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Ideal Money is a proposal by John Nash that is an extension of an i...
It is often argued and not understood very well what money actually...
I'm not sure we can call this a thesis but this is a very significa...
In the Southern Journal entry of Ideal Money, Nash opens by compari...
This is (of course?) the real thesis for the proposal or for what w...
The question here in the readers mind should be "Good or Bad by wha...
Gresham's law is really what is significant here in Nash's explanat...
The basic point here when he closes is that the Keynesian evolution...
Money as a technology arises in a comparable/connected fashion to s...
This an interesting point, that again I think Szabo makes very well...
Nash begins his proposal that money should be seen as a public good...
It is in Islamic culture/law that money is not to be lent with inte...
I am a little lost here, only admittedly because I see I must study...
This is text book Nash, and if you know his speaking and writing we...
It is an incredibly relevant and significant side street to make th...
This is in reference I think to an old paper that called economics ...
This too he talks about in a video. It is basically a testament to...
I also am not well read enough to completely decipher this. But in...
Von Neumann and Morgenstern is a notable pit-stop especially for Na...
This is the section in which I really started to understand the pow...
"If games can be transformed from type 2 to type 1 there is a gain,...
Nash goes over some of the questions that form the philosophical ba...
Nash considering contracts and extending them out to the long term ...
And here is the basis for "ideal money", not something most people ...
The point again, that money should be a public utility, and compara...
Hayek and Nash both gives Keynes props. Hayek said Keynes was a ge...
Here is the key definition: A "Keynesian" would favor the existence...
Ideal Money John F. Nash, Jr. Southern Economic Journal Vol. 6...
Nash makes a point in the previous journal entry about what would c...
This is a key paragraph. Nash proposes money "should have the func...
I understand this point only intuitively. I cannot explain it but ...
This is a point that usefulness in comparison has lead us to miss c...
Nash's proposal is comparable to the time when Newton pegged the Br...
Another key point especially in relation to the advent and evolutio...
Nash often makes allusive comparison such as the one here, how a gr...
Here is the key observation for the proposal. And to me what is the...
Examples of favored political regimes in relation to favored moneta...
This is the key theoretical point that a currency should have a ste...
Now Nash alludes to the history of the parameters that define our i...
See these types of articles:
This I don't have so much the context of, but my point would be we ...
Nash is beginning to paint a picture here, and he uses the introduc...
So here to me is a picture that is well beyond Nash's perceived tim...
Here is where Nash starts to bridge his earlier allusions to game t...
Here Nash perfectly seems to describe the business model of compani...
"It cannot be irrelevant" is Nash's special way of speaking. Nash ...
Throughout these lectures Nash's alludes to the history of money in...
Nash talks about the political implications of trying to adopt such...
"...the euro is of the "paper money" character" in that nothing is ...
This I admit I cannot perfectly explain either, but it seems quite ...
This is the fun part. Here Nash explicitly compares our current sy...
This here is the key point which allows for the comparison. Keynes...
This is another explicit and powerful paragraph, Nash hammers home ...
"...this parallel makes it seem not implausible that a process of p...
The last end point Nash wishes to make, is that his ideas and conce...
Lecture by John F. Nash Jr.
Ideal Money and Asymptotically Ideal Money
The special commodity or medium that we call money has a long and interesting history.
And since we are so dependent on our use of it and so much controlled and motivated by the
wish to have more of it or not to lose what we have we may become irrational in thinking
about it and fail to be able to reason about it like about a technology, such as radio, to be
used more or less efficiently.
So I wish to present the argument that various interests and groups, notably including
“Keynesian” economists, have sold to the public a “quasi-doctrine” which teaches, in effect,
that “less is more” or that (in other words) “bad money is better than good money”. Here we
can remember the classic ancient economics saying called “Gresham’s law” which was “The
bad money drives out the good”. The saying of Gresham’s is mostly of interest here because
it illustrates the “old” or “classical” concept of “bad money” and this can be contrasted with
more recent attitudes which have been very much influenced by the Keynesians and by the
results of their influence on government policies since the 30s.
Digression on the Philosophy of Money
It seems to be relevant to the politics of state decisions that affect the character of
currency systems promoted by states that there are typical popular attitudes in relation to
money. Although money itself is merely an artifact of practical usefulness in human societies
and/or civilizations, there are some traditional or popular views associating money with sin
or immorality or unethical or unjust behavior. And such views can have the effect that an
ideal of good money does not seem such a good cause as an ideal of a good public water
supply. There is also, for example, the Islamic concept which has the effect of classing as
“usury” any lending of money at interest. (Here we can wonder about what sort of inflation
rates might have been typical for any major varieties of money, such as Byzantine money,
at the times actually contemporaneous with the Prophet Mohammed.)
In general, money has been associated in popular views with moral or ethical faults,
like greed, avarice, selfishness, and lack of charity. But on the other hand, the existence of
money often makes it easy to make valuable donations of philanthropic sorts and the parties
receiving such contributions tend to find it most helpful when the donations are received as
But the New Testament story about “money changers” being driven from the Temple
illustrates clearly the idea of putting the clearly mundane and possibly “unclean” utility of
money at some distance from where that money would presumably continue to be received
when used as a vehicle for donations.
Economics has been called “the dismal science” and it is certainly an area of studies
where “the mundane” is appropriately studied.
And philosophically viewed, money exists only because humanity does not live under
“Garden of Eden” conditions and there are specializations of labor functions. So we are
always exchanging, mediated by money transfers, the differing fruits of our varied forms of
Welfare Economics
A related topic, which we can’t fully consider in a single lecture, is that of the consid-
erations to be given by society and the national state to “social equity” and the general
“economic welfare”. Here the key viewpoint is methodological, as we see it. HOW should
society and the state authorities seek to improve economic welfare generally and what should
be done at times of abnormal economic difficulties or “depression”?
We can’t go into it all, but we feel that actions which are clearly understandable as
designed for the purpose of achieving a “social welfare” result are best. And in particular,
programs of unemployment compensation seem to be comparatively well structured so that
they can operate in proportion to the need.
Money, Utility, and Game Theory
In the sort of game theory that is studied and applied by economists the concept of “util-
ity” is very fundamental and essential. Von Neumann and Morgenstern give a notably good
and thorough treatment of utility in their book (on game theory and economic behavior).
The concept of utility (mathematical) does indeed predate the book of Von Neumann and
Morgenstern. And for example, as a concept, mathematical utility can be traced back to a
paper published in 1886 in Pisa by G. B. Antonelli.
When one studies what are called “cooperative games”, which in economic terms include
mergers and acquisitions or cartel formation, it is found to be appropriate and is standard
to form two basic classifications:
(1): Games with transferable utility.
(2): Games without transferable utility
(or “NTU” games).
In the world of practical realities it is money which typically causes the existence of
a game of type (1) rather than of type (2); money is the “lubrication” which enables the
efficient “transfer of utility”. And generally if games can be transformed from type (2) to
type (1) there is a gain, on average, to all the players in terms of whatever might be expected
to be the outcome.
But this function of money in generally facilitating the transfer of utility would seem to
be as well performed by the currency of Thailand as by that of Switzerland. Or the question
can be asked “How do ‘good money’ and ‘bad money’ differ, if at all, for the valuable function
of facilitating utility transfer?”. But if we consider contracts having a relatively long time
axis then the difference can be seen clearly.
Consider a society where the money in use is subject to a rapid and unpredictable rate
of inflation so that money worth 100 now might be worth from 50 to 10 by a year from now.
Who would want to lend money for the term of a year?
In this context we can see how the “quality” of a money standard can strongly influence
areas of the economy involving financing with longer-term credits.
And also, if we view money as of importance in connection with transfers of utility, we
can see that money itself is a sort of “utility”, using the word in another sense, comparable
to supplies of water, electric energy or telecommunications. And then, if we think about it,
we can consider the quality of money as comparable to the quality of some “public utility”
like the supply of electric energy or of water.
The thinking of J. M. Keynes was actually multi- dimensional and consequently there
are quite different varieties of persons at the present time who follow, in one way or another,
some of the thinking of Keynes. And of course SOME of his thinking was scientifically
accurate and thus not disputable. For example, an early book written by Keynes was the
mathematical text “A Treatise on Probability”.
The label “Keynesian” is convenient, but to be safe we should have a defined meaning
for this as a party that can be criticized and contrasted with other parties.
So let us define “Keynesian” to be descriptive of a “school of thought” that originated
at the time of the devaluations of the pound and the dollar in the early 30’s of the 20th cen-
tury. Then, more specifically, a “Keynesian” would favor the existence of a “manipulative”
state establishment of central bank and treasury which would continuously seek to achieve
“economic welfare” objectives with comparatively little regard for the long term reputation
of the national currency and the associated effects of that on the reputation of financial
enterprises domestic to the state.
And indeed a very famous saying of Keynes was “ the long run we will all be dead
Ideal Money as a Concept
A paper has already been published on the topic of “Ideal Money” and with that title.
That paper of ours was published in the Southern Economic Journal after a lecture had been
given on that topic at the meeting of the Southern Economic Association in Tampa, Florida.
So it is better now not to cover again in full the grounds of the ideas presented there and
the specifics about how “ideal money” currencies could be arranged for by using linkage to
an appropriate index of the prices of internationally traded commodities. (Note that gold
and silver are EXAMPLES of internationally traded commodities.)
In Transition to Optimal Standards
Our view is that if it is viewed scientifically and rationally (which is psychologically
difficult!) that money should have the function of a standard of measurement and thus that
it should become comparable to the watt or the hour or a degree of temperature. And money,
as an efficient practical means of transferring utility, naturally links directly with the game
theoretic idea of “TU games” (games with transferable utility).
(Of course it is well known that in general the psychological reaction of a human of this
world in relation to alternative prospects involving his or her receipt of money, this with
elements of uncertainty linked with probabilities, tends to be NON-LINEAR. And this has
the effect that the human individuals utility for money is typically a non-linear function, as
it were, of the prospective quantities of money to be possibly received.)
It is so desirable in game theory to have transferable utility that that those using game-
theoretic analyses go ahead and use the transferable utility concept although it might not
be entirely fitting except for individual games of comparatively small weight played by large
insurance companies.
The paper called “Ideal Money” that was recently published in the Southern Economic
Journal presented a possible conventional basis for money of “ideal” type. This variety of
money would be intrinsically free of “inflationary decadence” similarly to how money would
be free from that on a true “gold standard”, but the proposed basis for that was not the
proposal of a linkage to gold.
But it seems very likely that, although that scheme for arranging for a system of money
with ideal qualities would work well, that, on the other hand, it would be politically difficult
to arrive at the implementation of such a system.
(One can observe, for comparison, the difficulties that are found in connection with issues
of which national regions should or should not be included with the group making use of the
new “euro” currency. For example, the Turks would like to become club members but the
Scandinavians and the U.K. British are not convinced that they would be beneficiaries by
The Confessional of Targeting
It was the observation of a new “line” that has become popular with those responsible
for “central banking” functions relating to national currencies that gave us the idea for the
study of “asymptotically ideal” money.
The idea seems paradoxical, but by speaking of “inflation targeting” these responsible
officials are effectively CONFESSING that, notwithstanding how they formerly were speak-
ing about the difficulties and problems of their functions, that it is indeed after all possible
to control inflation by controlling the supply of money (as if by limiting the amount of
individual “prints” that could be made of a work of art being produced as “prints”).
This popularity of the line of “inflation targeting” seems to have started in New Zealand,
which is the place, among the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which had the
most depreciated dollar. And we can note also that New Zealand was hardly a place where
any crisis of poverty really forced them to not maintain the value of their dollar but rather
just a place where “Keynesian” thinking was probably very influential.
Our observation, based on thinking in terms of “the long term” rather than in terms of
“short range expediency”, was simply that there is no ideal rate of inflation that should be
selected and chosen as the target but rather that the ideal concept would necessarily be that
of a zero rate for what is called inflation.
But of course, also, central monetary authorities of a state cannot actually do anything of
the form that can be called “inflation targeting” without having some means for measuring
inflation. How would they do this? The means for measuring inflation that they would
naturally use would be a “cost of living” index relating to domestic prices within the territory
of the state.
In the USA the standard domestic “cost of living” index has a long history and it actually
originated back in the days when the USA was still on the “gold standard” with regard to the
monetary standards being accepted then. And most states nowadays having large domestic
economies also have some sort of an analogous index of prices.
Currencies in Competition
It is observable that certain types of financial enterprises, such as large internationally op-
erating insurance companies, tend to migrate to national homes where the national currency
is of at least comparatively higher quality (such as, e. g., Switzerland).
In the near future there may be a smaller number of major currencies used in the world
and these may stand in competitive relations among themselves. There is now the “euro”
and the old inflationary history of the Italian lira is past history now. And there COULD be
introduced, for example, a similar international currency for the Islamic world or for South
Asia, or for South America, or here or there.
And if “inflation targeting” were used as a “line” by the managers handling all of these
various internationally prominent currencies then there would arise interesting possibilities
for comparisons between these major currencies. Each of the currencies managed thusly
would have its officially recognized status in terms of inflation as measured by the domestic
index of costs of the state of the managers. But also, and this is what is more significant from
an internationally oriented viewpoint, the various currencies would have rates of exchange
so that they could be realistically compared in terms of their actual values.
And so the various currencies managed with “inflation targeting” would be comparable
by users or observers who would be able to form opinions about the quality of the currencies.
And what I want to suggest is that “the public” or the users, those for whom a medium of
exchange functions as a basic utility, may develop opinions that are critical of currencies of
lower “value quality”. That is, the public may learn to demand better quality of that which
CAN be managed to be of better quality or which can be managed to be of the lower quality
observed in so many of the various national currencies in the 20th century.
So here is the possibility of “asymptotically ideal money”. Starting with the idea of
value stabilization in relation to a domestic price index associated with the territory of one
state, beyond that there is the natural and logical concept of internationally based value
comparisons. The currencies being compared, like now the euro, the dollar, the yen, the
pound, the swiss franc, the swedish kronor, etc. can be viewed with critical eyes by their
users and by those who may have the option of whether or not or how to use one of them.
This can lead to pressure for good quality and consequently for a lessened rate of inflationary
depreciation in value.
Illustrating the principle of these optional choices, the people of Sweden recently had the
opportunity of voting in a referendum on whether or not Sweden should join the eurocurrency
bloc and replace the kronor by the euro and thus use the same currency as Finland. The
people voted against that, for various reasons. But it cannot be irrelevant whether or not
the future quality of a currency is really assured or whether instead that it depends on the
shifting sands of political decisions or the possibly arbitrary actions of a bureaucracy of
The voters in the U.K. are expecting to have the opportunity to vote in a referendum
relating to the adoption, for the U.K., of the euro (which is already adopted in Ireland).
Here they have a dramatic conflict, since the pound was the original currency of “the gold
standard”, with its value pegged to gold in 1717 by Isaac Newton who was then Master
of the Mint. (Of course it was not irrelevant that George II, the king then, was an early
Hanoverian and also ruled territories in Germany.)
In recent years the pound has had a comparatively good rating with regard to inflation,
inferior to the rating of the swiss franc but superior to most currencies of the world. So the
British have the alternatives of accepting adoption of the euro when first voting, or after a
delay, or never.
We can legitimately wonder how the speediness of its adoption or delays in its adoption
might affect the policies operating to control the actual exchange value of the euro. The
constitutional structure of the authority behind the euro is of the “paper money” character
in that nothing is really guaranteed as far as the value of the euro is concerned. But this is
typical of all currencies used in the world nowadays.
Of course when a currency, for a time, does have a specification of its value beyond the
local fiat of administrators in its national home, like the money of Argentina had a peg to the
U.S. dollar a few years ago, then international observers can wisely distrust the reliability of
such a stabilization of its value. Such forms of value definition are not necessarily unsound,
particularly when a small economy, like that of Panama, links its currency to that of a larger
area like that of the USA. But it is obvious that this sort of thing puts a burden on the
foundation of the currency that is used as a reference basis.
For example, if all sorts of non-European countries decided to define the values of their
currencies as on a par with the euro, without actually joining into any system of cooperative
regulations associated with that, then the effect of that would seem likely to destabilize the
stability of the euro if it would otherwise be highly stable and of good value quality.
Political Evolution
There perhaps will always be “politics”, like also “death and taxes”. But it is sometimes
remarkable how political contexts can evolve. And in relation to that I think that it is
possible that “the Keynesians” are like a political faction that will become less influential as
a result of political evolution. The “Keynesian” view of things did not come into existence
until after the time when what we can call “Bolshevik communism” had become established
in Russia. And by this label we wish to differentiate between any theoretical or ideal concept
of communism and the actual form of governing regime structure that came to exercise state
power in Moscow. (All over the world varieties of states make claims to have governments
very properly or even ideally devoted to the interests of the citizens or nationals of those
states and always an externally located critic can argue that the government is actually a
sort of despotism.)
The Keynesians implicitly always have the argument that some good managers can do
things of beneficial value, operating with the treasury and the central bank, and that it is
not needed or appropriate for the citizenry or the “customers” of the currency supplied by
the state to actually understand, while the managers are managing, what exactly they are
doing and how it will affect the “pocketbook” circumstances of these customers.
I see this as analogous to how the “Bolshevik communists” were claiming to provide
something much better than the “bourgeois democracy” that they could not deny existed in
some other countries. But in the end the “dictatorship of the proletariat” seemed to become
rather exposed as simply the dictatorship of the regime. So there may be an analogy to this
as regards those called “the Keynesians” in that while they have claimed to be operating for
high and noble objectives of general welfare what is clearly true is that they have made it
easier for governments to “print money”.
So I see the Keynesians as in a weak sense comparable to the “Bolsheviks” because of
the support of both parties for a certain “lack of transparency” relating to the functions of
government as seen by the citizenry. And for both of them it can be said that they tend to
think in terms of government agencies operating in a benevolent fashion that is, however,
beyond the comprehension of the citizens of the state. And this parallel makes it seem
not implausible that a process of political evolution might lead to the expectation on the
part of citizens in the “great democracies” that they should be better situated to be able
to understand whatever will be the monetary policies which, indeed, are typically of great
importance to citizens who may have alternative options for where to place their “savings”.
Opening for Questions or Debate
(The talk text, just for the “ideal money” topic, originally derives from my outline for the
lectures given at various specific locations of the “European School of Economics” in Italy
during October 1997. Subsequent to that time, after consulting with some of the economics
faculty at Princeton, I learned of the work and publications of Friedrich von Hayek. I must
say that my thinking is apparently quite parallel to his thinking in relation to money and
particularly with regard to the non-typical viewpoint in relation to the functions of the
authorities which in recent times have been the sources of currencies (earlier “coinage”).)
(There were some later revisions and expansions of the text on “Ideal Money” and I
subsequently also spoke on this topic at Northwestern, at Yale, in Athens, Greece, at a
meeting in Tampa, Florida, at Peking University in Beijing, China and at a meeting in
Mumbai, India. And then my lecture at the Tampa meeting was published in the SEJ
(And the portion specifically concerned with “asymptotically ideal” currencies was added
first for a talk at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.)
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