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Money and Prices in Colonial America: A New Test of Competing Theories

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  • Bennett T. McCallum

Abstract

A long-standing but unsettled controversy concerning monetary experiences in colonial America has recently been reopened with considerable vigor. Ignoring doctrinal aspects, the main substantive issue concerns the relationship between money holdings and price levels during episodes in which various colonial governments issued paper currency (bills of credit) in large amounts. In several instances, large and rapid increases in the stock of outstanding paper currency led to negligible changes in price levels. But alternative interpretations are possible, since colonial money included specie as well as paper currency. According to the "quantity theory" or classical hypothesis, total money stock magnitudes did not rise sharply during the disputed episodes; instead, the sharp paper currency increases led to corresponding losses of specie--as suggested by standard commodity-money analysis. According to the "backing theory" or anti-classical hypothesis, by contrast, there was little specie present so money stock magnitudes could and did rise sharply (in percentage terms). This fundamental factual disagreement has eluded resolution because data on both stocks and flows of specie are almost nonexistent. The present study develops and applies a strategy for circumventing the unavailability of specie data by exploiting conflicting implications of the two hypotheses regarding magnitudes of real per capita holdings of paper currency, relative to normal real money balances, at dates of maximum paper issue. A major feature of the analysis is a new method for the estimation of normal real money holdings, one that relies on paper currency data for a few inflationary episodes.

Suggested Citation

  • Bennett T. McCallum, 1990. "Money and Prices in Colonial America: A New Test of Competing Theories," NBER Working Papers 3383, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3383
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
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    4. West, Robert Craig, 1978. "Money in the Colonial American Economy," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 16(1), pages 1-15, January.
    5. Bruce D. Smith, 1985. "American Colonial Monetary Regimes: The Failure of the Quantity Theory and Some Evidence in Favour of an Alternative View," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 18(3), pages 531-565, August.
    6. McCallum, Bennett T., 1983. "The role of overlapping-generations models in monetary economics," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 9-44, January.
    7. Hanson, John R, II, 1979. "Money in the Colonial American Economy: An Extension," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 17(2), pages 281-286, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Farley Grubb, 2012. "Is Paper Money just Paper Money/ Experimentation and Local Variation in the Fiat Paper Monies Issued by the Colonial Government of British North America, 1690-1775: Part I," Working Papers 12-07, University of Delaware, Department of Economics.
    2. Rousseau, Peter L. & Stroup, Caleb, 2011. "Monetization and growth in colonial New England, 1703–1749," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 600-613.
    3. Grubb, Farley, 2004. "The circulating medium of exchange in colonial Pennsylvania, 1729-1775: new estimates of monetary composition, performance, and economic growth," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 41(4), pages 329-360, October.
    4. Farley Grubb, 2014. "A New Approach to Solving the Colonial Monetary Puzzle: Evidence from New Jersey, 1709-1775," NBER Working Papers 19903, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Peter L. Rousseau, 2010. "Monetary Policy and the Dollar," NBER Chapters,in: Founding Choices: American Economic Policy in the 1790s, pages 121-149 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Michael Sproul, 1998. "Backed Money, Fiat Money, and the Real Bills Doctrine," UCLA Economics Working Papers 774B, UCLA Department of Economics.
    7. Peter L. Rousseau, 2007. "Backing, the Quantity Theory, and the Transition to the US Dollar, 1723–1850," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 266-270, May.
    8. repec:eee:rujoec:v:3:y:2017:i:3:p:280-295 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Ronald W. Michener & Robert E. Wright, 2006. "Miscounting Money of Colonial America," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 3(1), pages 4-44, January.
    10. Farley Grubb, 2006. "Theory, Evidence, and Belief—The Colonial Money Puzzle Revisited: Reply to Michener and Wright," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 3(1), pages 45-72, January.
    11. Farley Grubb, 2012. "Chronic Specie Scarcity and Efficient Barter: The Problem of Maintaining an Outside Money Supply in British Colonial America ," Working Papers 12-08, University of Delaware, Department of Economics.
    12. Farley Grubb, 2013. "Colonial New Jersey's Paper Money Regime, 1709-1775: A Forensic Accounting Reconstruction of the Data," NBER Working Papers 19710, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Michael Sproul, 1998. "The Quantity Theory versus the Real Bills Doctrine in Colonial America," UCLA Economics Working Papers 775B, UCLA Department of Economics.
    14. Officer, Lawrence H., 2005. "The quantity theory in New England, 1703-1749: new data to analyze an old question," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 101-121, January.
    15. Farley Grubb, 2012. "Is Paper Money Just Paper Money? Experimentation and Variation in the Paper Monies Issued by the American Colonies from 1690 to 1775," NBER Working Papers 17997, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Farley Grubb, 2014. "A New Approach to Explaining the Value of Colonial Paper Money: Evidence from New Jersey, 1709-1775," Working Papers 14-08, University of Delaware, Department of Economics.
    17. Gary Pecquet & Clifford Thies, 2010. "Money in occupied New Orleans, 1862–1868: A test of Selgin’s “salvaging” of Gresham’s Law," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 23(2), pages 111-126, June.
    18. Michael D. Bordo & Lars Jonung, 1999. "The Future of EMU: What Does the History of Monetary Unions Tell Us?," NBER Working Papers 7365, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Michael F. Sproul, 2003. "There's No Such Thing As Fiat Money," UCLA Economics Working Papers 830, UCLA Department of Economics.
    20. Gary M. Pecquet & Clifford F. Thies, 2006. "Texas Treasury Warrants, 1861-1865: A Test Of The Tax-Backing Of Money," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 32(2), pages 191-203, Spring.
    21. Farley Grubb, 2003. "Two Theories of Money Reconciled: The Colonial Puzzle Revisited with New Evidence," Working Papers 03-03, University of Delaware, Department of Economics.
    22. Michael F. Sproul, 1997. "The Real Bills Doctrine: A Restatement," Macroeconomics 9711001, EconWPA.

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