Author Topic: Gold and slavery  (Read 2985 times)

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Offline EWC

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Gold and slavery
« on: July 29, 2016, 10:17:31 AM »
The inherent instability and poverty of England and its non-catholic future is a fine contrast with the coin: well struck, round, good gold,

The equation of good gold coins in general - with a lack of poverty in general - ought to be controversial.

Gold coins (of approximately this type) were introduced in England under the influence of Florentine bankers, on the back of war loans to Edward III, The peasants revolt of 1382 was driven by the “austerity” measures connected to the repayment of that loan, though oddly nobody ever seems to mention that fact.  The genuine popular sentiment around that time was prominently expressed in the Piers Ploughman literature (Langland & Co)  The devilish figure over striding that allegory is – “Lady Fee” – more or less a personification of the gold noble.

This rise of Gold coincides with the European 15th century, perhaps the worst one to be born into since the 5th?  The moves to reverse the move to gold at the close of that awful century seem to me surely largely political, with the appearance of the silver guldengroschen.  In that it mirrors the political rise of the silver dirhem under Sebuktegin, and the silver rupee under Sher Shah, both of which I began to discuss earlier. 

The only convincing explanation of the rise of medieval European gold I ever read was by the Canadian, Andrew Watson, in 1967 (Back to Gold, and Silver, EHR) .  I tried for years to find out why he never followed up on his 1967 paper, and eventually got a letter from him, in retirement.  It seems immediately after publishing that paper he got a call to his (Toronto) Dean’s office to be told he had got a grant from the Ford Foundation to go study the History of Farming instead.

Oddly, that is about the time the French historian, Fernand Braudel, got a huge Ford Foundation grant to study economic history, and amongst other things, gave a very misleading account of the rise of the rupee in India.  And about the time Moses Finley, also with Ford Foundation connections, to my regret, began to turn English understandings of the ancient economy upside down too.

Rob

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2016, 01:31:22 PM »
To suit my agenda today, I will have to react in two parts. First, the role of weight/fineness. I'll get back to the role of metal later.

Let's take Spain as an example. It had the luxury of issuing a coin that was very widely accepted: the 8 reales, peso, mat, Calolo, 銀圓 (round silver) or whatever you want to call it. Cutting through detail, the weight/fineness of the peso was reasonably stable for centuries, give or take an occasional adjustment and constant attempts at fraud.

At the same time, Spanish copper was an unspeakable mess. Coppers were counterstamped up to three times to adjust their denomination. As a phenomenon, revaluing coins by re-stamping occurred elsewhere also (France under Louis XIV!), but it was more prolonged and deeper cutting in Spain. Apparently, Spain had two currencies. One was stamped round silver used outside the empire, giving the Spanish crown an important income through seigniorage. The other currency was a tool for domestic small transactions.

The problem was that there was a connection between the two currencies: the peso was accepted in Spain. Being a trade coin (There! I said it!), the weight/fineness of the peso had to be kept as stable as possible. The Spanish colonies in South America produced such enormous quantities of gold and (later) silver that the price of gold and silver in terms of copper went down. Therefore, copper denominations had to be adjusted: less copper for silver and gold. It went so fast and in such an unpredictable way that there was no time for a recoinage. The copper had to be counterstamped. So there you are: it is rational to keep the weight/fineness of international coins stable and juggle the domestic coins.

Henry VIII would certainly juggle domestic coins. He did so by lowering the silver content of domestically used coins. I am sure you will know the tale of "old copper nose". It was a second choice policy, but it went into the right direction: England was in bad shape after the war of the roses and the royal finances were in even worse shape. A devaluation was needed to stabilise prices and restore confidence. The best would have been smaller lighter coins. However, Henry VIII was faced by pretenders and civil wars. He may well have been wary of showing "weakness" by lowering the weight and size of coins, opting for a less noticed lower standard instead.

That reasoning apparently didn't apply to our gold angel. I can't reliably guess what's in the mind of people I don't know well, let alone what is in long dead people's mind. However, I can't help notice that the gold angel's tariff doesn't fit easily in the English coin system and that it would have been a good occupation coin: with its high fineness and predictable weight, it would be just the sort of thing that would convince French merchants to sell large amounts of food, horses and equipment to English soldiers, out to conquer Aquitaine. Remember that at this time, the French fleet was larger, better trained, more experienced and on the whole faster than the English fleet. Soldiers could be landed, but re-supplying them almost entirely from England, as in the 100-years war, would have been hazardous.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2016, 05:49:47 PM »
On to metals. In an economic sense, gold and silver are goods like any other good, with a price relative to any other price. What is special is not their character but that they are used as benchmark for all other prices. To put that differently, 1) money is not necessary for trade, but barter is less efficient and 2) anything can serve as money, but metals are more efficient than other goods.

There is a case for using several metals, which rests on weight. Taking weight into consideration, gold is the most efficient metal, since you need less of it to cover the same amount. However, gold is no longer efficient when the transaction amount is so small that the necessary amount of metal becomes really small, especially when precision weighing instruments are expensive or not available. Silver solves that problem. In the same way, copper comes in when silver starts failing.

Let's say that you want to use only one metal. In East Asia that was the case. They did have silver ingots and gold plaques, but basically, their money was brassy or coppery. That will work, though you need servants to carry around a good number of strings, but there is a snag. The amount of copper and zinc available must be sufficient for the needs of the economy, i.e. its use as a metal and its use as a go-between. As long as you have the likes of Ghengis Khan or Timur around, life will remain nasty, brutish and short and economic growth will be limited.

That's true also if your preferred metal is silver. As long as the flow of new metal is enough to cover economic growth there's no problem. Plundering South America will put off the day of reckoning, but inevitably, progress will lead to an imbalance between the growth of your metal supply and economic growth. Before, gold and silver were used for different transactions (compare the times when gold pounds were used to pay for oil and silver francs were used for postal services). After, they both become parts of the money supply. Before, you can have the gold sovereign float freely against silver coins. After, the gold pound must be fixed against the silver shilling. That means the government must get the gold/silver ratio right. In practice, they can't, especially if a series of gold rushes makes old price ratios obsolete. Enter fiduciary money, and a money supply that can be adjusted to economic growth ad infinitum as the solution.

The point: gold is just another good. If it is used as money it's because it's efficient and available (it helps that gold has little use in economic production.) In history, many other goods served as money, from salt and cattle to rum and millstones. Gold turned out to be handier.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline EWC

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2016, 11:02:32 AM »
Thanks Peter

A lot I seem to differ on here, I make two points that I would consider fundamental

1) You characterise a societal lack of coin as "barter".  This seem to me a historical fantasy that we can trace right back to Aristotle.  Lack of coin is primarily associated, not with barter, but with what we might call various forms of serfdom - from outright slavery through to trucking. 

2) You ignore the facts of history when discussing gold use.  The gold phase in the 4th century AD prefaced a near total collapse of European civilisation.  The gold phase of the 14th century prefaced the horrible 15th century.  The 19th century gold standard was somewhat different, in that token subsidiary currencies were better maintained.  So I would not wish to make simplistic comparisons, although there are I think some comparisons there to be made.  As a schoolboy I was taught that German adoption of the gold standard was one cause of WWI.  That was not on my children's history syllabus tho'.

Also, for most of history the supply of copper was not a limiting factor.  Copper was convenient for the poor and inconvenient for the rich, and the supply of copper coin seems to me a good bench mark against which to judge the real aims of past regimes

Rob


Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2016, 04:26:08 PM »
To me, barter is neither a fantasy nor historical. It's just a word to describe direct transactions. Your interpretation does not give me new insights, but if that's what you want to think, fine with me. You may want to consider that societies cannot be practically all slaves, unless your definition of slaves is away from the mainstream. If slaves are unhappy with their condition and a majority, sooner or later, they will topple the non-slaves violently, unless their mobility is severely constricted (e.g. on slave galleys, slaves were chained all the time). Of course, if slaves are happy and ruling the country (e.g. Mamluks) the situation is different but then money is needed.

I am not ignoring any facts, but restricting myself to what I consider good examples from periods I know about. I know enough about 4th century economics to know that very little is known about it. I feel no need to go all through world history. That doesn't make my reasoning simplistic, it renders my train of thought more comprehensible, I hope.

We agree that copper was not a limitation and inconvenient. I don't agree that widespread or non-use of copper proves anything, but it may sometimes be circumstantial evidence of wider issues.

Peter
« Last Edit: July 30, 2016, 04:57:10 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline EWC

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2016, 12:40:01 PM »
You may want to consider that societies cannot be practically all slaves, unless your definition of slaves is away from the mainstream.

I do not understand why I would want to consider this?  My point concerned an extended notion of serfdom and including trucking, so not just slavery,.  That this was widespread - probably until the 1920's in rural parts of Scotland, and the 1950's in rural coalfields in the USA, is rather historically accessible.  Actually, I talked to people who remember it.

I know enough about 4th century economics to know that very little is known about it.

I cannot make sense of this.  We know that there was primarily a gold copper coinage, and that the gold was very stable.  We know the copper type changed a lot, and the Egyptian texts strongly suggests it was deliberately inflated, making commerce for the bulk of the population near pointless, as the value of savings in copper was destroyed almost as quickly as they were accumulated.  (Actually, this pattern much resembles mid 20th century Latin American economies, with stable dollar accounts for the elites, and inflating paper for all the rest, with the only way to progress, for those outside the elite classes, via politics and the army.

We know also Rome finished with coppers that were not only tiny (c. 7,000 to the solidus) but also rare – which surely suggests the population no longer had much use for coinage at all, they were apparently just selling themselves into coinless serfdom as the 5th century state abandoned the needs of most of the citizenry

Rob


Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2016, 02:17:39 PM »
That notion is one of modern slavery and it persists, e.g. in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. I can't see how you can call any society that has a fair amount of merchants a slave society, though. You should consider what I wrote above, because it implies that a society that consists of a large majority of slaves (even in your extended definition) will not exist for long.

The coinage in what is now the Netherlands in the 4th century was small silver and hack silver. Very little gold. No copper (though I will readily admit that the small copper imitations of Roman coins produced North of the Limes are hard to date.) Source is a book by Dr. Enno van Gelder on buried treasures found in the Netherlands I cannot find in the mess I call my library. Spink says 4th century English coins are copper imitations of Roman coins. The difference may be the silver mines of the Harz. You can disregard this if you wish, but here again, it doesn't fit your wide-ranging statements.

Peter
« Last Edit: August 01, 2016, 10:17:32 AM by Figleaf »
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Offline bgriff99

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2016, 05:58:44 AM »
Peter, I think you dismiss use of sycee too quickly in China.   Large purchases were never made in strings of cash, and generally silver was demanded in payment for taxes even if the amounts were small.  Only very rarely did any Chinese government issue silver coins or directly control sycee.  Obviously their silver content was a matter of great concern, and had to be assured locally.   The exchange rates of silver to cash were an ongoing struggle, exactly analogous to the silver-gold issue in Europe.   Yes they floated, but the government casting cash had to maintain standard weights in face of fluctuating prices.   Of course with cash, the more in circulation, the lower their value.   Sometimes they were deliberately made to excess for export.   At other times of scarcity export was forbidden.   At a couple infamous junctures no cash at all were cast.   There were also iron cash, at times, circulating at somewhat arbitrary fractions of bronze cash.

In China the evolution of the preponderant coin was directly from bronze trade goods, themselves evolved from functional tools being mass-manufactured and bartered.    All just as you describe.   I think a point not explored is how did bronze displace cowries?    Does material useful for tools or able to be remade into other forms, even if still just decorative, inevitably replace pretty natural materials of no real use?    Once cash coins were in use, some 2300 years ago, the same pattern as everywhere else followed exactly.   The only difference being that for large purchases, crates of silver, not small bags of gold.   

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2016, 10:11:07 AM »
I wasn't aware I dismissed the use of sycee, but will admit I know too little about it too comment. Peter Spufford has done fantastic work on the use of silver bars in medieval Europe. They remind me much of sycee. They had to be re-melted and cast to local weight standards when used in a different place, solving the silver content issue. Another feature of some of these bars was that they were marked where to cut them to get "small change". This is fun in the sense that the bars were obviously meant for large transactions, while small silver coins marked with a cross could be cut in a similar way for small transactions. This shows how a copper coin could at times be obviated by silver, but at the cost of manipulating tiny slivers of silver.

How did bronze display cowries? They were already being replaced by metal when European colonists arrived, perhaps, but their arrival spelled the end for cowries. IIRC, the colonists discovered beaches full of cowries where they were not used as money and transported them to South Asia by the shipload. Their value disappeared quickly. By 1700, they had disappeared as a form of money.

Another story I read somewhere was that almonds could be used as money in India. The evidence the author gave was hollow silver almonds that were thrown to the cheering masses as the Mughal travelled. I have been looking for them but haven't found them. FWIW, such stories indicate alternatives to copper coin.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline EWC

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2016, 11:58:15 AM »
The coinage in what is now the Netherlands in the 4th century was small silver and hack silver. Very little gold. No copper

That is very misleading.  Large amounts of official Roman copper circulated in Belgium right to the end of the 4th century, and most of the Netherlands never was in the Roman Empire anyhow.  I doubt you are correct for the small part of the Netherlands that was in - can you cite hard evidence?  Also, please have a second look at Spink for 4th century England, as you have misread it.

Thanks for the thoughts on China Bruce.  Please do bear in mind that I attempting to write descriptively here, not prescriptively.  That is to say, I am trying to describe what actually happened, and trying to avoid bending the facts to support what I want to believe happened.   I think you are certainly correct concerning silver/copper from about the 15th century onwards, and perhaps back to the Yuan  - but I less sure before that.  It seems to me China was more or less on a gold/copper system under the Han.

However, the topic I  raised was about serfdom (not slavery) and copper coin issue.  For China on that I matter I would make the key figures Wang Mang and Wang An Shi.  Both of them seem to try to massively boost copper issue in order to boost coin use and raise the peasantry out of serfdom (corvee etc) - to get the poor access to paid labour and market activity.  (Note a difference of course - Mang included a lot of fiat copper, but Shi used massive amounts of copper coin at close to intrinsic value)

The attempted abolition of gold use by Wang Mang I take as evidence that he held the view that gold use was detrimental to a healthy market economy.  Actually, that point was being made by Berkeley around 1735, he looked towards China as his model, and he correctly predicted the sort of monetary economy the Keynsians brought in (1947 in the UK - but similar world wide).

I am reluctant to talk about pre-coinage China.  I do not think we have enough facts to go on, so it becomes a sort of paradise for making things up.  It looks very much to me as if hack copper/bronze was circulating as money in much of Europe by about 1500 BC.  The archaeological evidence just is not there for China, as far as I have been able to find out.

Rob



Offline EWC

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2016, 12:19:58 PM »
Here is a web page on 4th century Roman AE in England, (from a Yorkshire numismatist)

http://www.hookmoor.com/home/?page_id=148

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #11 on: August 01, 2016, 12:27:52 PM »
Misleading ??? I am quoting one of the foremost numismatists of the country with the best possible sources available and you know better? Belgium is not the same as the Netherlands. About two-thirds of what is now the Netherlands was in the Roman empire. There was an imperial mint in Noviomagum (Nijmegen), but it had long stopped production. There were the "barbaric imitations" I acknowledged but the point is that there was no copper in buried treasure for centuries. All that means is that people paid with the very small silver coins and hack silver that did occur in buried treasure and perhaps that they didn't find copper worthwhile enough to include it in treasure.

As for Spink, I am including the text. Please show what I misread. The catalogue number was disfigured by the gutter shadow correction. It is 750.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline EWC

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #12 on: August 01, 2016, 01:42:56 PM »
Misleading ???

Its misleading because my comment, which you gave the appearance of challenging, was a generalisation about the Roman empire as a whole, and if in practice this only extended as far a Belgium by the 4th century that does not affect the general statement.  But I remain curious as to whether you correctly remember what you read on the (Roman) Netherlands.  See below on your reading of Spink

As for Spink, I am including the text. Please show what I misread. The catalogue number was disfigured by the gutter shadow correction. It is 750.

OK - now turn back to Spink 695 through 742 - the host of official London issues.  All of which readings of Spink contradict this statement of yours

Spink says 4th century English coins are copper imitations of Roman coins

Actually the huge circulation of official 4th century Roman copper in England was mostly minted in the continent, Spink merely lists the smallish London output.

Rob
« Last Edit: August 01, 2016, 02:00:59 PM by EWC »

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #13 on: August 01, 2016, 03:22:50 PM »
Since you don't trust my memory, it would be best if you buy the book. Here are the details:

Munten in muntvondsten by Herman Enno van Gelder and J. S. Boersma, ASIN: B00A6Q9NJ2, series fibula, number 35.

I am sorry you keep denying the fact that two thirds of what is now the Netherlands was within the Roman empire. The coins you mention are largely 3rd century, extending for only a few years in the 4th century, with the exception of 734-739, while 750 was specifically written for the fourth century, in particular the second half. Maybe you will consider now that not much is known about 4th century coinage? Anyway, I am sorry, but by now you lost me on what you wanted to argue and I am afraid we have lost any audience we had.

I will leave the discussion at that.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Gold and slavery
« Reply #14 on: August 01, 2016, 06:07:07 PM »
That didn't sound like it was meant when I re-read it. Some clarifications:

I don't trust my memory either.

I have a number of coin books in languages I don't speak, notably Russian. I recognise key words, like Bactria, Samarkand, Khwarezm or the diverse forms of Sogdiana and go from there either to Google translate or to my daughter in law. If you need help, I can do short translations, but I don't promise a short turnaround time. See last para below.

I think you are muddying your own water by introducing terms without defining them. Let's see if I can help:
  • Slave (Greece, Rome): private human property. Can buy him or herself free, so can own money.
  • Slave (e.g. US): private human property. Cannot own property, including money. Can only be freed.
  • Serf: human bound to a jurisdiction. Cannot move out of that jurisdiction, but can escape to another jurisdiction which (depending on local law) may dissolve the bond as long as he/she stays in that jurisdiction. Ex: a serf working a farm near Perpignan will be free within the territory of Barcelona, as long as he remains on Barcelona territory.
  • Modern slavery: a condition where humans are economically abused, are free to leave but in practice do not have the option to leave (Walk-Free foundation; I think their definition includes the military, though)

As for modern slavery, I find the cause justified, but the word slavery applied to it a bit demagogic.

Before there was the rule of law, there was the rule of the strongest. We are no longer living in feudal times and in former centuries, farmers needed protection. It came with a (heavy) price. Let's not apply today's mores to yesterday's situations.

Lastly, these days I have pressing personal priorities. I find this discussion not a good use of my remaining time.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.