Fiat money is “money that derives its value from government regulation or law. The term derives from the Latin fiat, meaning “let it be done” or “it shall be [money]“, as such money is established by government decree”.
The different types of money along history can be seen in this entry from the Wikipedia:
“Currently, most modern monetary systems are based on fiat money. However, for most of history, almost all money was commodity money, such as gold and silver coins. As economies developed, commodity money was eventually replaced by representative money, such as the gold standard, as traders found the physical transportation of gold and silver burdensome. Fiat currencies gradually took over in the last hundred years, especially since the breakup of the Bretton Woods system in the early 1970s.”
I found an interesting graphic in the book “This Time is Different” (C. Reinhart & K. Rogoff) where you can see how during several centuries governments debased or decreased the content of silver of its currency in order to get over heavy debts. The trend in the graphic seems to point at the “inevitability” of fiat money.
The march towards fiat money.
These debasements of course created inflation, which is nothing new, only the means have changed, as Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff say in their book:
“[...] the shift from metallic to paper currency provides an important example of the fact that technological innovation does not necessarily create entirely new kinds of financial crises but can exacerbate their effects, much as technology has constantly made warfare more deadly over the course of history.”
I attended yesterday a conference by Joan Melé at EOI Business School. It caught my interest by its title “Dinero y conciencia: ¿A quién sirve mi dinero?” (Money and conscience, who benefits from my money?), even though I didn’t know the presenter nor the bank he works for.
I want to make some reflections of yesterday’s experience:
- The first one as a Toastmasters member: I applaud the decision of the speaker to stand up, not using notes or a power point presentation and managing to get the focus of the audience on him and his message for over an hour and half… we witness many conferences in which the experience is not so enjoyable.
- The next reflection is to praise the move by EOI Business School towards web 2.0 made some months ago. As an alumnus of the school I must say that it’s very motivating to see the number of activities organized, the topics covered and it’s very convenient the way they are publicized in the different channels: EOI web and blogs, Facebook, streaming TV channel, Twitter… and because of that, because you can actually watch the whole of the conference or catch a glimpse of the main messages, I will just add very few ideas that I took for reflection and some sources the presenter cited.
Regarding money itself, the speaker structured his speech in the three main uses of money: to buy, to save and to donate.
- When buying: he proposed the exercise of thinking “what”, “why” and “where” to see how our purchasing decisions affect others (low wages, pollution, exploitation…). He made the case for an economy based not so much in consumption of material things but cultural and intellectual ones: e.g. we happily pay 30 euro for a dinner, would be pay the same to be read poetry?
- Regarding saving he noted the positive side of it: planning for future expenses. The other side of the coin being “fear of the day of tomorrow”: what will happen that we won’t be able to face? Nothing: Whatever comes, we will be able to face it. This reminds me to Charlie Munger comment on Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting when he said that he became comfortable [...] after he realized he could survive hardship, “Maybe you should get your feet wet with a little more failure”. We lack some entrepreneurship…
- The speaker did not want to go in deep about donating, except pointing that handing large inheritances to offspring can be more harmful than positive to them and society.
Some ideas to take away:
- There are no leaders to solve our problems; it’s the turn of civil society to take action. It’s the time for the Globalisation of conscience.
- The responsibility for what happens around us is ours, we need to first change ourselves.
- We are the crisis of 3 billion people since dozens of years ago.
- Need to bring back the role of banks as agents that relate people: savers with entrepreneurs in order to create wealth with profits as a by-product not as the one and only end.
- Need to start and epidemic of courage and enthusiasm.
Finally, some reports, articles and documentaries he cited:
One final quote from Charlie Munger to end this post: “The secret to happiness is to lower your expectations.”