- AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR ECONOMIC RESEARCH - Joakim Book - MAR 10, 2022 -
Some men say the earth is flat. Some men say the earth is round. But if it is flat, could Parliament make it round? And if it is round, could the King’s command flatten it?
This quotation is likely apocryphal, attributed to More only because he seems like the heretical, idealistic, humanist character who would say something like that.
The quotation also captures part of what Saifedean Ammous means by “Fiat.” Ammous, or ‘Saif’ as he is more affectionately known to his Bitcoin supporters, was ushered into fame with his popular 2018 book, The Bitcoin Standard. Over the last few years, his frequent podcasting, fiery tweeting, and recurring appearances in debates have made him a household name in Bitcoin.
Now he’s back with a sequel: The Fiat Standard: The Debt Slavery Alternative to Human Civilization. Having well described how and why Bitcoin operates, Saif is in a good position to turn that lens back onto the incumbent monetary system to investigate its inner workings. The current system is not new. 2021 marked fifty years since the Nixon shock, and over a century since World War I ended the classical gold standard. As Saif writes, “it is now possible to pass judgment on this monetary standard.”
The provocative title aside, the book is an investigation into the monetary system under which we live. The book is not a typical study of a monetary system. Saif explores a multitude of topics of the modern world: energy, universities, schooling, health and dietary advice, and architecture. According to Saif, all have been ruined by the fiat system.
Everything That’s Bad is Fiat
To Saif, fiat means something like ‘fake’ or ‘pretend.’ It represents something as ridiculous as trying to flatten the earth by a mandate from the government. It means trying to get something for nothing. Or taking shortcuts that give relief in the short term yet produce dire consequences in the long term; which Saif describes as “like sniffing glue,” in order to get a short-term high at the cost of long-term health.
He uses fiat in its normal meaning too: to refer to a monetary system based on intrinsically worthless paper money, used, stewarded, and circulated by government decree. Expectedly, Saif rails against running the fiat money printer and the central bank’s fiat system, but also criticizes things like US energy policy – one that according to Saif aims to “replace oil and hydrocarbons with inferior alternatives.” Because, as Saif says, since these aren’t selected by the market, the government must impose them “by fiat.”
Saif’s vacillating use of the term fiat is confusing. Sometimes it means funding; sometimes it means the imposition of a centralizing worldview of Big Government control. And sometimes it’s a mentality, a persuasion that other people’s lives and things are policymakers’ to command, a short-termism that heavily prioritizes today over tomorrow.
He dubs climate scientists who trumpet doom, gloom, and hysteria for minor shifts in atmospheric gases “fiat climatologists.” He refers to Microsoft as “the world’s most fiat software company” and Bill Gates as “the world’s most fiat man.” Science and academic publishing are not safe either. Saif declares they are governed “by a single authority with infinite fiat at its disposal.” He designates universities, captured by their staff and Marxist ideologues, as “fiat universities.” Development economics is next, which Saif proclaims as harmful nonsense, and the development industry, which he renames the “misery industry” sits on “fiat foundations.” Finally, he takes on architecture and government planning. To him, ugly buildings are “fiat architecture” and government welfare programs have undermined the role of the family, and turned it into “fiat family.”
On and on it goes. The book reads like a 350-page under-sourced rallying tweet full of insults, name-calling, and hyperbolic language. While entertaining, it’s tiresome – and worth very little. Saif’s aggressive tone and outlandish claims undercut his argument and bewilder the reader. He rarely provides references for his claims, and seldom does he even identify the opponents he attacks. We are to take Saif’s word for it, his denouncement accepted as (fiat?) gospel.
Anyone who endures the full length of the book deserves a medal.
And Fiat Made that World Bad
Saif’s main idea is that all that is wrong with modern life stems from a faulty monetary system. It’s not exactly compelling (that’s too big and too unproven of a claim) but it has a certain appeal. The way Saif sees it, lots of areas of life are wrong at the same time. What explains the errors must be something that touches the entire Western world and all its areas of life – something like our money. And something that the dire quality of our money has made us all do, leading to a change in all of our values.
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