Monetary system

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The basic money of a country, into which other forms of money may be converted and which determines the value of other kinds of money, is called the money of redemption or standard money. The monetary standard of a nation refers to the type of standard money used in the monetary system. Modern standards have been either commodity standards, in which either gold or silver has been chiefly used as s[...]
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The basic money of a country, into which other forms of money may be converted and which determines the value of other kinds of money, is called the money of redemption or standard money. The monetary standard of a nation refers to the type of standard money used in the monetary system. Modern standards have been either commodity standards, in which either gold or silver has been chiefly used as standard money, or fiat standards, consisting of inconvertible currency paper units.

The principal types of gold standard are the gold-coin standard, the standard in the United States until 1933; the gold-bullion standard consisting of a specified quantity of gold; and the gold-exchange standard, under which the currency is convertible into the currency of some other country on the gold standard. The gold-bullion standard was used in Great Britain from 1925 to 1931, while a number of Latin American countries have used the dollar-exchange standard.

Silver standards have been used in modern times chiefly in the Orient. Also, a bimetallic standard (see Bimetallism) has been used in some countries, under which either gold or silver coins were the standard currency. Such systems were rarely successful, largely because of Gresham's law, which describes the tendency for cheaper money to drive more valuable money out of circulation.

Most monetary systems of the world at the present time are fiat systems; they do not allow free convertibility of the currency into a metallic standard, and money is given value by government fiat or edict rather than by its nominal gold or silver content. Modern systems are also described as managed currencies, because the value of the currency units depends to a considerable extent on government management and policies.

Internally, the monetary system of the United States contains many elements of managed currency; although gold coinage is no longer permitted, gold may be owned, traded, or used for industrial purposes. It is a recurrent problem whether the value of inconvertible-credit currency can be maintained at a fairly stable level for extended periods of time.

Economic Importance

Credit, or the use of a promise to pay in the future, is an invaluable supplement to money today. Most of the business transactions in the United States use credit instruments rather than currency. Bank deposits are commonly included in the monetary structure of a country; the term money supply denotes currency in circulation plus bank deposits.

The real value of money is determined by its purchasing power, which in turn depends on the level of commodity prices. According to the quantity theory of money, prices are determined largely or entirely by the volume of money outstanding. Experience has shown, however, that equally important in determining the price level are the speed of turnover of money and the volume of production of goods and services. The volume and speed of turnover of bank deposits are also significant. See National Income.
The Monetary System of the United States

In the American colonies, coins of almost every European country circulated, with the Spanish dollar predominating. Because of the scarcity of coins, the colonists also used various primitive mediums of exchange, such as bullets, tobacco, and animal skins; many of the colonies issued paper money that circulated at varying rates of discount.

The first unified currency consisted of the notes issued by the Continental Congress to finance the American Revolution. These notes were originally declared redeemable in gold or silver coins, but redemption was found impossible after the Revolution because of the excess of printed notes over metal reserves. Thus, the notes depreciated and became nearly worthless.

Early Monetary Regulations

In 1792 Congress passed the first coinage act, adopting a bimetallic standard under which both gold and silver coins were to be minted. The gold dollar contained 24.75 grains of pure gold and the silver dollar 15 times as much silver, making the legal mint ratio 15 to 1 (see Dollar). At this ratio gold was undervalued at the mint, as compared with its value as bullion, and very little gold was presented for coinage. Silver dollars also were largely withdrawn from circulation, because they could be exported to the West Indies and exchanged at face value for slightly heavier Spanish dollars, which were then melted down and taken to the mint for coinage into American dollars at a profit.

Until 1834, when Congress adopted a mint ratio of 16 to 1 by reducing the weight of the gold dollar, the metallic currency was limited mainly to a meager supply of small silver and copper coins. The first Bank of the United States, which was chartered by Congress in 1791 for 20 years, and the second Bank of the United States, which existed from 1816 to 1836, issued bank notes that maintained a fairly stable value.

Many state-chartered banks also issued notes that, because of the lax state banking laws, often greatly depreciated in value. After the closing of the second Bank of the United States, most of the paper currency consisted of notes of state-chartered banks and circulated only in a limited area.
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