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8 days ago

Book review of The Fiat Standard

Saifedean Ammous is an economist and author of one of the most widely read books on Bitcoin: The Bitcoin Standard. This week saw the release of its successor, which immediately rose to Number 1 in Amazon's Commerce section. The title is The Fiat Standard. The Debt Slavery Alternative to Human Civilization. What are the main points?

The book begins with the interesting history of how Great Britain left the gold standard, step by step, around World War I. For centuries, the British Pound had been "as good as gold”. Citizens could exchange their Pounds for actual gold at an unchanging exchange rate. But about a century ago, this monetary discipline crumbled when the British government decided to finance the Big War without covering it with additional gold. Added to this was the fact that British colonies were obliged to have Pounds in their reserves. In such a large sea of money, the temptation to turn on the money press was too great to resist. Today this is called the 'export of inflation' and the United States knows how to play this game.

After this explanation of how we have arrived at our Fiat standard - where no one has gold anymore and where money is allowed to be created and spent with fiat (permission) from the government - the author proceeds to view our money system through the lens of a cryptocurrency expert (or perhaps we should say Bitcoin expert since Ammous has little use for altcoins).

Ammous examines our money system as he would look at a new cryptocurrency:

  • How is the coin mined or how do airdrops work?
  • How is consensus reached on what constitutes correct payments?
  • To what extent is the protocol decentralized?

Our money, which Ammous summarizes as fiatcoin (whether euros, dollars or some other form of government money), is mined as follows:

The network's native token, fiatcoin, is mined through an arcane, centralized, manual, risky, and haphazard process called lending.

Indeed, the issuance - in fact, the creation out of nothing - of our fiat money is done by for example commercial banks, when providing a mortgage. Money is thus created in our system as debt. Another important point:

The fundamental engineering feature of the fiat system is that it treats future promises of money as if they were as good as present money because the government guarantees these promises.

According to the author, this debt-based financial system, with the central bank as the ultimate 'central node’, disadvantages savers and favours borrowers. The purchasing power of someone's savings is diluted by loan after loan from others. All those loans increase the total money supply. In our system of inflation, therefore, borrowers are better off - provided they repay their loans on time and use the money to buy assets that will increase in value.

The problem with this system is inflation: money is no longer a proper store of value. As a result, according to the author, everyone has to earn their money twice: first by working for it and then by investing it wisely.

It is no wonder that Ammous arrives at an alternative to this system, namely Bitcoin. He sees it as the "fiat liquidator" or: "anti-debt". The radical difference between Bitcoin and fiat money is that Bitcoin is not based on debt. If more and more people start to see Bitcoin as an alternative to debt-based ways of allocating their money (such as bonds), then this could ensure a slow reduction in the huge debt mountain we face as a world.

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