- Jan 5, 2004
HEre is a really good page on how our currency system is so f'ed up--minus the conspiracy theories and satanic imagery.
In a fiat money system, money is not backed by a physical commodity (i.e.: gold). Instead, the only thing that gives the money value is its relative scarcity and the faith placed in it by the people that use it. A good primer on the history of fiat money in the US can be found in a video provided by the Mises.org website.
In a fiat monetary system, there is no restrain on the amount of money that can be created. This allows unlimited credit creation. Initially, a rapid growth in the availability of credit is often mistaken for economic growth, as spending and business profits grow and frequently there is a rapid growth in equity prices. In the long run, however, the economy tends to suffer much more by the following contraction than it gained from the expansion in credit. This expansion in credit can be seen in the Debt/GDP ratio. We track the bubbles created by this expansion of debt at the inflation / deflation page.
In most cases, a fiat monetary system comes into existence as a result of excessive public debt. When the government is unable to repay all its debt in gold or silver, the temptation to remove physical backing rather than to default becomes irresistible. This was the case in 18th century France during the Law scheme, as well as in the 70s in the US, when Nixon removed the last link between the dollar and gold which is still in effect today.
Hyper-inflation is the terminal stage of any fiat currency. In hyper-inflation, money looses most of its value practically overnight. Hyper-inflation is often the result of increasing regular inflation to the point where all confidence in money is lost. In a fiat monetary system, the value of money is based on confidence, and once that confidence is gone, money irreversibly becomes worthless, regardless of its scarcity. Gold has replaced every fiat currency for the past 3000 years.