Many ancient communities, for instance, took cattle as their standard of value but used more manageable objects as means of payment. Exchange involving the use of money is a great improvement over barter, since it permits elaborate specialization and provides generalized purchasing power that the participants in the exchange may use in the future. The growth of monetary institutions has largely paralleled that of trade and industry; today almost all economic activity is concerned with the making and spending of money incomes.
From the earliest times precious metals have had wide monetary use, owing to convenience of handling, durability, divisibility, and the high intrinsic value commonly attached to them. Whether an article is to be regarded as money does not, however, depend on its value as a commodity, except where intrinsic worth is necessary to make it generally acceptable in exchange; the relation between the face value of an object used as money and its commodity value has actually become increasingly remote (see coin). Paper currency first appeared about 300 years ago; it was usually backed by some "standard" commodity of intrinsic value into which it could be freely converted on demand, but even during the early development of currency, issuance of inconvertible paper money, also called fiat money, was not infrequent (see, for example, Law, John). The world's first durable plastic currency was introduced by Australia in a special issue in 1988 and in a regular issue in 1992. Plastic bills are more resistant to counterfeiting than paper, and a number of countries now issue some plastic currency.
The importance of money has been variously interpreted. While the advocates of mercantilism tended to identify money with wealth, the classical economists, e.g., John Stuart Mill, usually considered money as a veil obscuring real economic phenomena. Since the mid-20th cent., a group known as the monetarists has given increasing attention to the role of money in determining national income and economic fluctuations.
The monetary system of the United States was based on bimetallism during most of the 19th cent. A full gold standard was in effect from 1900 to 1933, providing for free coinage of gold and full convertibility of currency into gold coin; the volume of money in circulation was closely related to the gold supply. The passage of the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, which put the country on a modified gold standard, presaged the end of the gold-based monetary system in domestic exchange. Under this system, the dollar was legally defined as having a certain, fixed value in gold. While gold was still thought to be important for maintenance of confidence in the dollar, its connection with the actual use of money was at best vague. The 1934 act stipulated that gold could not be used as a medium of domestic exchange. More recently, a number of measures have de-emphasized the dollar's dependence on gold; since the early 1970s, practically all U.S. currency, paper or coin, is essentially fiat money.
Under the Legal Tender Act of 1933, all American coin and paper money in circulation is now legal tender, i.e., under the law it must be accepted at face value by creditors in payment of any debt, public or private. Most of the currency circulating in the United States consists of Federal Reserve notes, which are issued in denominations ranging from $1 to $100 by the Federal Reserve System, are guaranteed by the U.S. government, and are secured by government securities and eligible commercial paper. A small fraction of the currency supply is made up of the various types of coin, none of which has a commodity value equal to its face value. Finally, an even smaller part of the circulating currency is composed of bills that are no longer issued, such as silver certificates, which were redeemable in silver until 1967, and bills in denominations between $500 and $100,000, which have not been issued since 1969. Today, currency and coin are less widely used as a means of payment than checks, debit cards, and credit cards; demand deposits (checking accounts) are, therefore, generally considered part of the money supply. Starting in 1996, the Federal Reserve undertook the redesign of all paper bills, chiefly to deter a new wave of counterfeiting that uses computer technology; further changes, including colors in addition to green, were introduced in 2003. (See banking; on the regulation of the supply, availability, and cost of money, see Federal Reserve System and interest.) Certain assets, sometimes called near-monies, are similar to money in that they can usually be readily converted into cash without loss; they include, for example, time deposits and very short-term obligations of the federal government. Funds that are frequently transferred from country to country for maximum advantage are called hot monies. The technical definition of the nation's aggregate money supply includes three measures of money: M-1, the sum of all currency and demand deposits held by consumers and businesses; M-2 is M-1 plus all savings accounts, time deposits (e.g., certificates of deposit), and smaller money-market accounts; M-3 is M-2 plus large-denomination time deposits held by corporations and financial institutions and money-market funds held by financial institutions.
Electronic payment systems, already in place for use by credit-card processors, were adapted in the 1990s for use in electronic commerce (e-commerce) on the Internet. Such "digital cash" payments allow customers to pay for on-line orders using secure accounts established with specialized financial institutions; related technology is used for on-line payment of bills.
See J. M. Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936); J. Niehans, The Theory of Money (1980); J. Wheatley, An Essay on the Theory of Money and Principles of Commerce (1983); A. Schwartz, Money in Historical Perspective (1987); J. Hicks, A Market Theory of Money (1989); C. Rogers, Money, Interest and Capital (1989); J. Goodwin, Greenback (2002); N. Ferguson, The Ascent of Money (2008).
English tax levied by the crown on coastal cities for naval defense in time of war. First levied in medieval times, the tax required payment in the form of a number of warships or their equivalent in money. It was revived in 1634 by Charles I to raise extra revenue. He issued six annual writs (1634–39) that extended the imposition to inland towns and sought to establish it as a permanent tax. Its enforcement aroused widespread opposition and added to the discontent leading to the English Civil Wars. In 1641 the tax was declared illegal by Parliament.
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Economic theory relating changes in the price level to changes in the quantity of money. It has often been used to analyze the factors underlying inflation and deflation. The quantity theory was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries by philosophers such as John Locke and David Hume and was intended as a weapon against mercantilism. Drawing a distinction between money and wealth, advocates of the quantity theory argued that if the accumulation of money by a nation merely raised prices, the mercantilist emphasis on a favourable balance of trade would only increase the supply of money without increasing wealth. The theory contributed to the ascendancy of free trade over protectionism. In the 19th–20th centuries it played a part in the analysis of business cycles and in the theory of rates of foreign exchange.
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Liquid assets held by individuals and banks. The money supply includes coins, currency, and demand deposits (checking accounts). Some economists consider time and savings deposits to be part of the money supply because such deposits can be managed by governmental action and are nearly as liquid as currency and demand deposits. Other economists believe that deposits in mutual savings banks, savings and loan associations, and credit unions should be counted as part of the money supply. Central banks regulate the money supply to stabilize their national economies. Seealso monetary policy.
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Certificate requiring the issuer to pay a certain sum of money on demand to a specific person or organization. Money orders provide a fast, safe, and convenient means of transferring small sums of money. They are issued by governments (usually through postal authorities), banks, and other qualified institutions to buyers who pay the issuer the face amount of the money order plus a service charge. Because they are exchangeable for cash on demand, they are a generally accepted means of payment. The American Express Co. began issuing money orders in 1882; the company also created the first traveler's checks nine years later. Seealso currency.
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Set of institutions, conventions, and practices whose aim is to facilitate the lending and borrowing of money on a short-term basis. The money market is, therefore, different from the capital market, which is concerned with medium- and long-term credit. The transactions that occur on the money market involve not only banknotes but assets that can be turned into cash at short notice, such as short-term government securities and bills of exchange. Though the details and mechanism of the money market vary greatly from country to country, in all cases its basic function is to enable those with surplus short-term funds to lend and those with the need for short-term credit to borrow. This function is accomplished through middlemen who provide their services for a profit. In most countries the government plays a major role in the money market, acting both as a lender and borrower and often using its position to influence the money supply and interest rates according to its monetary policy. The U.S. money market covers financial instruments ranging from bills of exchange and government securities to funds from clearinghouses and certificates of deposit. In addition, the Federal Reserve System provides considerable short-term credit directly to the banking system. The international money market facilitates the borrowing, lending, and exchange of currencies between countries.
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Credit cooperative formed by a group of people with some common bond who, in effect, save their money together and make low-cost loans to each other. The loans are usually short-term consumer loans, mainly for automobiles, household needs, medical debts, and emergencies. Credit unions generally operate under government charter and supervision. They are particularly important in less developed countries, where they may be the only source of credit for their members. The first cooperative societies providing credit were founded in Germany and Italy in the mid-19th century; the first North American credit unions were founded by Alphonse Desjardins in Lévis, Quebec (1900), and Manchester, N.H. (1909). The Credit Union National Association (CUNA), a federation of U.S. credit unions, was established in 1934 and became a worldwide association in 1958.
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Small card that authorizes the person named on it to charge goods or services to his or her account. It differs from a debit card, with which money is automatically deducted from the bank account of the cardholder to pay for the goods or services. Credit-card use originated in the U.S. in the 1920s; early credit cards were issued by various firms (e.g., oil companies and hotel chains) for use at their outlets only. The first universal credit card, accepted by a variety of establishments, was issued by Diners' Club in 1950. Charge cards such as American Express require cardholders to pay for all purchases at the end of the billing period (usually monthly). Bank cards such as MasterCard and Visa allow customers to pay only a portion of their bill; interest accrues on the unpaid balance. Credit-card companies get revenue from annual fees and interest paid by cardholders and from fees paid by participating merchants.
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Organization that provides information to merchants or other businesses concerning the creditworthiness of their customers. Credit bureaus may be private enterprises or may be operated on a cooperative basis by the merchants in one locality. Users of the service pay a fee and receive information from various sources, including businesses that have granted the customer credit in the past, public records, newspapers, the customer's employment record, and direct investigation.
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Transaction between two parties in which one (the creditor or lender) supplies money, goods, services, or securities in return for a promised future payment by the other (the debtor or borrower). Such transactions normally include the payment of interest to the lender. Credit may be extended by public or private institutions to finance business activities, agricultural operations, consumer expenditures, or government projects. Large sums of credit are usually extended through specialized financial institutions such as commercial banks or through government lending programs.
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Short- and intermediate-term loans used to finance the purchase of commodities or services for personal consumption. The loans may be supplied by lenders in the form of cash loans or by sellers in the form of sales credit. Installment loans, such as automobile loans and credit-card purchases, are paid back in two or more payments; noninstallment loans, such as the service credit extended by utility companies, are paid back in a lump sum. Consumer loans usually carry a higher rate of interest than business loans. Seealso credit.
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Commodity accepted by general consent as a medium of economic exchange. It is the medium in which prices and values are expressed; it circulates from person to person and country to country, thus facilitating trade. Throughout history various commodities have been used as money, including seashells, beads, and cattle, but since the 17th century the most common forms have been metal coins, paper notes, and bookkeeping entries. In standard economic theory, money is held to have four functions: to serve as a medium of exchange universally accepted in return for goods and services; to act as a measure of value, making possible the operation of the price system and the calculation of cost, profit, and loss; to serve as a standard of deferred payments, the unit in which loans are made and future transactions are fixed; and to provide a means of storing wealth not immediately required for use. Metals, especially gold and silver, have been used for money for at least 4,000 years; standardized coins have been minted for perhaps 2,600 years. In the late 18th and early 19th century, banks began to issue notes redeemable in gold or silver, which became the principal money of industrial economies. Temporarily during World War I and permanently from the 1930s, most nations abandoned the gold standard. To most individuals today, money consists of coins, notes, and bank deposits. In terms of the economy, however, the total money supply is several times as large as the sum total of individual money holdings so defined, since most of the deposits placed in banks are loaned out, thus multiplying the money supply several times over. Seealso soft money.
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Mark (from a merging of three Teutonic/Germanic languages words, Latinized in 9th century post-classical Latin as marca, marcha, marha, marcus) was a measure of weight (see mark (mass)) mainly for gold and silver, commonly used throughout western Europe and often equivalent to 8 ounces. Considerable variations, however, occurred throughout the Middle Ages (see du Cange, Gloss. med. et infim. Lat., s.v. Marca for a full list).
In England the "mark" never appeared as a coin, but as a money of account only, and apparently came into use in the 10th century through the Danes. According to 19th century sources, it first equalled 100 pence, but after the Norman Conquest equalled 160 pence = 2/3 of the Pound Sterling, or 13 shillings and 4 pence. In Scotland, the Merk Scots comprised a silver coin of this value, issued first in 1570 and afterwards in 1663.
Germany adopted the Mark as its currency following unification in 1871. This first Mark came to be known as the Goldmark, which became Papiermark later and eventually suffered hyperinflation in 1923 (see inflation in the Weimar Republic). A new Mark was introduced, called the Rentenmark (worth Papiermark), swiftly replaced by the Reichsmark in 1924.
The German Mark was introduced by the western allies in their zones of occupation in 1948, with the Soviets issuing their own Deutsche Mark (often referred to as the East German Mark or Ostmark, later officially called the "Mark der DDR") later that same year.