Page:Cournot Theory of Wealth (1838).djvu/39

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25
OF THE THEORY OF WEALTH

does not exist, although certain articles approach much more nearly than others to the necessary conditions for the existence of such a term.

The monetary metals are among the things which, under ordinary circumstances and provided that too long a period is not considered, only experience slight absolute variations in their value. If it were not so, all transactions would be disturbed, as they are by paper money subject to sudden depreciation.[1]

On the other hand, articles such as wheat, which form the basis of the food supply, are subject to violent disturbances; but, if a sufficient period is considered, these disturbances balance each other, and the average value approaches fixed conditions, perhaps even more closely than the monetary metals. This will not make it impossible for the value so determined to vary, nor prevent it from actually experiencing absolute variations on a still greater scale of time. Here, as in astronomy, it is necessary to recognize secular variations, which are independent of periodic variations.

Even the wages of that lowest grade of labour, which is only considered as a kind of mechanical agent, the element often proposed as the standard of value, is subject like wheat to periodic as well as secular variations; and, if the periodic oscillations of this element have generally been less

  1. What characterizes a contract of sale, and distinguishes it essentially from a contract of exchange, is the invariability of the absolute value of the monetary metals, at least for the lapse of time covered by an ordinary business transaction. In a country where the absolute value of the monetary tokens is perceptibly variable, there are, properly speaking, no contracts of sale. This distinction should affect some legal questions.