Aristóteles fue uno de los primeros filósofos que estudió algunos aspectos de la economía (Jenofonte había escrito un libro, Economía, pero se trata de un diálogo socrático sobre la economía del hogar y un poco sobre minería y agricultura). 1 Aristóteles, por el contrario, describe lo que el cree es el origen del dinero: es una forma de intercambiar bienes sin la necesidad de transportar los bienes que requiere una economía del trueque.1 Según Aristóteles, en algún momento del pasado se convino en usar algún material valioso en si mismo y fácil de transportar, como el oro, la plata o el hierro (en aquella época, aún valioso) como estándar de intercambio, y con el tiempo se le puso un timbre para evitar tener que pesarlo.2
Aristóteles agrega otras dos funciones del dinero. El primero es el de ser una medida universal, un denominador común del valor de los bienes, que permite hacer conmensurables bienes distintos. La tercera función del dinero, es el de ser una reserva de valor. Aunque no deseemos algo en el momento, el dinero garantiza que podremos disponer de ese algo cuando lo queramos: Aristóteles admite que el dinero se puede depreciar porque su valor no siempre es el mismo, pero en general mantiene su valor mejor que los bienes materiales.
Según Grice-Hutchinson, Aristóteles fue el primero en advertir que es la demanda la que da valor a los bienes, porque si no hubiera interés por los bienes que ofrece la contraparte, no habría intercambio de bienes, y el dinero ha pasado a ser un representante de esta demanda por bienes.3 Aristóteles advirtió también que los bienes tienen dos usos: un valor en uso y un valor de intercambio.
1. Estoy siguiendo el libro de Grice-Hutchinson sobre la Escuela de Salamanca (pp. 19-21) en este tema.
2. Hace poco leí un artículo en que se criticaba esta idea, que los economistas han aceptado siempre. Según el autor (cuyo nombre he olvidado y cuya intención era criticar lo que el llamaba las fábulas de los economistas), en muchas economías primitivas había comercio sin trueque, o el dinero aparecía sin existir comercio.
3. En Ética Nicomaquea, Libro 5, 5.
“Now proportionate return is secured by cross-conjunction. Let A be a builder, B a shoemaker, C a house, D a shoe. The builder, then, must get from the shoemaker the latter’s work, and must himself give him in return his own. If, then, first there is proportionate equality of goods, and then reciprocal action takes place, the result we mention will be effected. If not, the bargain is not equal, and does not hold; for there is nothing to prevent the work of the one being better than that of the other; they must therefore be equated.
(And this is true of the other arts also; for they would have been destroyed if what the patient suffered had not been just what the agent did, and of the same amount and kind.) For it is not two doctors that associate for exchange, but a doctor and a farmer, or in general people who are different and unequal; but these must be equated. This is why all things that are exchanged must be somehow comparable.
It is for this end that money has been introduced, and it becomes in a sense an intermediate; for it measures all things, and therefore the excess and the defect-how many shoes are equal to a house or to a given amount of food. The number of shoes exchanged for a house (or for a given amount of food) must therefore correspond to the ratio of builder to shoemaker. For if this be not so, there will be no exchange and no intercourse. And this proportion will not be effected unless the goods are somehow equal.
All goods must therefore be measured by some one thing, as we said before. Now this unit is in truth demand, which holds all things together (for if men did not need one another’s goods at all, or did not need them equally, there would be either no exchange or not the same exchange); but money has become by convention a sort of representative of demand; and this is why it has the name ‘money’ (nomisma)-because it exists not by nature but by law (nomos) and it is in our power to change it and make it useless. There will, then, be reciprocity when the terms have been equated so that as farmer is to shoemaker, the amount of the shoemaker’s work is to that of the farmer’s work for which it exchanges. But we must not bring them into a figure of proportion when they have already exchanged (otherwise one extreme will have both excesses), but when they still have their own goods. Thus they are equals and associates just because this equality can be effected in their case.
Let A be a farmer, C food, B a shoemaker, D his product equated to C. If it had not been possible for reciprocity to be thus effected, there would have been no association of the parties. That demand holds things together as a single unit is shown by the fact that when men do not need one another, i.e. when neither needs the other or one does not need the other, they do not exchange, as we do when some one wants what one has oneself, e.g. when people permit the exportation of corn in exchange for wine.
This equation therefore must be established. And for the future exchange-that if we do not need a thing now we shall have it if ever we do need it-money is as it were our surety; for it must be possible for us to get what we want by bringing the money. Now the same thing happens to money itself as to goods-it is not always worth the same; yet it tends to be steadier. This is why all goods must have a price set on them; for then there will always be exchange, and if so, association of man with man. Money, then, acting as a measure, makes goods commensurate and equates them; for neither would there have been association if there were not exchange, nor exchange if there were not equality, nor equality if there were not commensurability.
Now in truth it is impossible that things differing so much should become commensurate, but with reference to demand they may become so sufficiently. There must, then, be a unit, and that fixed by agreement (for which reason it is called money); for it is this that makes all things commensurate, since all things are measured by money. Let A be a house, B ten minae, C a bed. A is half of B, if the house is worth five minae or equal to them; the bed, C, is a tenth of B; it is plain, then, how many beds are equal to a house, viz. five. That exchange took place thus before there was money is plain; for it makes no difference whether it is five beds that exchange for a house, or the money value of five beds. “