What is Fiat Currency?

7/17/20235 min read

What is fiat currency?

Fiat currency is a form of legal tender whose value is determined by its issuing government, not by any underlying physical asset or commodity (e.g. gold or silver). Its value is based on the trust and confidence of the people who use it, and accordingly, the stability and credibility of the government play a crucial role in influencing the value of fiat currency. The majority of countries worldwide utilise the fiat currency system for a wide range transactions, including purchasing goods and services, investments, and savings. Fiat currency has replaced previous currency models such as the gold standard, whereby the value of money had been linked to a specific commodity.

History of fiat currency

The concept of fiat currency emerged in China during the 11th century, particularly in the Szechuan province. Made of paper notes, this form of currency could be exchanged for precious commodities such as silk, gold, or silver. However, the formal establishment of a fiat currency system took place during the 13th century under the reign of Kublai Khan. Historians suggest that the abuse of this currency system played a role in the downfall of the Mongol Empire, with excessive spending and hyperinflation being contributing factors to its decline.

In Europe, the adoption of fiat money took place in the 17th century, with countries like Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands introducing their own currency systems. However, the system proved unsuccessful in Sweden, leading to its abandonment in favour of the silver standard. Over subsequent centuries, the use of fiat money was experimented within various regions such as New France in Canada, the American Colonies, and eventually the U.S. Federal Government, yielding mixed reactions and outcomes.

During the 20th century, the United States returned to a partially commodity-based currency system, albeit on a limited scale. In 1933, the practice of redeeming paper money for gold, also known as the gold standard, was discontinued by the U.S. government. Then, in 1972, under President Nixon's administration, the U.S. fully abandoned the gold standard, signifying its global decline and the transition to the fiat currency system. This pivotal shift paved the way for the widespread adoption of fiat currency worldwide.

Fiat currency vs. Gold standard

The gold standard represented a currency arrangement system wherein paper bills could be exchanged for a fixed quantity of gold. Governments held a finite reserve of gold to back their paper currency, and this system prevented the government from introducing new currency unless they had an equivalent value of gold in their reserves. This restricted the government's ability to create money and solely relied on economic factors to determine the value of the currency.

In contrast, the fiat currency system lakcs a direct link to any other asset. Fiat money's value is determined by the government, which wields more authority and control over the currency system. As a result, they can influence the value of the currency based on economic conditions and respond to financial events or crises by using tools like fractional reserve banking and quantitative easing.

Supporters of the gold standard argue that a commodity-based currency system is more stable because it is backed by a physical and valuable asset. However, proponents of the fiat currency point out that gold prices have also experienced instability. Both commodity-based currency and fiat money can fluctuate in value, but the advantage of the fiat currency system is that governments have more flexibility to take action during economic emergencies.

Pros and cons of the Fiat currency

There is no consensus among economists and financial experts regarding fiat currency, as there are both supporters and critics who debate the advantages and disadvantages of this currency system.

  • Scarcity: Unlike commodity-based money tied to a physical asset like gold or silver, fiat money is not constrained by scarcity.

  • Cost: Producing fiat money is more cost-effective compared to commodity-based money.

  • Responsiveness: Fiat currency provides governments and central banks with the flexibility to address economic crises and implement measures as needed.

  • International Trade: Fiat currency is widely accepted and used in nations worldwide, making it convenient for international trade transactions.

  • Convenience: Unlike gold or other physical reserves, fiat money does not require storage, protection, monitoring, or other costly demands.

  • No Intrinsic Value: Fiat currency does not possess any intrinsic value, which allows governments to create money out of thin air. This practice can lead to risks such as hyperinflation and potential economic collapse.

  • Historical Risks: Historical evidence shows that the implementation of fiat currency systems have often been associated with financial collapses, indicating the presence of significant economical risks.

Fiat currency vs. Cryptocurrency

Fiat currency and cryptocurrency share a common characteristic in that neither of them is backed by a physical commodity. However, their similarities end there. While fiat money is controlled by governments and central banks, cryptocurrencies operate in a decentralised manner, primarily due to the presence of a distributed digital ledger known as the Blockchain.

One significant distinction between these two currency systems lies in their creation and supply. Bitcoin and most cryptocurrencies have a controlled and limited supply, whereas fiat money can be created by banks based on their assessment of a nation's economic requirements.

Cryptocurrencies, being digital forms of money, lack a physical counterpart and enable borderless transactions with reduced restrictions. Furthermore, cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible, and their digital nature makes tracking considerably more challenging compared to the fiat system.

It is important to note that the cryptocurrency market is relatively smaller and, as a result, more volatile than traditional markets. This volatility is one of the reasons why cryptocurrencies have not yet achieved universal acceptance. However, as the crypto economy expands and matures, it is anticipated that its volatility will decrease over time.

In Summary

The future of both the fiat currency and cryptocurrency is uncertain, with each facing their own set of challenges. While cryptocurrencies are still evolving and are expected to encounter numerous hurdles, the history of fiat currency underscores its vulnerabilities. As a result, many individuals are exploring the potential of adopting a cryptocurrency system for their financial transactions, at least to some extent.

One of the fundamental motivations behind the development of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is to explore a new form of currency that operates on a decentralised peer-to-peer network. It is important to note that Bitcoin was not necessarily created with the intention of replacing the entire fiat currency system, but rather to provide an alternative economic network for global use. Nevertheless, it has the potential to contribute to the establishment of a more resilient financial system, contributing for a better society.

Fiat Currency
Fiat Currency


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