Short and Sweet
Copernicus on the debasement of money

Image of 8¢ stamp depicting Copernicus holding representation of heliocentric earth orbit

“Although there are countless scourges which in general debilitate kingdoms, principalities, and republics, the four most important (in my judgment) are dissension, [abnormal] mortality, barren soil, and debasement of the currency. The first three are so obvious that nobody is unaware of their existence. But the fourth, which concerns money, is taken into account by few persons and only the most perspicacious. For it undermines states, not by a single attack all at once, but gradually and in a certain covert manner.” – Copernicus, Essay on the Coinage of Money (1526)

Few know that Copernicus applied his genius to the insidious effects of currency debasement. The ground-breaking essay linked above probably influenced both John Maynard Keynes (See below) and Thomas Gresham of “bad money drives out good” fame. Supply Side Blog’s Ralph Benko says Copernicus’ essay “has been translated into English several times yet those translations remained difficult to obtain for students of the monetary arts and sciences. It has remained mostly the property of elite historians.” Above we link Edward Rousen’s translation that you might keep company with the knowledgeable elite.

It cost 8¢ to mail a one-ounce letter in 1973 as indicated by the commemorative Copernicus stamp shown above. It costs 55¢ today – an illustration of his assertion that currency debasement “undermines states, not by a single attack all at once, but gradually and in a certain covert manner.” The post office increased the cost of mailing a letter by 5¢ – to 55¢ – beginning in 2019.

“By a continuing process of inflation governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth.” – John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of Peace (1919)


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