Voltaire. Money. Adnotated. Part 2.

Part 1

The revenue of Henry III. indeed increased to thirty millions of livresi of his time; this, to the sum that Philip drew from the Indies, was as three to ten; but not more than a third of this money entered into the coffers of Henry III., who was very prodigal,ii greatly robbed, and consequently very poor. We find that Philip II. in one article was ten times richer than Henry.

As to Henry IV., it is not worth while to compare his treasures with those of Philip II. Until the Peace of Vervins, he had only what he could borrow or win at the point of his sword; and he lived as a knight-errant,iii until the time in which he became the first king in Europe. England had always been so poor that King Edward III. was the first king who coined money of gold.iv

Would we know what became of the money which flowed continually from Mexico and Peru into Spain? It entered the pockets of the French, English and Dutch, who traded with Cadiz under Spanish names; and who sent to America the productions of their manufactories. A great part of this money goes to the East Indies to pay for spices, cotton, saltpetre,v sugar, candy, tea, cloths, diamonds, and monkeys.

We may afterwards demand, what is become of all the treasures of the Indies? I answer that Shah Thamas Kouli-Khan or Shah Nadir had carried away all those of the great Mogul, together with his jewels. You would know where those jewels are, and this money that Shah Nadir carried with him into Persia? A part was hidden in the earth during the civil wars; predatory leaders made use of the rest to raise troops against one another; for, as Cæsar very well remarks: “With money we get soldiers, and with soldiers we steal money.”vi

Your curiosity is not yet satisfied; you are troubled to know what have become of the treasures of Sesostris, of Crœsus, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, and above all of Solomon, who, it is said, had to his own share equal to twenty millions and more of our pounds in his coffers.vii

I will tell you. It is spread all over the world. Things find their level in time.viii Be sure, that in the time of Cyrus, the Gauls,ix Germany, Denmark, Poland, and Russia, had not a crown. Besides, that which is lost in gilding, which is fooled away upon our Lady of Loretto,x and other places, and which has been swallowed up by the avaricious sea must be counted.

How did the Romans under their great Romulus, the son of Mars, and a vestal, and under the devout Numa Pompilius? They had a Jupiter of oak; rudely carved huts for palaces; a handful of hay at the end of a stick for a standard; and not a piece of money of twelve sous value in their pockets. Our coachmen have gold watches that the seven kings of Rome, the Camilluses, Manliuses, and Fabiuses, could not have paid for.

If by chance the wife of a receiver-general of finances was to have this chapter read at her toilette by the bel-espritxi of the house, she would have a strange contempt for the Romans of the three first centuries, and would not allow a Manlius, Curius, or Fabius to enter her antechamber, should he come on foot, and not have wherewithal to take his part at play.

Their ready money was of brass. It served at once for arms and money. They fought and reckoned with brass. Three or four pounds of brass, of twelve ounces weight, paid for an ox. They bought necessaries at market, as we buy them at present; and men had, as in all times, food, clothing, and habitations. The Romans, poorer than their neighbors, conquered them, and continually augmented their territory for the space of five hundred years, before they coined silver money.

The soldiers of Gustavus Adolphus in Sweden had nothing but copper money for their pay, before the time that they made conquests out of their own country.

Provided we have a pledge of exchange for the necessary things of life, commerce will continually go on. It signifies not whether this pledge be of shells or paper. Gold and silver have prevailed everywhere, only because they have been the most rare.xii

It was in Asia that the first manufactures of money of these two metals commenced, because Asia was the cradle of all the arts.

There certainly was no money in the Trojan war. Gold and silver passed by weight; Agamemnon might have had a treasure, but certainly no money.

What has made several hardy scholars suspect that the “Pentateuch” was not written until the time in which the Hebrews began to procure coins from their neighbors is that in more than one passage mention is made of shekels. It is there said that Abraham, who was a stranger and had not an inch of land in the country of Canaan, bought there a field and a cave in which to bury his wife, for four hundred shekels of silver current money. The judicious Dom Calmet values this sum at four hundred and forty-eight livres, six sous, nine deniers, according to the ancient calculation adopted at random, in which the silver mark was of six-and-twenty livres value. As the silver mark has, however, increased by half the sum, the present value would be eight hundred and ninety-six livres.

Now, as in that time there was no coined money answering to the word “pecunia,”xiii  that would make a little difficulty, from which it is not easy to extricate ourselves.

Another difficulty is, that in one place it is said that Abraham bought this field in Hebron, and in another at Sichem. On that point consult the venerable Bede, Raban, Maure, and Emanuel Sa.

We will now speak of the riches which David left to Solomon in coined money. Some make it amount to twenty-one or twenty-two millions of French livres, others to five-and-twenty. There is no keeper of the royal treasure, nor tefterdan of the grand Turk’s, who can exactly compute the treasure of King Solomon; but the young bachelors of Oxford and the Sorbonne make out the amount without difficulty.

I will not speak of the innumerable adventures which have happened to money since it has been stamped, marked, valued, altered, increased, buried, and stolen, having through all its transformations constantly remained the idol of mankind. It is so much loved that among all Christian princes there still exists an old law which is not to allow gold and silver to go out of their kingdoms. This law implies one of two things—either that these princes reign over fools who lavish their money in a foreign country for their pleasure, or that we must not pay our debts to foreigners. It is, however, clear that no person is foolish enough to give his money without reason, and that, when we are in debt to a foreigner, we should pay him either in bills of exchange, commodities, or legitimate coin. Thus this law has not been executed since we began to open our eyes—which is not long ago.

There are many things to be said on coined money; as on the unjust and ridiculous augmentation of specie, which suddenly loses considerable sums to a state on the melting down again; on the re-stamping, with an augmentation of ideal value, which augmentation invites all your neighbors and all your enemies to re-coin your money and gain at your expense; in short, on twenty other equally ruinous expedients. Several new books are full of judicious remarks upon this subject. It is more easy to write on money than to obtain it; and those who gain it, jest much at those who only know how to write about it.xiv

In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one part of the citizens to give to the other.xv

It is demanded, if it be possible radically to ruin a kingdom of which the soil in general is fertile.xvi We answer that the thing is not practicable, since from the war of 1689 till the end of 1769, in which we write, everything has continually been done which could ruin France and leave it without resource, and yet it never could be brought about. It is a sound body which has had a fever of eighty years with relapses, and which has been in the hands of quacks, but which will survive.xvii

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  1. Livres = pounds, but for Frenchies. The root of “livre” is shared with that of “libra,” which means that it also, quite fittingly, shares its etymological roots with “liberty.” Funny how words mean things seemingly everywhere outside of the “civilised world” extant. Very funny indeed.
  2. Id est Henry was a bit of a spendthrift, a trait not the least bit uncommon among either monarchs or politicians of any other stripe. This trait has its limitations, to be sure, principally time, but when possessed by men of finer stock can also lead to lasting achievements that serve as the high watermarks of human culture, such as architectural wonderments the likes of which would never otherwise be possible. Did you know that Louis XIV’s Palace at Versailles buried a dozen construction workers a week during the build ? And one can easily imagine that the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids at Giza, the Coliseum, and the Hagia Sofia buried many, many multiples of that. Isn’t it incredible what can be accomplished in a world devoid of OH&S and similarly bureaucratic insanities, and when money, not to mention time, is no object ?
  3. A “knight-errant” is a traveling knight, but in the context Voltaire gives herein, he seems to connote that Henry IV was a bit of a gypsy moreso than a gallant chevalier en armure blanche.
  4. That no nation state calling itself thus presently uses coined money of gold should also tell you something : they’re all fucking broke!
  5. Saltpeter (aka potassium nitrate) isn’t for eating or wearing, it’s an essential component of gunpowder – about 75% of the mix with the rest being charcoal and sulfur.
  6. In Caesar’s defence, he lived in a time many millennia before overt yet “non-violent” thefts were committed by latter day technocratic nation states.
  7. Solomon was King of the Israelites in the 10th century BC and quite possibly the best of the lot in the entirety of the people’s storied, near-six-millennia history. At the very least he presided over a time of unrivalled peace and prosperity, which is certainly what a lot of jews and other little girls want. He also built the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the mount where the partial remains of the Second – in the form of the Wailing Wall – remain to this day. It also probably goes without saying at this point that Kind Solomon was gangster loaded to an extent that would make johnny-come-lately J.D. Rockefeller look like a humble gas station attendant.
  8. Indeed. Net worth is more than the numbers on a balance sheet. How unfair!
  9. If you’ve never read Asterix and Obelix, or other historical literature, or meditated for a moment on the fact that a somewhat recent French President who survived an assassination attempt only because his Citroen DS could drive on just three wheels using its hydropneumatic suspension for stability after the assassin shot out the fourth was so named, you might not know that Gaul is the land of the French. 
  10. The Lady of Loretto is a Catholic thing. Dun worry too much about it.
  11. Un bel-esprit is literally a “good spirit” but not in the boo!ghost! sense so much as “one who’s possessed of a good spirit” or “one with a particularly beautiful spirit,” though it’s actually used to refer to someone witty and intelligent rather than someone generous or virtuous. Who woulda thunk that the ancient French notion of beauty wouldn’t include welfare ? Looks like someone forgot to tell the Nth French Republic.  
  12. Today, Bitcoin carries on this tradition where all others have fallen – the torch is alight! And oh how it burns.
  13. A Latin term you’ll recall from the proverbial pecunia non olet.
  14. Some things never change. Well-heeled men such as Taleb or those of us in TMSR can but laugh at the “finance journalist” impostors and charlatans, particularly when they so catastrophically fail to grasp basic points.
  15. Upwards redistribution we call regulation, downwards we call welfare.
  16. Ask the UStards, yes! Hell, they even ruin their goddam soil.
  17. Oops! He spoke too soon! As do those Soviets in the 1980’s and those ReSoviets today who pontificate that “all is well on the home front.” Sure it is.

One thought on “Voltaire. Money. Adnotated. Part 2.

  1. […] more than a 20% in the annual rate. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that Voltaire was indeed onto something all those years ago. […]

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