George Selgin’s Good Money Now in Paperback
The Independent Institute is delighted to announce the publication of the paperback edition of George Selgin’s Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers, the Royal Mint, and the Beginnings of Modern Coinage, 1775–1821, winner of the 2009 Bronze Medal IPPY Award.
It has long been maintained that governments alone are fit to coin money, but the story of the early decades of Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution disproves this conventional belief. In Good Money, Selgin (Professor of Economics, University of Georgia; Research Fellow, The Independent Institute) shows how private entrepreneurs solved the problems caused by the Royal Mint’s failure to provide enough silver and copper coins to meet the needs of a growing economy. Their solution? They began to mint coins themselves.
From 1787 to 1797, private merchants and industrialists issued 600 tons of custom-made “commercial” copper coin—more copper coin than the Royal Mint had supplied during the previous half century. The coins were struck by a score of private mintmasters, most of whom began as button makers. One of them, Matthew Boulton, owned the world’s largest and most technologically sophisticated mint, the first to employ steam power. Far from being inferior to official coins, Great Britain’s commercial coins were superior to them: they were heavier, more esthetically pleasing, and harder to counterfeit, making them merchants’ preferred choice to accept in trade.
The late Milton Friedman wrote, “George Selgin’s story of how private enterprise solved a monetary problem that threatened seriously to retard the Industrial Revolution is a splendid piece of historical analysis.” But Good Money not only examines the crucial role of private coinage in fueling Great Britain’s economic development, it also challenges beliefs upon which all modern government-currency monopolies rest. It thereby sheds light on contemporary private-sector alternatives to government-issued money, such as digital monies, cash cards, electronic funds transfer, and (outside of the United States) spontaneous “dollarization.”
Good Money will fascinate readers of all backgrounds and persuasions, especially those with a prior interest in British history, monetary affairs, technological innovation, and heroic entrepreneurs.
[This post appeared first in the August 30, 2011, issue of The Lighthouse. To receive this weekly email newsletter of publication summaries and event announcements from the Independent Institute, enter your email address here.]