Money and Morality

All these evils caused by the depreciation of the money in circulation are most afflicting; but there is another evil, far more deadly, that this depreciation has engendered and which will spread more and more: that is, the moral depravity of the population and abandon of every principle of equity. Truly, the discredit of the assignats and the daily variation in their value effectively authorises dishonesty, injustice and immorality among citizens. No forward convention, trade agreement or transaction can be made between them without it resulting in a manifest loss for one of the parties. Let us be the judge of this, by an example.

Suppose an individual had received a loan of £1,000 in January 1791, under contract to repay it one year later. This individual loyally keeps his promise; but in January 1791 the price of money was at 6 or 8 per cent; in January 1792, it is at 50 per cent and the prices of all goods have increased in the same proportion. The loaner truly receives the same nominal value as that he had loaned; but does not receive the same real value? It is not evident he receives 42, or even 44 percent less, since all the goods he wishes to purchase have undergone a similar rise, in proportion to the depreciation of the money he has just received, and with which he will pay for them. When applying this example to all conventions and to all future transactions that have been entered into in the last eighteen months and that are daily made in France, it will be perceived that they are laid upon false, unequal and uncertain bases and are consequently unjust, as well as being an attack on the rights of property. There is no honest soul who is not seized with dread thinking of the number of single injustices continuously caused by such an upsetting of principles. One is surprised by the thefts and highway robberies committed every day in towns and the countryside; but does not the immorality of our money in circulation accustom the citizens to deceiving one another? Is not the simple and ignorant man exposed every day to becoming the dupe of men more wily and more cunning than he? Whilst the principles of justice and reason upheld by our constitution should correct and better our customs, by what fatality does it come about that, every day, the depreciation of our money in circulation contributes to the depraving them, by encouraging the dishonesty of borrowers through letting them get away with inferior repayments and finally encouraging all citizens in speculation, misrepresentation, fraud and injustice through the most powerful of motives, their self interest.

By Francois-Louis Legrand de Boislandry excerpted from Considerations sur le discredit des assignats presents a l’Assemblee Nationale 1792, translated by Mrs. J. Aebi-Potocka.


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