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Author Topic: Gobry's Forbes article and Bitcoin as Fiat  (Read 5830 times)
evoorhees
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January 09, 2013, 04:42:41 PM
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Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote yesterday for Forbes that “all money is fiat money.” He mentioned Bitcoin, lumping it in with government paper, and tide laundry detergent, claiming every form of money is, in fact, fiat, because all money is "valuable because we agreed upon it."

I think this is a long-standing myth about the nature of money, so I addressed it at our blog:

Gobry's Forbes article...
http://www.forbes.com/sites/pascalemmanuelgobry/2013/01/08/all-money-is-fiat-money/

And our response...
http://blog.bitinstant.com/blog/2013/1/9/all-money-is-not-fiat-money.html
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January 09, 2013, 04:46:29 PM
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Quote
In a footnote, Gobry makes clear that he does kinda sorta know the meaning of “fiat.” But he abandons the proper definition to justify his thesis – that all money is fiat – by relying on the following argument:

“…what makes Tide detergent, or cigarettes, or the US dollar, or Bitcoin, or whatever, a currency, is simply common agreement that these items of currency are valuable. What makes it possible to buy drugs with Tide is not because Tide is useful as a detergent. It’s because drug dealers and users have agreed that it is a currency.”

Untrue, Gobry.

This is one of the most widespread myths about money, and it needs to stop. Money is not money because of “common agreement.” No common agreement ever happened. I agree with my baker about a fair price for the bread I buy. I agree with my employer about a fair wage paid to me. I agree with my girlfriend about what movie to watch this evening. I never agreed with anyone else what was properly money, or currency, and neither did you, nor did Gobry, nor did his great grandparents.


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January 09, 2013, 04:55:10 PM
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Reading.. will update!

EDIT: Excellent and as usually spot on. Sophistry pisses me off as well and it makes me feel very good when there's someone out there tirelessly pointing it out! Keep it up Erik.

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January 09, 2013, 05:03:30 PM
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He confuses a currency with a store of value. Value is, indeed, almost always agreed upon. It's a completely subjective term, as for something to have value there necessarily has to be an entity that values it in some way.

But he then takes the leap from value to currency, and that's where the fallacy occurs. In fact, the ability to store value is probably a desirable aspect of any currency. But to be a currency requires that, aside from being able to store value, it also be easily transferable, fungible, scalable and so on.

Given the amount of power required to find one, a neutrino or a Higgs Boson would be remarkably valuable, but as a currency it would suck. One has to do with agreement, the other with what's practical.
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January 09, 2013, 05:34:30 PM
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where is the contradiction?
the only thing evoorhees adds is that the qualities of gold make it a good candidate for money. otherwise, "common agreement" and "most bartered for" seems to be pretty similar.

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January 09, 2013, 05:41:35 PM
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Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote yesterday for Forbes that “all money is fiat money.”

Holy Jesus. That is painful to read.

OMG. What an idiot. Yes, Erik, you are right in correcting him. Fiat needs to be defined (as you did) for people to understand how to use the word. The definition of "fiat" is specifically:

1 A formal authorization or proposition; a decree.
2. An arbitrary order.


So the term "fiat money" is commonly understood (or at least should be) to mean money which becomes money because of decree (most logically by government).

That means government can theoretically make anything money even if it isn't ideal. As Erik points out seaweed never became money, but governments could make it so. A tyrannical government could, for example, isolate their citizens from the sea and declare any seaweed in circulation in the village to be money. The people would then value seaweed as money because the value of it would be guaranteed by the edict or decree. The problem is without that governmental authority the seaweed would be as valueless as it would normally be in a free market.

This example illustrates the deficiencies and potential hazards of fiat money. A better form of money is understood to be commodity based money. Again with definitions, commodity means specifically: "a useful or valuable thing". So money which is already deemed to have value by the free market with or without any government decree is better for people to use for, what should be, obvious reasons. Gold is a type of commodity money. So is Bitcoin.

Last, is a great misconception Erik addresses, which is "money by agreement". I agree this needs clarification. The word "agreement" should be replaced with "acceptance". Then it would be accurate.
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January 09, 2013, 05:44:59 PM
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i think it would have been more effective and appropriate to attack his central assumption from the beginning; that Tide is a fiat currency.

does anyone in their right mind think this is a true and accurate statement?  of course not, it's just a fad.  i don't even have to know if drug cartels are accepting it or not for the time being.  all i know is that they won't in the long term b/c it fails at most accepted good definitions for money in general.  and that is a fixed supply, fungibility, store of value, unit of account, transportability, etc.

what struck me is that you were arguing from a position that gold bugs argue from and that is the Regression Theorum.  that was not the best angle to come from as we, as Bitcoin advocates, argue against the need for that Theorum all the time.
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January 09, 2013, 06:37:55 PM
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what struck me is that you were arguing from a position that gold bugs argue from and that is the Regression Theorum.  that was not the best angle to come from as we, as Bitcoin advocates, argue against the need for that Theorum all the time.

I think there regression theorem is excellent. It demonstrates how money tends to come about. It doesn't mean that money can't come about in other ways... fiat is one other way, and spontaneous usage due to extreme usefulness (like Bitcoin) is another way.
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January 09, 2013, 06:42:44 PM
Last edit: January 09, 2013, 08:05:02 PM by cypherdoc
 #9


what struck me is that you were arguing from a position that gold bugs argue from and that is the Regression Theorum.  that was not the best angle to come from as we, as Bitcoin advocates, argue against the need for that Theorum all the time.

I think there regression theorem is excellent. It demonstrates how money tends to come about. It doesn't mean that money can't come about in other ways... fiat is one other way, and spontaneous usage due to extreme usefulness (like Bitcoin) is another way.

i understand that.  but you, as an advocate for Bitcoin, could've killed 2 birds with one stone by undercutting the Tide supposition primarily and thus positing an argument that would've explained Bitcoin as well w/o resorting to the Regression Theorum which we always argue against here.  

keep in mind its easy for me to be critical since i didn't take the time to get off my ass and write what is in essence a good piece that is helpful for our cause.  Cheesy  good job.
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January 09, 2013, 06:42:49 PM
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where is the contradiction?
the only thing evoorhees adds is that the qualities of gold make it a good candidate for money. otherwise, "common agreement" and "most bartered for" seems to be pretty similar.

"Common agreement" infers that people agreed with each other what to use as money. This never happened.

It is not "common agreement" but a harmony of "individual preferences" which is almost the opposite of common agreement, and I think this is a very important distinction.

Achieving common agreement among disparate people is very difficult, and often leads to squabbling. Markets are amazing in that through the differences in individual opinion, exchange ratios (prices) are arrived at, without anyone having to agree with anyone else beyond the specific individual trades and trading partners they deal with. "Community consensus" is not required, only narrow self-interest between two individuals.

The magic of money then is that it might appear as though an entire society has agreed to use it, when nothing of the sort ever occurred. They use the specific money not because they agreed on it, but because their variant, disparate disagreements led to a distillation of bartering objects toward one or two narrow objects which are then called money.

Maybe I'm being nitpicky, but I think it's important to see the difference here.
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January 09, 2013, 06:57:48 PM
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The magic of money then is that it might appear as though an entire society has agreed to use it, when nothing of the sort ever occurred.

Good point.

They use the specific money not because they agreed on it, but because their variant, disparate disagreements led to a distillation of bartering objects toward one or two narrow objects which are then called money.

Yes, this happens for the evolution of money in a free market. The other way money becomes money is by fiat or decree.
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January 09, 2013, 08:01:23 PM
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where is the contradiction?
the only thing evoorhees adds is that the qualities of gold make it a good candidate for money. otherwise, "common agreement" and "most bartered for" seems to be pretty similar.

"Common agreement" infers that people agreed with each other what to use as money. This never happened.

It is not "common agreement" but a harmony of "individual preferences" which is almost the opposite of common agreement, and I think this is a very important distinction.

Achieving common agreement among disparate people is very difficult, and often leads to squabbling. Markets are amazing in that through the differences in individual opinion, exchange ratios (prices) are arrived at, without anyone having to agree with anyone else beyond the specific individual trades and trading partners they deal with. "Community consensus" is not required, only narrow self-interest between two individuals.

The magic of money then is that it might appear as though an entire society has agreed to use it, when nothing of the sort ever occurred. They use the specific money not because they agreed on it, but because their variant, disparate disagreements led to a distillation of bartering objects toward one or two narrow objects which are then called money.

Maybe I'm being nitpicky, but I think it's important to see the difference here.

imho you are either overly nitpicky or just wrong. the "individual preference" for gold for example, is largely a result of the fact that its universally accepted. for example, i have not much reason to prefer euro over dollar, except that i can pay with euro everywhere but not with dollar. of course, when gold developed from money candidate to money, its qualities were important. i think being shiny added a lot to its perceived value, too.
but once you picked a reasonably suitable candidate, its qualities are not the reason for those individual preferences, but the fact that its universally accepted, which, in my opinion, is a community consensus. if the regionally accepted coins are fnurg, spengel and woot you accept fnurg, spengel and woot, because if you dont you cant sell anything.

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January 09, 2013, 08:32:24 PM
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Really well written rebuttal Erik. I particularly liked these quotes

Quote from: Erik Voorhees
Money, in a world without government diktat, is just the name given to the most widely bartered-for object.
.............
A money economy IS a barter economy, it’s just a barter economy that has become so efficient that one or two specific goods are so widely bartered for that we now call those goods money. “Going back to a barter economy” means nothing more than disregarding the most useful bartering object in your society and deciding to trade exclusively in less useful objects.
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January 09, 2013, 08:36:56 PM
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Wasn't too well received, Mr. Gobry.

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January 09, 2013, 08:54:17 PM
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i have not much reason to prefer euro over dollar, except that i can pay with euro everywhere but not with dollar

That does not an agreement make.

It does however mean that for YOU individually euros are a more marketable commodity than dollars because past experiences have taught you that people in your area are willing to trade them for other stuff, plus a small gang of thugs (also knows as the government) demands you hold euros when they want to rob you (also known as when you have to pay taxes). It could happen and it probably will happen very soon that this will change and the preferences of people around you will drastically change where they will not want to exchange their stuff for your euros anymore and they wont break any agreements doing so.

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January 09, 2013, 09:31:07 PM
Last edit: January 10, 2013, 01:41:39 AM by fornit
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i have not much reason to prefer euro over dollar, except that i can pay with euro everywhere but not with dollar

That does not an agreement make.

It does however mean that for YOU individually euros are a more marketable commodity than dollars because past experiences

oh, come on. thats like saying for ME INDIVIDUALLY shaking right hands is more useful than shaking left hands because past experiences. the consensus is what shapes my individual experiences. and if thats no consensus, what is?

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January 10, 2013, 12:29:40 AM
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Once again, thanks to yet another excellent evoorhees article (and the built in Mac dictionary) my vocabulary has expanded by two words.

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January 10, 2013, 04:03:59 AM
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I prefer this response,  There wasn't a need to write this long to point-out how stupid this Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry can be.

Isn't there anyone reviewing article at Forbes ??
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January 10, 2013, 04:55:36 AM
Last edit: January 10, 2013, 06:11:09 AM by thoughtfan
 #19

I quite enjoyed the Gobry article.  It's interesting to me to look at something from a different angle.  And whilst I could also see straight away why others would get their knickers in a twist over it the reason it didn't ruin my dinner is because of my acceptance that people use the same terms to mean different things.

If we take a second to deduce what both Gobry and evoorhees mean by the words 'fiat', 'money' and 'agreement' it can be seen they are not the same.  If we then read both pieces bearing in mind what each meant by these terms then I'd argue that we end up with something that is very far from the 180 degree argument it at first looks like.

I have no arguments with the use of the word 'fiat' as is used as common currency on this forum.  Whether from derivation or dictionary definition the 'by decree' use seems to me to be the most sensible.  I can also understand that some might say this is the only way in which the word should be used.  But Gobry, by acknowledging and pointing out 'our' preferred meaning in his footnote implies that that is not how he is using it in the body of the article.  So why read it as if it was and make accusations of untruth and sophistry on that basis?

Whether we like it or not the word 'fiat' is commonly used by those with a background in economics as a currency not backed by a commodity.  We can cry foul, that this is an incorrect use, and be as dismissive as we like about professional economists and about economics as a profession but it won't change the fact that it is used in this way.  Forbes is not bitcointalk and it is not unreasonable to assume a substantial number of the readership will have understood what was meant by the word as used in the article.

Two people can be said to be in agreement if i) they have independently and unbeknownst to the other come to the same conclusion; ii) one has persuaded the other such that they are both now of the same opinion on something or iii) they negotiated and shook on a deal - and these are just three meanings.  Only if we take the word in one particular, narrow sense does 'Never was there an agreement that gold was superior as money' make sense.  Every single time gold has been used as a medium of exchange both parties were in agreement that it was superior to the available alternatives in that moment.  Why they agreed it was better than salmon is not relevant to Gobry's argument but I would venture to suggest it would be for more 'because others do' than 'because I considered all the options and...'.  When it comes to trading with the baker, our employer or girlfriend there is an an implicit consensus in each case on the medium of exchange as well as the explicit agreement on price that may have come out of negotiation.  Of course we can say each has come to his/her own conclusion as to why the medium of exchange to be used is acceptable but as Bitcoiners understand, we may have the best currency in the world but we can only use it if the other side of the trade also agrees that it is acceptable.  I know those of us that tend to hang out here value independent thinking and reasoning and individualism but frankly I think it's silly to deny that agreement has a critical role to play in determining the medium of exchange of a trade.  Not everybody who uses the word 'common' is a statist/communist/anti-idividualist!

Likewise with the term 'money'.  We can evaluate entities as to their potential usefulness as money by objective standards and conclude what money is or isn't but even as a store of value it is only worth something if at some point another will trade something for it.  It requires that they too have concluded independently or otherwise (they share the opinion or have a view 'in common') that it is money.  Gobry calls this preparedness to trade by use of a particular medium 'an agreement' whilst evoorhees prefers 'barter'.  But aren't they essentially talking about the same thing?

Is there actually an argument here at all?  Please someone point it out if there is because I can't see it?

What Gobry did was to give the Forbes readership a reason to question their current possibly deduced, more likely unquestioningly accepted understanding of what money is and what is meant by fiat.  Surely that's a good thing?  I know we are each in love with our own paradigms but is there a need to be so sensitive as to lose sleep, to have ruined meals or to write so scathingly over a well-meaning article just because the author sees the world and uses terms differently than we do?

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January 10, 2013, 08:18:10 AM
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I quite enjoyed the Gobry article.  It's interesting to me to look at something from a different angle.  And whilst I could also see straight away why others would get their knickers in a twist over it the reason it didn't ruin my dinner is because of my acceptance that people use the same terms to mean different things.

If we take a second to deduce what both Gobry and evoorhees mean by the words 'fiat', 'money' and 'agreement' it can be seen they are not the same.  If we then read both pieces bearing in mind what each meant by these terms then I'd argue that we end up with something that is very far from the 180 degree argument it at first looks like.

I have no arguments with the use of the word 'fiat' as is used as common currency on this forum.  Whether from derivation or dictionary definition the 'by decree' use seems to me to be the most sensible.  I can also understand that some might say this is the only way in which the word should be used.  But Gobry, by acknowledging and pointing out 'our' preferred meaning in his footnote implies that that is not how he is using it in the body of the article.  So why read it as if it was and make accusations of untruth and sophistry on that basis?

Whether we like it or not the word 'fiat' is commonly used by those with a background in economics as a currency not backed by a commodity.  We can cry foul, that this is an incorrect use, and be as dismissive as we like about professional economists and about economics as a profession but it won't change the fact that it is used in this way.  Forbes is not bitcointalk and it is not unreasonable to assume a substantial number of the readership will have understood what was meant by the word as used in the article.

Two people can be said to be in agreement if i) they have independently and unbeknownst to the other come to the same conclusion; ii) one has persuaded the other such that they are both now of the same opinion on something or iii) they negotiated and shook on a deal - and these are just three meanings.  Only if we take the word in one particular, narrow sense does 'Never was there an agreement that gold was superior as money' make sense.  Every single time gold has been used as a medium of exchange both parties were in agreement that it was superior to the available alternatives in that moment.  Why they agreed it was better than salmon is not relevant to Gobry's argument but I would venture to suggest it would be for more 'because others do' than 'because I considered all the options and...'.  When it comes to trading with the baker, our employer or girlfriend there is an an implicit consensus in each case on the medium of exchange as well as the explicit agreement on price that may have come out of negotiation.  Of course we can say each has come to his/her own conclusion as to why the medium of exchange to be used is acceptable but as Bitcoiners understand, we may have the best currency in the world but we can only use it if the other side of the trade also agrees that it is acceptable.  I know those of us that tend to hang out here value independent thinking and reasoning and individualism but frankly I think it's silly to deny that agreement has a critical role to play in determining the medium of exchange of a trade.  Not everybody who uses the word 'common' is a statist/communist/anti-idividualist!

Likewise with the term 'money'.  We can evaluate entities as to their potential usefulness as money by objective standards and conclude what money is or isn't but even as a store of value it is only worth something if at some point another will trade something for it.  It requires that they too have concluded independently or otherwise (they share the opinion or have a view 'in common') that it is money.  Gobry calls this preparedness to trade by use of a particular medium 'an agreement' whilst evoorhees prefers 'barter'.  But aren't they essentially talking about the same thing?

Is there actually an argument here at all?  Please someone point it out if there is because I can't see it?

What Gobry did was to give the Forbes readership a reason to question their current possibly deduced, more likely unquestioningly accepted understanding of what money is and what is meant by fiat.  Surely that's a good thing?  I know we are each in love with our own paradigms but is there a need to be so sensitive as to lose sleep, to have ruined meals or to write so scathingly over a well-meaning article just because the author sees the world and uses terms differently than we do?

Yes, the argument here is that it's a terrible waste of one's time to do what you just did above.

Obviously with a lot of effort expended into sophistry any idiocy can be temporarily made to appear as "just another point of view". This exercise is not either useful or something you can be proud of. All you've done is made the idiot a little less obvious to all those not willing to match your effort and undo your sophistry. Consequently, he's now a little more capable of continuing to be an idiot, secure in some false representation of "being misunderstood". This isn't a service to society, and it isn't a service to the idiot, even if - I guess - it serves your intellectual vanity somehow.

Well meaning idiocy is the most damaging globally strategic issue (or was it strategically global issue?).

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