The Fiat Emperor Has No Clothes

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Published : April 25th, 2013
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Category : Editorials

A piece from Paul Krugman in The New York Times this week criticizes bitcoin for being antisocial and for not having a State-controlled supply while secretly admiring its powerful abstractness.

As a complicit minion in the State’s appropriation of the monetary unit, Krugman perpetuates ‘The State Theory of Money’
myth that the sovereign’s power to collect taxes and declare legal tender imbues a currency with ultimate value.

While that may be a reason to acquire a certain amount of government fiat currency, it is a transitory value because in the end it is still based on a State-sanctioned illusion. Anyone who has visited a weekend flea market has noticed the old coin and currency collector displays filled with past experiments in national fiat money. Those paper notes were at one time valued for something too.

We don’t want a pristine monetary standard untouched by human frailty as Krugman claims. We want freedom in the monetary standard
untouched by the politicizing process.

In a Krugman world, centralized management of the money supply is preferable to a market-based outcome because the academically-informed economists will serve the best interests of the economy at large. However, our monetary overlords possess no special knowledge or secret sauce that justifies dictatorial control over money any more than it would justify dictatorial control over the market for something like soda beverages or dog food. Trust in mathematics trumps trust in central bankers.

The question of political control over a monetary system is the greatest litmus test for discovering those that seek control over others. Usually, it will be cloaked in terms like full employment, price stability, temporary stimulus, quantitative easing, and economic growth, but manipulation of the money supply serves only to favor the issuers of that particular monetary unit.

Money has a lot in common with religion. At some level, it requires a huge leap of faith. Yes, a belief in gold requires this too as the non-monetary value assigned to gold is probably no more than 5% of its market price. However, this is also what makes bitcoin the ultimate social money because for its value it merely requires others, not the law. Money is already the most viral thing on the planet and the network effect exponentially reinforces that.

Krugman actually struggles to assert that bitcoin is antisocial because he cites economist Paul Samuelson who once declared that money is a “social contrivance,” not something that stands outside society. Samuelson is absolutely correct on that point and bitcoin stands firmly within society. It is no one’s right to question why some place value on bitcoin and some do not since all value is subjective. The rationale for assigning value to bitcoin is as varied as the human fabric itself.

In this context, society can be defined as those mutual users willing to agree to a medium of exchange and a store of value. Since bitcoin, just as the Internet, recognizes no political boundaries, Krugman resists seeing the global monetary unit as something social. Krugman sees society only as a multitude of aggregated fiefdoms where he is the emperor’s cherished tailor.

Though, just like the untainted child in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, some of us are beginning to notice. It’s not the illusion itself that so offends our sensibilities, but more the notion that a competitive illusion is not to be permitted. If a free market illusion voluntarily agreed to from the bottom up is so desperately feared, then the protectors of the State-sanctioned illusion must not have the most benevolent of motives in store for us plebeians.

I don’t know about you, but I for one can stand up and exclaim: “the fiat emperor has no clothes!”
What if more of us did?

By Jon Matonis
Thursday, April 18, 2013

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Jon Matonis is an Austrian School economist focused on expanding the circulation of nonpolitical digital currencies. He argues that what is about to happen in the world of money is nothing less than the birth of a new Knowledge Age industry: the development, issuance, and management of private currencies.
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