The Big Problem of Small Change

Princeton University Press
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The Big Problem of Small Change offers the first credible and analytically sound explanation of how a problem that dogged monetary authorities for hundreds of years was finally solved. Two leading economists, Thomas Sargent and François Velde, examine the evolution of Western European economies through the lens of one of the classic problems of monetary history--the recurring scarcity and depreciation of small change. Through penetrating and clearly worded analysis, they tell the story of how monetary technologies, doctrines, and practices evolved from 1300 to 1850; of how the "standard formula" was devised to address an age-old dilemma without causing inflation.

One big problem had long plagued commodity money (that is, money literally worth its weight in gold): governments were hard-pressed to provide a steady supply of small change because of its high costs of production. The ensuing shortages hampered trade and, paradoxically, resulted in inflation and depreciation of small change. After centuries of technological progress that limited counterfeiting, in the nineteenth century governments replaced the small change in use until then with fiat money (money not literally equal to the value claimed for it)--ensuring a secure flow of small change. But this was not all. By solving this problem, suggest Sargent and Velde, modern European states laid the intellectual and practical basis for the diverse forms of money that make the world go round today.


This keenly argued, richly imaginative, and attractively illustrated study presents a comprehensive history and theory of small change. The authors skillfully convey the intuition that underlies their rigorous analysis. All those intrigued by monetary history will recognize this book for the standard that it is.

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About the author

Thomas J. Sargent is Donald Lucas Professor of Economics at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. A pioneer of the rational expectations school of macroeconomics, he is the author of The Conquest of American Inflation (Princeton), Bounded Rationality in Macroeconomics, and Dynamic Macroeconomic Theory. François R. Velde is Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago and Lecturer in Economics at the University of Chicago.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 24, 2014
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Pages
392
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ISBN
9781400851621
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Writing in the June 1965 issue of theEconomic Journal, Harry G. Johnson begins with a sentence seemingly calibrated to the scale of the book he set himself to review: "The long-awaited monetary history of the United States by Friedman and Schwartz is in every sense of the term a monumental scholarly achievement--monumental in its sheer bulk, monumental in the definitiveness of its treatment of innumerable issues, large and small . . . monumental, above all, in the theoretical and statistical effort and ingenuity that have been brought to bear on the solution of complex and subtle economic issues."

Friedman and Schwartz marshaled massive historical data and sharp analytics to support the claim that monetary policy--steady control of the money supply--matters profoundly in the management of the nation's economy, especially in navigating serious economic fluctuations. In their influential chapter 7, The Great Contraction--which Princeton published in 1965 as a separate paperback--they address the central economic event of the century, the Depression. According to Hugh Rockoff, writing in January 1965: "If Great Depressions could be prevented through timely actions by the monetary authority (or by a monetary rule), as Friedman and Schwartz had contended, then the case for market economies was measurably stronger."


Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976 for work related to A Monetary History as well as to his other Princeton University Press book, A Theory of the Consumption Function (1957).

In the years between the Great Famine of the 1840s and the First World War, Ireland experienced a drastic drop in population: the percentage of adults who never married soared from 10 percent to 25 percent, while the overall population decreased by one third. What accounted for this? For many social analysts, the history of post-Famine Irish depopulation was a Malthusian morality tale where declining living standards led young people to postpone marriage out of concern for their ability to support a family. The problem here, argues Timothy Guinnane, is that living standards in post-Famine Ireland did not decline. Rather, other, more subtle economic changes influenced the decision to delay marriage or not marry at all. In this engaging inquiry into the "vanishing Irish," Guinnane explores the options that presented themselves to Ireland's younger generations, taking into account household structure, inheritance, religion, cultural influences on marriage and family life, and especially emigration.

Guinnane focuses on rural Ireland, where the population changes were most profound, and explores the way the demographic patterns reflect the rural Irish economy, Ireland’s place as a small part in a much larger English-speaking world, and the influence of earlier Irish history and culture. Particular effort is made to compare Irish demographic behavior to similar patterns elsewhere in Europe, revealing an Ireland anchored in European tradition and yet a distinctive society in its own right.

Originally published in 1997.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

In the past fifteen years, inflation has been conquered by many advanced countries. History reveals, however, that it has been conquered before and returned. In The Conquest of American Inflation, Thomas J. Sargent presents a groundbreaking analysis of the rise and fall of U.S. inflation after 1960. He examines two broad explanations for the behavior of inflation and unemployment in this period: the natural-rate hypothesis joined to the Lucas critique and a more traditional econometric policy evaluation modified to include adaptive expectations and learning. His purpose is not only to determine which is the better account, but also to codify for the benefit of the next generation the economic forces that cause inflation.

Sargent begins with an explanation of how American policymakers increased inflation in the early 1960s by following erroneous assumptions about the exploitability of the Phillips curve--the inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment. In subsequent chapters, he connects a sequence of ideas--self-confirming equilibria, least-squares and other adaptive or recursive learning algorithms, convergence of least-squares learners with self-confirming equilibria, and recurrent dynamics along escape routes from self-confirming equilibria. Sargent synthesizes results from macroeconomics, game theory, control theory, and other fields to extend both adaptive expectations and rational expectations theory, and he compellingly describes postwar inflation in terms of drifting coefficients. He interprets his results in favor of adaptive expectations as the relevant mechanism affecting inflation policy.


Providing an original methodological link between theoretical and policy economics, this book will engender much debate and become an indispensable text for academics, graduate students, and professional economists.

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