Copernicus: The Debasement of Money and the Fall of a State

The work of Sir Isaac Newton, as Master of the British Mint, in creating the classical gold standard is relatively well known. 

The work of an equally great scientist, Copernicus, who gave us the heliocentric model of the solar system, is less so. 

Leszek Zygner of Nicolaus Copernicus University, recently referenced in another entry here, provides substantial information on Copernicus's great contributions to monetary theory.  These are by no means no less relevant today than are his breakthrough contributions to astronomy.

Treatise On the Minting of Coin and Copernicus views on economics

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A drawing by Johan Schübeler from the second half of the nineteenth century, depicting Nicolaus Copernicus presenting his treaty De monetae
during a session of the Royal Prussian Parliament in Grudzi?dz. Nicolaus Copernicus University Library

 

Copernicus wrote three versions of his treatise on the reform of Prussian coinage in the years 1517-26 which have survived in the form of copies and translations. As has been proved in the course of a thorough analysis of their contents, they are subsequent versions of the same work. The text of the first draft, usually referred to as Meditata, was written in Latin in 1517. This document was produced with Bishop Fabianus Lusianus and members of the cathedral chapter of Warmia in mind and was to support their arguments in debates on monetary reform held during assemblies of the Estates of Royal Prussia (Stany Prus Królewskich). The treatise consisted of two parts. In the first Copernicus discusses general issues related to the theory of money and formulates inter alia a law of bad money driving out good. In the second he focused on the current monetary situation in Royal Prussia and in particular on the decline in the value of Prussian coinage, enumerating its types and explaining the reasons for the decrease in value of individual coins. The second version, known from the 16th c. as Modus cudendi monetam (The Way to Strike Coin), was a German translation of the Meditata of 1517. This translation, incidentally abounding in oversimplifications and inaccuracies, was made in 1519 most probably as a document to be presented to the Prussian Assembly attended by the Polish King Sigismund I the Old (Zygmunt I Stary). Copernicus read the German version of his treatise before the Royal Prussian Assembly attended by King Sigismund Is envoys at Grudzi?dz (Graudenz) on 21 March 1522. Referring to the debate held before his speech, he concluded his presentation with a proposal to mint three Prussian szel?gi as an equivalent of one Polish grosz (groshen) and thus to equalize the value of the new Prussian coinage with that issued by the Crown. The third version of his treatise on money entitled Monete cudende ratio (On the Minting of Coin) survives in three copies and was most probably written before April 1526. This revised version partly based on the text of his 1517 paper, was complemented by a general theory of money with special emphasis placed on the debasement of money as one of the main reasons for the fall of a state.

The gold standard, in short, has an unrivaled intellectual pedigree.


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Today’s economic conditions reflect a fiat monetary system held together by many tricks and luck over the past 40 years. The world has been awash in paper money since removal of the last vestige of the gold standard by Richard Nixon when he buried the Bretton Woods agreement — the gold exchange standard — on August 15, 1971.

Since then we’ve been on a worldwide paper dollar standard. Quite possibly we are seeing the beginning of the end of that system. If so, tough times are ahead for the United States and the world economy.

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The Rueffian SynthesisJohn D. Mueller

Publisher's Note: Originally released in June/July of 1991, this detailed report discusses Jacques Rueff's economic theories and applies them to modern economic events.

By John D. Mueller

Who Was Jacques Rueff?

... Trained in science and mathematics at the Ecole Polytechnique, Rueff devoted his first theoretical work to showing that the same scientific method applies to “moral” or “social” sciences like economics as to the physical sciences (Des Sciences Physiques aux Sciences Morales, 1922). In both cases, he pointed out, individual acts can be “indeterminate,” but the pattern of large numbers of individual acts can be predicted as a matter of probability. And so in economics no less than physics, as he later wrote, “A scientific theory is considered correct only if it makes forecasting possible.”

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Excerpts From:


by Lewis E. Lehrman

"Forerunners of man lived upon the planet several million years ago. But the unique, modern, social order of man – civilization – emerged only four to five thousand years ago. Historical and archaeological evidence suggests that the institution of money evolved coterminously with civilization. From the standpoint of the 100,000-year history of Homo sapiens, civilization and money are but young and fragile reeds. Today their very existence is threatened by financial disorder."

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Turkey’s Cut-rate Expectations

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