value in the sense of being employed for consumption purposes is virtually zero. However, where specie is used, money can have a considerable use value. For example, gold and silver can be melted down for jewelry, decoration, and dental applications. Incidents of converting money into other useful products are not common in modern economies; money is valued almost invariably for its exchangeability. Its great service is that is obviates the requirement for a coincidence of product wants among the parties to an exchange, as is required in cases of direct barter.
There are three ways that a specific quantity of money can be put to immediate use. It can be used for the expenditure necessary to acquire another good or service to be used for consumption purposes. It can be spent for another good or service that is to be used in the productive process of effecting or fabricating a new good. In such case, an investment expenditure is made that is designed to yield future consumption or investment benefits through subsequent disposal or consumption of the produced good. Even wholesalers and retailers who bring about no change to the physical good itself effect a new good by placing it at a more accessible and convenient location. They are thereby engaged in the productive process, and the money spent to acquire the goods stocked is expended for production as opposed to consumption purposes.
The third use is to add the money to one's cash balance to help pay for future exchange transactions. The fact that a person holds a certain amount of money at a given moment indicates that he values the money more than those things that he could obtain in exchange for it. Yet holding an amount of money at a given moment does not alter the fact that money is valued for its exchangeability. It merely shows that being prepared for later exchanges is valued more highly than making exchanges now. The satisfaction arising from an increased cash supply is often manifested in a feeling of greater security. This valuation springs from the belief that in the future one will be better able to meet his needs by spending his accumulated cash balance. That a money asset yields a service or satisfaction and thus is not sterile and unproductive--as has been widely held in the study of economics since the days of Aristotle--has been elucidated by Professor W.H. Hutt.
The principle of diminishing marginal utility is no less applicable to money than to other commodities. Units of money are utilized in such a way that the most urgent goals or needs are met first. Because of the particularly easy divisibility of money, such allocations are made in more incremental steps than is the case with any other commodity. The marginal utility of money, then, equals the least highly valued use that the given unit serves. Just as in the case of the farmer's five sacks of grain, the satisfaction derived from a unit of money is the satisfaction that would be sacrificed if a unit were lost. The incidence of the loss will always be on the least important use that a unit was intended to serve. Yet this sacrifice is the most important use to which the marginal unit could be put. A person will thus allocate his money among consumption expenditures, production expenditures, and increases in his cash balance in terms of his scale of values or preferences.
Use and Exchange Value in the Market Economy
An important characteristic of the use of commodities, including money, in the productive process under a system of social cooperation is that the user is not concerned only with his own satisfactions or preferences. Since he is engaged in the generation of goods and services that are to be used by other people, the exchange value of the commodities depends on the relative preferences of the other people after the completion of the production process. The number of dollars that the producer anticipates will be the result of his productive efforts hinges ultimately on his perception of the values of other persons.
In a world of certainty, there would be no difficulty in arriving at a money appraisal for the group of employed goods and services. In the modern market economy, however, only in the few cases of guaranteed and contracted sales is the money outcome of certain productive efforts relatively certain. And even in those few cases the invested resources are usually of a scope exceeding what would be required to meet the contracted sales, indicating that the producer is banking on the occurrence of sales not yet contracted. The whole task of having to produce to suit the wants of other persons in the face of an uncertain future is the essence of entrepreneurship.
It can be seen that in the market economy, characterized by the production of goods and services for subsequent exchange by a common medium of exchange, both use and exchange values are a vital part of the economic process. For the ultimate users of goods and services, the consumers, the satisfaction arising from consumption is the source of value or utility. For producers, the goods and services devoted to production are meaningful only in terms of the money and its exchange value, which they expect to generate from the sale of their product. But the crucial point to remember in distinguishing between these two values is that the exchange value of any productive good tends to be connected with the use value that the consumers attach to its end product. The amount of money that consumers can be expected to allocate to various consumer goods and services is strongly influenced by their subjective preferences. It is this anticipated money inflow that provides the basis for arriving at an exchange value for goods and services devoted to production. An explanation of how the prices of productive resources tend to be derived from the prices of consumer goods will be offered in a later section.
The Pervasiveness of Subjective Valuation
Subjective valuation underlies all economic activity. Money is not a measure of value; quite the contrary, money is imputed a subjective value as a means of possessing other things. Any subjective valuation is immeasurable and is manifested only through specific choices and actions. Any particular choice is indicative of the decision maker's preference over all alternative courses of action considered during the time of decision. That this preference can be inferred from his actions does not mean that anything more than a preference is implied. As Rothbard has stated, "We deduce the existence of a specific value scale on the basis of the real act; we have no knowledge of that part of a value scale that is not revealed in real action."
There is no way to measure quantitatively the satisfaction that the actor associates with his choice. Every choice requires rejection of the expected satisfaction from other possible choices; the highest ranked alternative forgone is the cost of any given decision. Benefits and costs are ultimately subjective. Every decision is predicated on the assumption that its benefits will exceed the advantages of the next best course of action; this is the background of every exchange. There is no such thing as an equal exchange. At the point of exchange, both buyer and seller consider themselves to be better off as a result of the exchange. In a system of extensive specialization and division of labor, most goods are produced for exchange. Specialized producers have little, if any, direct use for the goods they have produced; under the principle of diminishing marginal utility, the marginal utility of a unit of production is virtually zero as far as they are concerned. They place a higher valuation on the money that they can get for their goods. On the other hand, consumers or buyers value the goods obtained more highly than the money spent to acquire them. Exchanges can occur only when there are differences between the subjective valuations expressed by the parties of the exchanges.
The failure to consider this subjective orientation led to the unfortunate notion of the "economic man," which depicted every participant in the market economy as relentlessly seeking at every turn to maximize his monetary position. This idea is unrealistic because what people actually seek in every action is a maximum psychic or subjective profit.
There are numerous examples of people forgoing additional monetary wealth because they deem the "cost" to be greater than its worth. There are investors who resist monetarily rewarding investments in industries whose products they find objectionable. Marketers have recognized that consumers sometimes consider factors besides the purchasable good and its related price. The availability of parking, the courtesy of clerks, and "store personality" now receive attention in discussions of merchandising. Wealthy entrepreneurs who continue to involve themselves in profit making even in their old age are undoubtedly motivated in many cases by something besides money. People often consider factors in addition to wages in deciding on a career or particular job.
The point of these examples is to demonstrate that people are not "economic men" in the classical sense and that money is not the ultimate basis of valuation. Even when dealing with money matters, people do not calculate monetarily in utmost detail every step and decision. They maximize subjectively but not monetarily, because monetary calculation must be sacrificed when its requirements on time and energy are recognized. Bohm-Bawerk dealt with this point:
If anyone insisted on deliberating with maximum scrupulousness every one of the economic acts he undertakes every day, if he insisted on rendering a judgment of value throughout to the last detail concerning the most trifling good that he has to deal with by way of receipt or expenditure , by utilization or consumption, such a person would be too much occupied with reckoning and deliberating to call his life his own. The correct maxim and the one which would be observed in economic life is "Be no more accurate than it pays to be." In really important things, be really exact; in moderately important things be moderately exact; in the myriad trifles of everyday economic life, just make the roughest sort of valuation.
It can be stated, however, that, other things being equal, people do strive to maximize their monetary position in choosing among alternative courses of action. A person will choose the alternative that promises to maximize his monetary position as long as he is indifferent to the nonmonetary factors pertaining to the alternatives. In a money economy it is through the common medium of exchange that people are able to acquire most of those goods that yield them satisfaction. By maximizing their monetary position, they are able to command more goods and services from the market than they could with less money. This should not be misconstrued as meaning that all individuals ultimately seek maximum monetary wealth. The fervent pleas of participants in fund-raising endeavors whose stated objectives are to help the crippled surely are not symptoms of greed. Money is the means by which many desired ends can be achieved.
A person will accept a less than maximum monetary position only when the satisfaction obtained from nonmonetary factors relating to another choice more than offsets the satisfaction associated with the money. The role of nonmonetary factors is likely to be greater with regard to the decisions of employment than with regard to those decisions relating to investment and consumption expenditures. Investors generally desire to maximize the financial return on their investment; consumers generally desire to acquire goods at the lowest possible prices.
Thus, despite the subjectivity of benefits and costs, the terms money revenues and money costs are meaningful references to the monetary inflows and outflows that arise in connection with productive activities. Regardless of the nonmonetary factors that are important to a given producer, his monetary position or outcome is also important to him insofar as he desires to continue to purchase certain goods and services. This means he must give more than cursory attention to money costs and money revenues.
However, it must be stressed once more that these money calculations are not in any way measurements of value in the subjective sense. Rothbard has stressed the need to use the term value with care: "It is important to keep distinct the subjective use of the term in the sense of valuation and preference, as against the 'objective' use in the sense of purchasing power or price on the market."