Commodity money, such as gold and silver, is real money. Real money is a medium of exchange that extinguishes debt and other financial obligations.
Credit money, such as bank notes, government notes, gold certificates, checks, and bills of exchange, is not real money. Credit money does not extinguish debt or other financial obligations. It merely discharges the debt or obligation by passing it to another person or entity.
Although checks, bank notes, government notes, and certificates, are used as mediums of exchange, they are not real money themselves. Only real money can extinguish debt. They are promises to pay money. Under today’s monetary system, the issuer has no intentions of keeping that promise. Therefore, under today’s monetary system only national bankruptcy via hyperinflation or repudiation can extinguish debts.
When a person buys groceries, he can pay with fullweight gold coins (assuming the gold standard) or with a check or bank note. If he pays with gold coins, no further obligation exists. The grocer has received something that is no one else’s obligation, gold coins. If the buyer pays with a check or bank notes, the buyer’s obligation to the grocer has been discharged. However, it has not been extinguished. The grocer has received a promise to transfer gold to the grocer. The obligation is not extinguished until the grocer presents the bank notes or check to the bank that issued them, and the bank converts the check or bank notes to gold coins.
Likewise, with debt, a borrower extinguishes the debt when he pays with gold coins. He has paid the lender with money that is no one else’s obligation. If he pays with bank notes or check, he has merely discharged the debt. It has not been extinguished. It has been transferred to the bank. The debt is not extinguished until the lender presents the check or bank notes to the issuing bank, and the bank converts them to gold coins.
If the buyer or borrower uses governmentally issued notes, like U.S. notes, or gold certificates, he has discharged his financial obligation to the grocer or debt to the lender. However, the financial obligation or debt has not been extinguished. It has been passed to the government. The obligation or debt is not extinguished until the government redeems its notes and certificates in gold, that is, commodity money.
In the United States between 1879 and 1933, gold certificates (first issued in 1882), bank notes, and government notes, which were called U.S. notes and nicknamed greenbacks, were redeemable in gold on demand. (U.S. notes were legal-tender; the other two were not.) If a debtor used one of these forms of credit money to pay his debt, he discharged his debt, but he did not extinguish it. If he paid with bank notes, the obligation was transferred to the issuing bank. If he paid with gold certificates or U.S. notes, he transferred the obligation to the U.S. government. The debt was not extinguished until the bank note, certificate, or greenback was converted to gold. (This conversion permanently retired the bank note and gold certificate. However, it did not permanently retire U.S. notes. The Secretary of the Treasury had a statutory obligation to reissue U.S. notes after they were redeemed.)