Montesquieu
 

XXII.7 How the price of things is set in the variation of symbolic wealth

Silver is the price of mer­chan­dise or com­mo­di­ties. But how shall this price be set ? In other words, by what por­tion of sil­ver shall each thing be repre­sen­ted ?

If we com­pare the mass of gold and sil­ver which is in the world with the sum of mer­chan­dise it contains, it is cer­tain that each com­mo­dity or item taken sepa­ra­tely can be com­pa­red to a cer­tain por­tion of the entire mass of gold and sil­ver. As the total of one is to the total of the other, will part of one be to part of the other. Let us sup­pose that there is but one com­mo­dity or pro­duct in the world, or only one that is pur­cha­sed, and that it is divi­ded like sil­ver : this part of this pro­duct will cor­res­pond to a part of the mass of sil­ver, half the total of the one to half the total of the other, the tenth, hun­dredth, or thou­sandth of the one to the tenth, hun­dredth, or thou­sandth part of the other. But as what cons­ti­tu­tes pro­perty among men is not all at the same time in the mar­ket place ; and as the metals or the moneys which are its signs also are not in the mar­ket at the same time, the pri­ces will be set in com­pound ratio to the total of things with the total of signs, and to that of the total of things which are in the mar­ket with the total of signs that are also in the mar­ket ; and as the things which are not in the mar­ket today can be tomor­row, and the signs which are not in the mar­ket today can simi­larly return to it, the esta­blish­ment of the price of things always depends fun­da­men­tally on the pro­por­tion of the total of things to the total of signs.

Thus the prince or magis­trate can no more set the value of mer­chan­dise than they can esta­blish by decree that the ratio of one to ten is equal to the ratio of one to twenty. Julian, by lowe­ring the cost of com­mo­di­ties in Antioch,1 cau­sed a ter­ri­ble famine there.

History of the Church, by Socrates [Scholasticus], book II.