Saving a Very Old Paper from Oblivion — UPDATE

UPDATE (May 15, 2016): My account below of the events surrounding the writing of my paper elicited the following letter from James Dorn, the unnamed organizer of the conference on Alternatives to Government Fiat Money, to whom I refer in the post. His letter makes it clear that my recollection of the events I describe was inaccurate or incomplete in several respects and that, most important, Cato did not intend to suppress my paper. Their intent was to originally to publish the paper in a separate volume to be published by Kluwer, but the intended volume was never published. Dorn refers to correspondence between us in 1999 in which he apologized for the delay in publication and invited me either to submit the paper for publication at the Cato Journal or to submit it elsewhere. As I mentioned in my post I did revise the paper into the current version dated June 2000. Why I did not submit it to the Cato Journal or to another journal I am unable to say, but subsequently I somehow came under the impression that I had been discouraged from doing so by Cato. Evidently, my recollection was faulty. In any event, I should not have posted my recollections of how this paper came to languish unpublished for almost three decades without communicating with James Dorn. That, at least, is one lesson to be learned, I can also take some minimal comfort in learning that my own conduct was not quite as wimpy as I had thought. On the other hand, I must apologize to Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman, who linked to this post on their blogs, for having led them to into this discussion. All in all, not a great performance on my part. Here is the text of Jim Dorn’s letter.

Dear David,

A colleague directed me to your blog of May 13, in which you state:

“After about 10 years [1989–99] passed, it occurred to me that the paper, which I had more or less forgotten about in the interim, would be worth updating to take into account the literature on network externalities that had subsequently developed. Just to work out for myself the connections between my old arguments and the new literature, I revised the paper to incorporate the network-externalities literature into the discussion. Then, hoping that Cato might no longer care about the paper, I contacted the conference organizer, who was still at Cato, to inquire whether, after a lapse of 10 years, Cato still had objections to my submitting the paper for publication. The response I got was that, at least for the time being, Cato would not allow me to publish the paper, but might reconsider at some unspecified future time.”

                                                                                                    —David Glasner (Uneasy Money blog, May 13, 2016)

If you remember, the reason your article from the 1989 conference was not included in the Fall 1989 CJ (vol. 9, no. 2) was because I had deliberately omitted several conference papers from the CJ b/c Kluwer was going to co-publish a book with the title “Alternatives to Government Fiat Money” and wanted me to differentiate it from the CJ conference issue with the same title.  So the intention was to use your paper in the book ( I sent you a letter to that effect of which I have a copy).  Unfortunately, my many other duties at Cato at that time, plus my full-time teaching schedule, put the book project on the back burner.  I accept full responsibility for that delay.

I wrote to you on December 1, 1999, apologizing for the delay in the book project and explicitly stated: “If you wish to withdraw your paper from consideration and use it elsewhere, go ahead.”  I also stated in a separate email on December 1, 1999, that “if you revise your paper, at your own pace, then as soon as I receive it, I will consider it for use in the Cato Journal.  Also, I will reserve the right to use it in the book , if the CJ comes out first.”  You had mentioned in your email (Dec. 1, 1999) that the original paper had to be updated to take account of “network effects and externalities.”  And in a separate reply to my offer, you wrote (Dec. 1, 1999): “Sounds reasonable.  I’ll have to dredge up a copy of the paper and look it over again, before I give you a definite yes or no.  I’ll try to do that by Monday at the latest.”  As far as I can tell from my files, you never did get back to me.

David, I’m sorry that your paper did not see the light of day; I wish I had used it immediately in the conference issue of the CJ in 1989.

I did, however, give you permission to publish elsewhere, as noted above, albeit with a significant lag.  If you had sent me your revised paper when I requested it, I would have certainly used it n the CJ.  I think your blog is incorrect at points and that you were unfair to Cato.  Things happen to delay publications. I value honesty and do the best to maintain my own and Cato’s reputation.  Indeed, if you have revised your paper and would like me to consider it for use in the CJ, I would be glad to do so.

Best regards,

Jim

I have just posted a paper (“How ‘Natural’ Is the Government Monopoly over Money”) on SSRN. It’s a paper I wrote about 28 years ago, shortly after arriving in Washington to start working at the FTC, for a Cato Monetary Conference on Alternatives to Fiat Money. I don’t remember how I came up with the idea for the paper, but it’s possible that I thought, having become a FTC antitrust economist, that it would be worth applying industrial organization concepts to analyze whether any of the traditional arguments for a state monopoly over money could withstand scrutiny. At any rate, the conference organizers seemed to like the idea, and I was offered an honorarium of about — I don’t remember exactly — $1000 to $1500; I was told that the conference papers would be published in a future edition of the Cato Journal.

I am afraid that I no longer have any recollection of the conference or of my presentation, except that, after the conference, I was moderately pleased with myself and my paper, and I was probably more than moderately happy with a four-figure honorarium to supplement my modest government salary. Unfortunately, my happy feelings about the experience were short-lived, being informed, not long after the conference by one of the conference organizers, that the original plans had been changed, so that my paper would not be published in the Cato Journal. That surprise was a bit annoying, but hardly devastating, because I simply assumed that what I had been told meant that I would just have to go through the tedious process of sending the paper out to be published in some economics journal. Feeling moderately pleased with what I had written, I thought that I might try my luck with, say, The Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, a step up — actually several steps up — from the Cato Journal. So when I replied – I thought fairly tactfully – that I certainly understood how plans could change, and had no hard feelings about Cato’s unwillingness to publish my paper, and that I would work on it some more before submitting it elsewhere for publication, I was totally unprepared for the response that was forthcoming: by accepting that four-figure honorarium for writing the paper for the Cato conference, I had relinquished to the Cato Institute all rights to the paper and that I was free to submit it to any publication or journal, and that Cato would take legal action against me and any publication that published the paper. My interlocutor did say that there was a chance that Cato might decide to publish the paper in the future, but I well understood that that contingency was not very likely.

Shocked at what had just happened I felt helpless and violated, and I now reproach myself bitterly for my timidity in acquiescing to Cato’s suppression of my work, not even insisting on a written explanation of Cato’s decision to stop me from publishing my own paper. Nor did I seek legal advice about challenging Cato’s conduct. I could have at least tried writing an article exposing how Cato – an institution whose “mission is to originate, disseminate, and increase understanding of public policies based on the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace” — was engaged in suppressing the original research that it had sponsored with no obvious justification.

After about 10 years passed, it occurred to me that the paper, which I had more or less forgotten about in the interim, would be worth updating to take into account the literature on network externalities that had subsequently developed. Just to work out for myself the connections between my old arguments and the new literature, I revised the paper to incorporate the network-externalities literature into the discussion. Then, hoping that Cato might no longer care about the paper, I contacted the conference organizer, who was still at Cato, to inquire whether, after a lapse of 10 years, Cato still had objections to my submitting the paper for publication. The response I got was that, at least for the time being, Cato would not allow me to publish the paper, but might reconsider at some unspecified future time. At that point, I put the paper away, and forgot about it again, until I came across it recently, and decided that it was finally time to at least post it on the internet. If Cato wants to come after me for doing so, I guess they know how to find me.

Here’s the introductory section of the paper.

I have chosen the title of this paper to underscore an ambiguity in how the term “natural monopoly” describes the role of the government in monetary affairs. One possible meaning of “natural monopoly” in this context is the narrow one that economists attach to it in their taxonomies of market structure. The term then denotes special technical conditions of production that make it cheaper for just one firm to produce the entire output of an industry than for two or more firms to share in that production. However, the term “natural monopoly” is not necessarily confined to that narrow meaning even when the term is used by economists. In these looser usages, “natural monopoly” is intended to refer to any conditions or forces that either explain or rationalize why the production of money is or should be monopolized by the government. But since the production of money (or at least of a non-trivial subset of monetary instruments) is nearly universally monopolized by governments, it seems reasonable to infer that there must be some forces (that economic theory ought to be able to identify) that can account for the universality or, if you will, “naturalness,” of a government monopoly over money. While there is nothing sacred about the narrow usage of the term “natural monopoly,” the presumption among economists that natural monopolies in the strict sense should be regulated or taken over by the government is so strong, that it seems worthwhile to distinguish between those explanations of the monopoly over money that can, and those that cannot, be subsumed under the narrow meaning of that term.

My first task, therefore, will be to review and evaluate some of the reasons commonly advanced to support the proposition that the production of money is a natural monopoly. The strict natural-monopoly explanations for a government monopoly do not seem to me to withstand critical scrutiny. But in discussing them, I shall point out that several of what purport to be natural-monopoly explanations are actually arguments that the production or use of money involves some type of externality that can be internalized only by a monopoly, or a monopoly. The specific externality is often not explicitly described, but, upon careful analysis, one can distinguish between few possible externalities that might justify some government role in monetary affairs. These disguised externality arguments will draw me into an explicit discussion of the externality justification for a government monopoly. But even if one grants that one or more of these possible externalities may justify some government role in monetary affairs, it does not necessarily follow that a government monopoly is necessary to compensate for the externality. Since I have elsewhere (Glasner 1989, 1998) tried to account for the pervasiveness of the monopoly on national-defense grounds, I shall not repeat myself here. I shall merely conclude by mentioning some implications of the national-defense explanation that suggest that the basis for the government monopoly is weakening and that the supply of money has, and will continue to, become increasingly competitive.

Click here to continue reading.

10 Responses to “Saving a Very Old Paper from Oblivion — UPDATE”


  1. 1 Henry May 13, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    “Shocked at what had just happened I felt helpless and violated….”

    Perhaps you should have referred them to the FTC?🙂

    I can’t see that paying you a fee to appear necessarily entitles them to claim ownership of your paper.

  2. 2 Tom May 14, 2016 at 6:51 am

    Cato’s behavior, which has contributed to the deaths of thousands of people, is, of course, explained in “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

  3. 3 brucedesertrat May 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

    I can’t see that paying you a fee to appear necessarily entitles them to claim ownership of your paper.

    Always read the fine print, especially when dealing with libertarians.

  4. 4 George Selgin May 15, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    David, I truly regret what happened to your article. Still, whatever the details of your transaction with Cato and Jim Dorn (and Jim assures me that the story was rather more complicated than you relate, with misunderstanding having played a big part, and a desire to suppress your work no part whatsoever), I regret just as much the fact that you thought it necessary to offer grist for the mill of persons who are only too glad to have any excuse to dismiss the work that my colleagues and I at Cato have been doing.

    Had I had the least inkling of the flap, I’d have happily published your paper in our Working Paper Series, or recommended that Jim publish it; I also would have been happy to blog about it, as I may still do. Only now I have to combat the damage to my and my colleagues reputation that your decision to settle a very old score will have caused!

  5. 5 William O'Neil May 15, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    The paper seems rather deracinated from historical context. Historically, at least in the West, fiat money originated as private bank notes. The United States did not acquire a uniform national currency until the passage of the National Banking Acts, 150 years ago, and the arguments were on the grounds of economic efficiency rather than war finance. Private scrips have appeared in circulation from time to time for various specific reasons ever since but have always quickly disappeared. In any event it is certainly clear that there is no natural monopoly on money, only a monopoly imposed for reasons that there is no obvious justification for overturning.

  6. 6 Marcus Nunes May 17, 2016 at 6:48 am

    This was a good example of how gentlemen settle “disagreements”!

  7. 7 harkin1 May 22, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Krugman loved it when you were wrong, now that you’ve corrected the mistake he says it doesn’t matter. The NYTimes in all its glory.


  1. 1 Krugman’s blog, 5/16/16 | Marion in Savannah Trackback on May 16, 2016 at 3:35 am
  2. 2 Bloggers behaving badly: Krugman and DeLong edition – Business and Trade Law Trackback on May 20, 2016 at 12:00 pm
  3. 3 Paul Krugman Beclowns Himself…Again | International Liberty Trackback on May 21, 2016 at 8:56 am

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About Me

David Glasner
Washington, DC

I am an economist in the Washington DC area. My research and writing has been mostly on monetary economics and policy and the history of economics. In my book Free Banking and Monetary Reform, I argued for a non-Monetarist non-Keynesian approach to monetary policy, based on a theory of a competitive supply of money. Over the years, I have become increasingly impressed by the similarities between my approach and that of R. G. Hawtrey and hope to bring Hawtrey's unduly neglected contributions to the attention of a wider audience.

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