GRESHAM’S LAW: Explanation, Importance, and How It Works

Gresham's law
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The amount of government interference in currency circulation can be affected by Gresham’s law. In nations with a high rate of inflation, it is common for the currency with a low inflation rate to become the dominant medium of exchange when individuals and businesses have the freedom to choose their medium of exchange. It is also capable of swaying the judgments made by bankers and regulators. One can use the legislation to apply to monetary policies as well as investments in the stock market. This piece will enlighten you more on how Gresham’s law works, why it is important, and the example of this law.

What is the Gresham’s Law?

Gresham’s law, which refers to a time when the economy conducted all transactions in coins, states that “the bad currency drives out the good.” It is linked to Sir Thomas Gresham, a financier from England who lived during the Tudor era.

Let’s say you have two $1 coins and want to buy something that costs $2. Each has a different metal content; gold for one and silver for the other. Since gold coins are more valuable than silver, it makes sense for the populace to use them for transactions and to save them for personal use. As a result, most transactions would utilize the less efficient transaction medium, and the better would be used infrequently.

Gresham’s law of economics works in this situation when both “good” and “bad” money are present, which is a crucial issue to remember. The discrepancy between money’s face value and its commodity worth, such as the intrinsic value of the raw metal used in its manufacture, is usually small. Contrarily, “bad” money is legal tender but has a commodity value that is much lower than its face value. Gresham’s Law of Money holds that if an inferior currency is free to circulate, it will eventually replace superior currency.

The legal nexus between money and precious metals has weakened in recent years. It has significantly weakened, and in many instances, people have given up totally. Inflation is a recurring pattern in economies all around the world. In severe cases, hyperinflation can get to the point that money is no longer worth the paper it is printed on. When hyperinflation occurs, foreign currencies frequently take the place of national ones, reversing Gresham’s law. When a currency rapidly loses value, individuals will migrate to foreign currencies that are more stable, regardless of legislative prohibitions.

How Gresham’s Law Works?

Gold and other precious metals have given coins their value since the beginning of monetary history. However, in an effort to keep using them, coin manufacturers cut the amount of precious metal used in each coin. New coins with less precious metals sell for less or nothing, while older coins closer to face value retain value. When the government sets a coin’s face value, new coins are worth more and older coins are worth less. This is how governments and other coin issuers can make money by making more money. They can then use this money to make more coins at face value.

Citizens prefer older coins with more precious metal content because of the face value difference. As long as the two types of coins are interchangeable, consumers will quickly exchange the less valuable coins for new ones while hoarding the more valuable ones.

These coins are valuable both in the short and long term because of their metal content. Because real money is being taken out of circulation, fake bills will flood the market and economy.

Furthermore, currency debasement refers to the process by which a currency’s value decreases, ultimately leading to inflation. Governments will resort to dirty techniques like currency control and confiscations of precious metals in order to counteract Gresham’s law.

What Is Gresham’s Law Example?

Consider the behavior of the general public in the presence of a valued commodity, which exemplifies Gresham’s Law in action.

Prior to the adoption of the United States Coinage Act in 1965, silver coins were widely used in both countries. By switching to cheaper metals (such as nickel and copper), these nations devalued their currencies. As a result, there was more demand for the newly depreciated money than there were remaining silver coins to back it up. Silver coins that had just been made were used every day because they could buy more things. As a result, silver dimes and quarters were out of circulation in the US. Additionally, the silver content of the half-dollar was lowered from 90% to 40%; silver was eventually removed from the half-dollar by legislation in 1970.

Who Created Gresham’s Law?

It wasn’t until 1858 that the term “Gresham’s Law” was coined. At that time, a British economist by the name of Henry Dunning Macleod (1858, pp. 476–78) chose to name the tendency for bad money to push good money out of circulation after Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579).

On Which the Gresham Law Is Not Applicable?

Since paper money has replaced all other forms of currency, the effects of Gresham’s law of money are minimal at best. It is possible to export large quantities of melted coins as “good money” to countries that use a metallic standard. The use of paper currency or supplementary coins would make this goal impossible to reach.

Why Is Gresham’s Law Important?

“Poor money chases after better” is a saying that appears there. The coin with a lower intrinsic value is “bad,” whereas the coin with a greater intrinsic value is “good.” In days gone by, the worth of a coin was determined by the precious metals it was made of, such as gold, silver, and others. Because precious metals were worth more than the face value stated on coins, the number of precious metals used to make coins gradually decreased over the course of history. This is because the intrinsic worth of the metals used to strike the coins was higher than their face value.

For everyday transactions, the face value of the new coins was the same as the face value of the old coins. Since coins were worth more than their face value, people started melting them down and selling the metal. Alternatively, people started stockpiling coins as a kind of wealth storage.

Because the new coins with less inherent worth were perceived to be overvalued, their expenditure increased more than that of coins with higher intrinsic value because the latter was considered to be undervalued, resulting in the hoarding effect and forcing them out of circulation as currency.

What Are the Main Limitations of Gresham’s Law?

However, Gresham’s law is subject to the following limitations, and will only take effect under such circumstances:

  • If the supply of currency, both good and bad, is more than the demand for it in a given economy.
  • If people are willing to buy into and use counterfeit currency.
  • Good money, in this case, would be fully legal tender with an intrinsic value equal to its face value.
  • If the public’s demand for currency is equal to, or less than, the amount of bad money in circulation.

Gresham’s law no longer works everywhere in the modern world because managed paper standards and token coins are used so often. And yet, people still prefer to get rid of their old, tattered bills and devalued coins before they give away their new ones. There has been a temporary pause in the production of paper and metal currency, but this is not a result of Gresham’s law. Also, read FINANCE: Definition, Types, Importance.

What Does Gresham’s Law Predict?

Gresham’s Law—”bad money drives out good money”—is a well-known yet erroneous economic theory. It predicts that when there are two currencies in circulation but one of them is of poorer quality or has a lower intrinsic value than the other, the currency that is of higher quality will be used as a medium of exchange to the exclusion of the currency that has a lower intrinsic value.

In a modern economy with legal tender laws, Gresham’s law is obvious. This classic version of Gresham’s law applies when all units of currency must be accepted at the same face value by law. Gresham’s law reverses when people can refuse less valuable money due to inadequate legal tender regulations.

Inflation has become the norm in most economies due to the widespread use of paper currency as legal tender, which allows issuers to create new currency out of thin air. People will often abandon a currency that is fast depreciating in favor of a more stable foreign currency, even if doing so means breaking the law.

Due to hyperinflation in 2008, many Zimbabweans stopped using the legal money, the Zimbabwe dollar, for everyday transactions. This finally led to the government officially recognizing the dollar as the country’s currency. The government was powerless to enforce its legal tender requirements when cash became nearly worthless in the midst of the economic crisis. As a result of the widespread adoption of a good, stable currency, the circulation of bad, hyperinflated currency was greatly reduced.

Gresham’s Law in Reverse: Their Law

Additionally, the counter-rule known as Theirs’ law also exists. Rolnick and Weber (1986) laid the groundwork for this idea and made compelling theoretical arguments for it. The pair contended that inflation caused by counterfeit bills could actually increase the value of legitimate bills.

Unfortunately, the research they undertook ignored Gresham’s original legal observation’s market-based setting. As a result of legal tender laws, people will have to treat both good and bad money as though they are of equal value, which the two failed to account for.

Also, they diverged from Gresham’s original idea by putting too much emphasis on the relationship between different metallic currencies, such as a comparison of the overall “goodness” of silver and gold.

It is possible to interpret the history of dollarization in countries with weak market economies and currencies as an example of Gresham’s law functioning in reverse, as the dollar has not been accepted as legal money in most of these instances and has even been outright banned in a few.


The foreign exchange market is one arena in which Gresham’s law can also be put to use. It states that “bad money drives out good” and asserts that “bad money drives out good.” Gold and silver are always subject to Gresham’s law as a means of exchange. It says that the value of coins and the amount of money they hold will change over time. Examples of Gresham’s law have been increasingly uncommon ever since the international monetary system shifted to using fiat currencies

Gresham’s Law FAQs

In economics, the concept of the money supply is relevant to Gresham’s law. You can put it to a number of different uses. It can be used in monetary policy and anti-inflation efforts, for example. In light of the current situation, banks and other financial institutions will be able to make better decisions.

What is the Greshams law of money?

Among well economic laws is Gresham’s Law. When a government overvalues one currency and undervalues another, cheap money disappears and expensive money circulates, according to the law.

What are the 4 factors of money?

Interest rates, wealth, risk of alternative assets, and liquidity of other assets are four factors. Wealth and alternative asset risk boost money demand.

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