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Counteracting counterfeiting? Bodin, Mariana and Locke on false money as a multidimensional issue

Abstract : Far beyond the problem of the quantity of money, false money appears as the general common issue in monetary debates that occurred in European countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. It first referred to sovereignty, in a time of state-building, as well as to a serious economic problem. Beyond sovereignty and economy, justice and the public faith were endangered by those who devoted themselves to falsify the currency. Yet, the thesis of this paper is that one cannot understand clearly the general topic of false money in the early modern period by reading texts of that time with today's general definition of false money. The variety of falsifications and their links appear especially when carefully reading the monetary discourses of Jean Bodin, Juan de Mariana and John Locke. These authors developed major arguments about the limits of political powers, elements which innerved their visions of currency management. A general claim to counteract counterfeiting (as implemented by individuals) may conceal a claim to suppress any possibility of debasing, and even enhancing, currency (as decided by princes). Making clearer monetary discourses on that topic and establishing a hierarchy between those dimensions help understand why the false money issue was firstly considered a matter of monetary justice by the prince himself. We propose, then, to identify the multiple dimensions of false money: counterfeiting, degradation of coins, debasement and enhancement; while some are the result of individuals, others are princes' decisions. Until the end of the 17th century, monetary instability impeded the development of production on the long run. Stabilizations, through a monetary revolution close to what had been proposed by Bodin, Mariana and Locke, occurred between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century.
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Jérôme Blanc, Ludovic Desmedt. Counteracting counterfeiting? Bodin, Mariana and Locke on false money as a multidimensional issue. History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, 2010, 42 (2), pp.323-360. ⟨10.1215/00182702-2010-005⟩. ⟨halshs-00583586⟩



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