Martha Campbell debunks the quantity theory of money

Marx’s Explanation of Money’s Functions: Overturning the Quantity Theory (2003) by Martha Campbell. The comments about this paper by conference participants in the third column at Papers should be read in conjunction.

My comments here are partly a summary and partly reflections that have arisen from thinking about Campbell’s paper. As always, read the original.

Marx was fully aware that capitalist money or credit is not gold. Yet he insists on developing a theory of money based on gold in Capital vol 1 and 2. Campbell argues that he does this because he believed that the main obstacle to understanding anything about money is the Quantity theory. Hence, we are implicitly involved in a discussion where starting points are of vital importance. Marx starts with gold as money, other economists start with what they find on the surface of social reality. In my opinion, Marx wins out because his starting points are superior to those of other thinkers.

Marx’s anti-quantity theory is that the commodity is the dog and money is the tail. The quantity theory position is the opposite: that money is the dog and the commodity is the tail

Campbell’s emphasis is on the 3 inversions or reflections of commodity relationships as a conceptual refutation of the Quantity theory of money. The 3 inversions are the mirror image reversals of these principles:
– that commodity value determines money value
– that commodity circulation determines the properties of money
– that commodity prices determines the quantity of money in circulation

So, Campbell is arguing that these principles from Marx are fundamentally correct and that the Quantity theory is incorrect because it confuses the reflection with the source. But it is more than a confusion because capitalism creates it own form of money, credit money, which does obey the inverted principles. With credit money the inversions do hold true:
– money value determines commodity value
– the properties of money are determined by commodity circulation
– the quantity of money is determined by commodity prices

It’s obvious that the quantity theory is right, isn’t it? Ben Bernanke decides to print more money to “save” the economy. In his view inflation is better than deflation. So the value of money must decline. The quantity of money Bernanke decides to print determines the value of money. This is what Marx says is wrong.

In what sense then is Marx correct? There are different types of money – gold money, paper money issued by the central bank and credit money which can be issued by anyone. You could say that Marx’s principles hold true for gold money or paper money that is convertible to gold but don’t hold true for other types of money. So, given that, since 1971, we no longer have a gold standard then aren’t Marx’s theories no longer relevant?

Since credit money escapes from Marx’s first function of money (money is a measure of value using the commodity gold as the measure) then, in that sense, it is not true money. The same could be said of paper money issued by governments through the printing press (quantitative easing) in times of crisis. Everyone knows that this money is not worth much. In times of crisis the value of this sort of money crashes back to earth, the earth that contains gold as a true measure of value.

I also found Campbell very helpful in pointing out clearly that in Chapter 3 of Capital vol 1 Marx is discussing the price form, which is separate from any discussion of a measure of price. Part of the problem with “economics” is that it is obsessed with measurement, ignores social forms in its own analysis and does not even notice that Marx is emphasising that many of the thing we take for granted (eg. the commodity, money, price) have a social origin and meaning. Marx explains how capitalism really functions as a social system in contrast to “economists” who seem to do little more than watch the stock market go up and down.

Price and value must part company. This is a feature of Marx’s theory and not a problem. Since money exists concretely as gold separate from commodities then it is certainly possible for price to deviate from the abstraction value. The price form is both an ideal expression of value and a realised misrepresentation of value. The commodity is caught in the middle of the social processes of production and exchange, “they link the activities that produce them” (page 9)

Campbell poses a crucial question that worried me in my early study of value theory:

“If price doesn’t express the right quantity of value, then why bother with value at all, since it is of no help in formulating a theory of price?”

Marx’s value theory seemed to me to be so difficult to understand that I could certainly comprehend why many give up on it and prefer to start at the more practical point of price. The answer is that if we start with price and not value then we will never understand the social forms that constitute the internal dynamics and contradictions of capitalism

Since prices can and do deviate from values then part of our answer to the Quantity theorists is that they are talking about prices and we are talking about values. Prices may be all over the place, eg. during inflation, but values are the important underlying measure of how the economy is really performing.

In his comment Geert Reuten agrees but anticipates that more work needs to be done with respect to price:

“ …we agree (Campbell and myself at least) that “quantity of money” plays no role in the measurement of value … in the end Marx does have a “quantity of money circulation theory of price” (the name quantity theory of money is confused anyway, since for the proponents it is a “quantity of money theory of price-level”) – even if it is about an inverted reality (p.18), it has nevertheless real effect”

Moving on. Campbell’s argument about money beginning as a commodity (gold) and then progressing, since Marx’s death, to not being a commodity are not so clear to me.

“… money is the materialisation of value … money must be a commodity, at least until it can be shown how money could represent value without being a commodity” (page 6).

“Marx shows that money is not a commodity … by the end of Chapter 3” (page 17)

“ … it seems unlikely that he (Marx) would consider the development of international monetary institutions to be impossible. Thus, of the two functions Marx associates with gold, one is pre-capitalist (hoards) and the other is historically contingent (world money)” (page 27)

“By the collapse of the credit system into the monetary system, he means instead that payments must be made in money (whatever the form of money happens to be)” (page 30, footnote 112)

My question here is: How could money represent value accurately without being a commodity? Campbell doesn’t seem to provide an answer to that in her paper.

This point was also raised by some of her fellow presenters at the conference.

“I don’t think Martha is clear enough on the crucial question of whether or not money has to be a commodity in its function as measure of value … how else could the value of commodities be measured, except by another commodity?”


“I believe that Marx’s commodity-money basis is unnecessarily somewhat brushed away (referring to pages 17 and 27)… This brushing makes the general argument less instead of more convincing.”

Smith: (referring to the Campbell quote on page 30 above)

“I’m not at all sure Marx meant that. I think it is more likely that he thought that inter-state conflicts will prevent any national currency from serving as the ultimate and unquestioned form of world money, and so at some point in a crisis in the world economy there will always be a “flight to gold.” Regarding the former, I think he was correct (and so I also think he probably wouldn’t have agreed with you and Mike Williams (p. 27) that the lack of a world monetary authority is a mere historical contingency, if what you mean by that is some regime of global governance that establishes a particular currency or international clearing unit as world money). Regarding the latter (my correction, the original says former here), I don’t see any reason why interstate conflicts (and the inter-capital conflicts inseparably connected to them) can’t be played out indefinitely through massive disequilibriums in the currency exchange rates of the leading hard currencies, followed by abrupt revaluations of those rates. In every crisis in the world market there is then a flight from one (or more) hard currency to another (or group of others).”

Martha Campbell’s paper and the responses to it by the other conference participants give me confidence that there are marxists in the world still thinking hard about the important questions. I look forward to studying more of the papers from the 2003 conference site: Marx’s Theory of Money: Modern Appraisals

8 Responses to “Martha Campbell debunks the quantity theory of money”

  1. 1 Arthur

    Thanks for this review. When I read Campbell’s paper I agreed with the strong emphasis on refuting quantity theory but remained confused as to how it works now.

    Still unclear what the measure of value is. Seems to be import/export weighted world market price lists for convertability of each currency to others.

    Will re-read together with replies and rest of conference. Despite my initial negative impression from the selection of papers I first read I certainly agree after reading Campbell that there are indications of serious thought at this conference and presumably in these circles.

    Don’t agree at all that quantity theorists are talking about prices while we are talking about values.

    Striking phenomena of general rise in price level/fall in value of money during prosperity and boom followed by general fall of prices/rise in value of money in crisis and depression is explained as due to monetary phenemena by quantity theorists. Marx explicitly rejected this from Contribution to Critique on, with assumption of full convertability.

    Maksakovsky stresses the necessity of understanding the deviations of price from value for explaining business cycle (again assuming full convertability). Explains associated monetary phenomena as secondary (though amplifying) effects rather than one way causes. Also takes for granted the transformed values of “production price”. This is why I think he’s vastly superior and really onto it.

    This is also connected with confusion between inconvertible paper currency given forced circulation (quantity theory relevant) and convertible credit money.

    The “hard” currencies are convertible, not forced circulaton. As they are convertible only to each other this is very different from convertability to gold. Nevertheless it is much more closely related to credit money than to inconvertible paper money (though the boundaries may shift).

    eg Trillions of dollars of credit money issued by US Federal Reserve has not been forced into circulation but sits in bank deposits. Seems to have postponed monetary crisis and thus prevented prices falling and debt deflation but not caused massive inflation.

    Gold seems to be becoming more relevant again instead of just frozen, but still a speculative commodity which people sell when they need “hard cash” rather than a measure and store of value.
    Would like to read other stuff by Campbell, especially her chapter on credit in Essays on Volume III (only library in Melbourne with copy is La Trobe University).

    Worth getting in touch with her for that and any other recent stuff.

  2. 2 Bill Kerr

    I sent a link of my post to both Martha Campbell and Fred Moseley with a request that they make their other publications more readily available in digital form.

  3. 3 Arthur

    Still haven’t got hold of Martha Campbell’s paper from essays on Volume 3.

    But did find this 1997 paper “Marx on the Credit System”.

    Its an excellent account of the importance of the Volume II stuff on turnover, which I strongly recommend (despite odd claim that credit makes it more fragile instead of more elastic with consequently greater recoil on breaking).

    Stands out due to absence of other material on this since Hilferding.

    One does need to grasp Volume II before any chance of grappling with credit in Volume III (which Marx left in a mess). This is an excellent preliminary and motivator for doing so.

  4. 4 Bill Kerr

    arthur (Jan 1 comment),

    “Don’t agree at all that quantity theorists are talking about prices while we are talking about values”

    ok. Would you agree with this alternative wording -> quantity theorists are talking about market prices and we are talking about production prices?

    “Striking phenomena of general rise in price level/fall in value of money during prosperity and boom followed by general fall of prices/rise in value of money in crisis and depression is explained as due to monetary phenemena by quantity theorists. Marx explicitly rejected this from Contribution to Critique on, with assumption of full convertability”

    Your first sentence is a reference to Ricardians, I suppose (other quantity theorists ignore value totally). With regard to your second sentence could you provide a Marx reference, I’m not aware of Marx saying that in the Contribution.

    “The “hard” currencies are convertible, not forced circulaton. As they are convertible only to each other this is very different from convertability to gold. Nevertheless it is much more closely related to credit money than to inconvertible paper money (though the boundaries may shift).

    eg Trillions of dollars of credit money issued by US Federal Reserve has not been forced into circulation but sits in bank deposits. Seems to have postponed monetary crisis and thus prevented prices falling and debt deflation but not caused massive inflation”

    My understanding is that fiat money is government approved (you can pay your taxes in it) whilst credit money can be issued by virtually anyone, eg. an IOU, but mainly issued by private banks and is not government approved. So isn’t Fed money fiat and not credit?

    I don’t understand the issue of paper money being forced or not forced into circulation. De Brunhoff, p.36, argues that Marx thought fiat money had characteristics of both true money (because it is legal it implicitly replaces gold(?)) and false money because it was condemned to remain in circulation. Others argued that fiat money could be hoarded but Marx disagreed, according to De Brunhoff. De Brunhoff available here

    With regard to these issues this paper may be relevant:
    “The ‘Monetary Expression of Labor’ in the case of non commodity money” (2004) by Fred Moseley

  5. 5 Arthur

    1. Nope, quantity theorists have a different (wrong) understanding of money and prices, not just a confusion between market prices and production prices or values.

    2. Much of the “Contribution…” is aimed at clarifying the real relations in opposition to the quantity theories of money that were and are still dominant in bourgeois political economy (as stressed by Martha Campbell in respect to the corresponding initial chapters of Capital). Its worth reading the whole thing with that specifically in mind. Marx was decisively siding with the banking as opposed to the currency (quantity) school.

    Here’s a specific recitation from the final section C “Theories of the Medium of Circulation and Money”:

    The most common and conspicuous phenomenon accompanying commercial crises is a sudden fall in the general level of commodity-prices occurring after a prolonged general rise of prices. A general fall of commodity-prices may be expressed as a rise in the value of money relative to all other commodities, and, on the other hand, a general rise of prices may be defined as a fall in the relative value of money. Either of these statements describes the phenomenon but does not explain it. Whether the task set is to explain the periodic rise in the general level of prices alternating with a general fall, or the same task is said to be to explain the alternating fall and rise in the relative value of money compared with that of commodities – the different terminology has just as little effect on the task itself as a translation of the terms from German into English would have. Ricardo’s monetary theory proved to be singularly apposite since it gave to a tautology the semblance of a causal relation. What is the cause of the general fall in commodity-prices which occurs periodically? It is the periodically occurring rise in the relative value of money. What on the other hand is the cause of the recurrent general rise in commodity-prices It is the recurrent fall in the relative value of money. It would be just as correct to say that the recurrent rise and fall of prices is brought about by their recurrent rise and fall. The proposition advanced presupposes that the intrinsic value of money, i.e., its value as determined by the production costs of the precious metals, remains unchanged. If the tautology is meant to be more than a tautology, then it is based on a misapprehension of the most elementary notions. We know that if the exchange-value of A expressed in terms of B falls, it may be due either to a fall in the value of A or to a rise in the value of B; similarly if, on the contrary, the exchange-value of A expressed in terms of B rises. Once the transformation of the tautology into a causal relationship is taken for granted, everything else follows easily. The rise in commodity-prices is due to a fall in the value of money, the fall in the value of money, however, as we know from Ricardo, is due to excessive currency, that is to say, to the fact that the amount of money in circulation rises above the level determined by its own intrinsic value and the intrinsic value of commodities. Similarly in the opposite fall of commodity-prices is due to the value of money rising above its intrinsic value as a result of an insufficient amount of currency. Prices therefore rise and fall periodically, because periodically there is too much or too little money in circulation If it is proved, for instance, that the rise of prices coincided with a decreased amount of money in circulation, and the fall of prices with an increased amount, then it is nevertheless possible to assert that, in consequence of some reduction or increase – which can in no way be ascertained statistically – of commodities in circulation, the amount of money in circulation has relatively, though not absolutely, increased or decreased. We have seen that, according to Ricardo, even when a purely metallic currency is employed, these variations in the level of prices must take place, but, because they occur alternately, they neutralise one another. For example, an insufficient amount of currency brings about a fall in commodity-prices, the fall of commodity-prices stimulates an export of commodities to other countries, but this export leads to an influx of money into the country, the influx of money causes again a rise in commodity-prices. When there is an excessive amount of currency the reverse occurs: commodities are imported and money exported. Since notwithstanding these general price movements, which arise from the very nature of Ricardo’s metallic currency, their severe and vehement form, the form of crisis, belongs to periods with developed credit systems, it is clear that the issue of bank-notes is not exactly governed by the laws of metallic currency. The remedy applicable to metallic currency is the import and export of precious metals, which are immediately thrown into circulation as coin, their inflow or outflow thus causing commodity-prices to fall or to rise. The banks must now artificially exert the same influence on commodity-prices by imitating the laws of metallic currency. If gold is flowing in from abroad, it is a proof that there is an insufficient amount of currency, that the value of money is too high and commodity-prices too low, and bank-notes must therefore be thrown into circulation in accordance with the newly imported gold. On the other hand, bank-notes must be taken out of circulation in accordance with an outflow of gold from the country. In other words the issue of bank-notes must be regulated according to the import and export of the precious metals or according to the rate of exchange. Ricardo’s wrong assumption that gold is simply specie and that consequently the whole of the imported gold is used to augment the money In circulation thus causing prices to rise, and that the whole of the gold exported represents a decrease in the amount of specie and thus causes prices to fall – this theoretical assumption is now turned into a practical experiment by making the amount of specie in circulation correspond always to the quantity of gold in the country. Lord Overstone (Jones Loyd, the banker), Colonel Torrens, Norman, Clay, Arbuthnot and numerous other writers known in England as the “currency school” have not only preached this doctrine, but have made it the basis of the present English and Scottish banking legislation by means of Sir Robert Peel’s Bank Acts of 1844 and 1845. The analysis of the ignominious fiasco they suffered both in theory and practice, after experiments on the largest national scale, can only be made in the section dealing with the theory of credit. [23] It is obvious however that Ricardo’s theory, which regards currency, the fluid form of money, in isolation, ends by attributing to increases and decreases in the amount of precious metals an absolute influence on bourgeois economy such as was never imagined even in the superstitious concepts of the Monetary System. Ricardo, who declared that paper money is the most perfect form of money, was thus to become the prophet of the bullionists.

    3. I haven’t yet come across a satisfactory account of the relations between current monetary systems and fiat and credit money. Often described as simply being fiat money but that ignores international convertability. Its hard to believe that governments can go bankrupt issuing fiat money!

    My inclination is towards assuming that something like purchasing power parity theory (Cassell) substitutes a trade weighted commodity index of world market commodities for gold as the measure of value. Not at all clear as the weights and basket vary too.

    Getting to grips with this is a key theoretical task. There isn’t a simple answer.

  6. 6 Arthur

    I’ve now read Martha Campbell on the Credit System (online) from Essays on Volume III. (Still want to download whole book).

    My impression is she’s on the right track and well ahead of others in actually studying Marx’s theory of money. Would hope she has something to say about current application, but haven’t found that yet.

    Did notice a serious and surprising misconception. She seems to believe (and attribute to Marx) that the 1844 Bank Act was the essential link between credit money and gold.

    That is simply wrong, convertability to gold on demand at a fixed rate was the essential link both before, during and after the failure of the absurd Bank Act (that claimed to ensure this convertability by limiting the banks flexibility).

    The subsequent breaking of THAT link is the theoretical issue that needs to be dealt with. She can’t succeed in that while under the influence of this misconception.

    Also noticed interesting looking references to paper by Ganssman in:

    Have downloaded that to read as well.

  7. 7 Arthur

    Re importance of Volume II stuff on turnover as per Campbell (1997).

    Here’s a paper by Saros on turnover which could be helpful when reading volume II (although needs to be a lot easier).



    I’ve almost finished De Brunhoff and find it doesn’t provide a clear enough explanation of the actual mechanics of credit, balance of payments etc (partly Marx’s fault). One aspect, important for understanding crisis phenomena is the time dimension with payments becoming due by particular dates. This is hard to visualize and think about and hence hard to describe.

    A better version of the approach attempted in the Saros paper may be useful.

    Reading de Brunhoff confirmed in my mind the importance of dealing with the volume II turnover stuff (and also merchant capital) as essential preliminaries to attempting to understand credit money.

    BTW I also read Moseley on MELT. Introducing and then factoring out a value of gold doesn’t seem to add much to the tautology. Again the idea that “velocity” is some more or less constant “statistic” relates to misunderstanding of hoarding, turnover and credit. Result is a retreat to quantity theory of money.

    Nevertheless I agree with Chris Arthur’s emphasis that money, value and abstract labour all emerge TOGETHER in the polarized social relations of commodity exchange. Ignoring international relations, treating “value added” in national accounts as equivalent to value of the corresponding actual labour seems reasonable.

    Transformation problem “goes away” when you just note that the input values and output values of the disaggregated parts of the total were already transformed when talking about them in the aggregate in forming a total c + v + s and corresponding rates s/v and s/(v + s) but their transformation needs to be noticed when talking about individual industries.

    Also note that the general proposition that value expresses the necessary social distribution of living labour time between different industries can be extended to its transformation which also reflects the equally necessary social distribution of dead or objectified labour time (“capital”) between different industries.

  8. 8 Arthur

    Try again, Saros full

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