This is an opinion op-ed by Logan Chipkin, a freelance writer with interests in bitcoin, economics, physics, philosophy, and history.
Money doesn’t make the world go round. Ideas yes.
In “The Fiat standard“, economist Dr. Saifedean Ammous explains how our shift from a hard money standard to a fiat standard has caused distortions in virtually every fundamental sector of the modern world: education, nutrition, energy, science and medicine, to name a few.
As Ammous writes:
“…[Fiat] breaks the link between work and reward. Rather than the market offering individuals a reward for their labor as valued by others they serve, fiat money makes monetary reward highly dependent on obedience and political connections. Instead of teaching you how to be productive, fiat teaches you how to play politics. Instead of work being rewarded based on its productivity, it is rewarded based on artificial status games. »
But fiat is more harmful to progress than Ammous’ devastating explanation suggests. What people choose to do, the problems they choose to tackle, and the solutions they aim to create, depend on their ideas.
Some ideas evolve by surviving criticism: in science, they are theories that stand up to rigorous testing and debate. In the market, it is the ideas behind the products that generate profit. In culture, they are models of behavior that survive moral, aesthetic and political criticism. Next physicist David Deutschwe can call ideas that have spread by surviving criticism rational memes.
For civilization to progress, we generally need to create as much wealth as possible, as quickly as possible. To solve world hunger, we need the wealth to build mass food production systems. To become an interplanetary species, we need the wealth to build profitable transportation systems as well as the technology to survive and thrive on other planets. Etc.
The more our culture is dominated by rational memes, the more wealth we are able to create. The more we are able to reject ideas that do not survive criticism, the more our actions will be based on ideas that are consistent with reality.
Unfortunately, some ideas propagated by to delete criticism, rather than surviving it. And this This is where a fiat standard rears its ugliest head.
Consider how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) mandates spread. DEI supporters intimidate dissidents into silence, too ready to demonize its opponents as “racists” and “sexists”. In academia, corporate America, and the media, fear of ostracism and slander has a chilling effect on those who disagree with DEI prescriptions. Thus, DEI rarely has to answer for itself. On the contrary, he is unleashed, neutralizing any potential criticism in his path.
Market feedback is also a form of criticism. On a hard-money standard, DEI-focused corporations and universities would compete with meritocracy-focused alternatives. Market competition has a knack for ruthlessly eliminating waste and error. Spending capital on quasi-religious sessions and hiring practices that meet diversity quotas are costly mistakes. By a hard-money standard, these companies would quickly lose out to companies whose sole purpose was to produce what consumers want most at the lowest possible price.
But we don’t live in a hard money world. The fiat standard allows DEI, a collection of ideas that don’t help companies deliver better products, to thrive. In a fiat currency regime, governments and their central banks can create money out of thin air to subsidize businesses, universities, and nonprofits with DEI mandates. Thus, the inherent advantage of institutions that are not ideologically captured is lost. Neither open discussions nor market reactions are as effective in extinguishing the DEI as they would be under a hard currency regime.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) mandates follow a similar logic to their DEI parallel. Organizations that comply with ESG mandates must satisfy a list of criteria that are often antithetical to their ability to appease the market. They spend valuable time and resources making sure they are environmentally friendly enough and have a diverse workforce in a meaningless sense. Dissidents in the ESG movement are not engaged, but rather maligned as “climate deniers” or “selfish”.
Governments and international organizations like the International Monetary Fund often only fund projects that comply with ESG mandates. Thus, companies will respect these costly constraints in order to access the fiat faucet.
In the absence of this criminally easy fiat currency, ESG-compliant companies would be forced to compete with companies whose sole objective is to best satisfy the market. Consumer choice would serve as a critique of ESG, which in turn would wither in the presence of leaner and more efficient competitors.
DEI and ESG are examples of what Deutsch calls anti rational memes: ideas that spread through inhibiting critical. Unlike rational memes, anti-rational memes More difficult create wealth, since they thwart the emergence and propagation of new ideas.
It is important for Bitcoiners (and hard money advocates more generally) to admit that there are no guarantees. Anti-rational memes like DEI and ESG could survive as we move towards a Bitcoin standard. However, without access to fiat currency, they will be much less able to suppress criticism (whether rhetorical arguments or market reactions). In general:
A fiduciary standard reduces the cost of spreading anti-rational memes and reduces the returns from spreading rational memesand;
A hard money standard (Bitcoin) increases the cost of spreading anti-rational memes and increases the returns of spreading rational memes.
Ammous is correct that a fiduciary regime pushes institutions to appease politicians rather than solve the problems they were originally designed to solve. But, as I hinted earlier, the deleterious effects of a fiat diet run deeper than that: it kickstarts anti-rational memes, of which the Ammous examples are just a subset. -together.
Certainly, there are other error-correcting mechanisms in society, which is why we have been able to progress despite the tentacles of fiat creeping into ever-further corners of civilization. Also, the cost of spreading anti-rational memes did not drop to zero since fiat replaced gold. On the contrary, the cost has gone down relative to what it would be under a hard money standard. The reverse is true for rational memes: their returns have not fallen to zero, but are rather lower than they would be under an honest monetary regime.
Bitcoiners are right when they say Bitcoin will reduce our collective time preference, create a more honest culture, and strengthen property rights. But a more fundamental consequence of hyperbitcoinization is the subsequent change in the processes by which ideas spread. Fiat makes deleting reviews cheap and therefore delays progress. A hard money standard aligns the best ideas in society with the greatest opportunities for profit (monetary or psychic).
A Bitcoin world is one in which the arena of ideas is once again equal, where an idea cannot survive based on handouts and bullying tactics, but only on merit. Anti-rational memes will suffer, rational memes will thrive, and we will know the most open society that history has never seen.
This is a guest post by Logan Chipkin. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.