This is an opinion editorial by Jimmy Song, a Bitcoin developer, educator and entrepreneur and programmer with over 20 years of experience.
Our moral universe has been invaded by fiat.
Many display Ukrainian flags, wear masks and use preferred pronouns. Someone from even five years ago would be pretty confused about these behaviors. The reason is obvious, these are all moral rules that have been imposed on us recently and are not intuitive or inborn. We were forced to learn these behaviors because of what authorities said. They are what I call “fiat morality.”
Fiat morality is a set of values pushed onto us from the elites. There are new ones every year and they can change quickly. What was considered moral behavior just a few years ago can be considered vile and offensive now and vice versa. The rules change more often than Ethereum’s monetary policy.
We all know instinctively that we’re being pushed toward a particular set of values. There’s an uneasy dread about the agenda at play and it brings out our inner cynic. The morals being pushed seem rigged like a street game of three-card Monte.
Why are we being made to adopt these new behaviors? Why are they being pushed on us as good? More importantly, where are we being pushed? In this article, I try to break through the foggy moral landscape and, as usual, place the blame squarely on fiat money.
The Mechanics Of Fiat Morality
Fiat morality operates similarly to fiat money, that is, it is declared from above. We are expected to accept new moral rules because everyone else accepts them. There are consequences to questioning the moral rules that are imposed, such as being canceled, ostracized or shouted down upon. There are lots of bright red lines that we cannot cross. They accumulate and trap us like a laser motion security system in the movies.
Fiat morals carry an enormous amount of force because of the logic of prevailing opinion. If enough people think some behavior is vile, there’s little concern about whether the behavior is actually vile. That behavior will be avoided regardless. People avoid confrontation for the same reason people avoid the school bully: It’s just safer. By changing our behavior, we can let some other poor sucker take a beating.
The elites use propaganda to disseminate new fiat moral rules. The institutions that do this include media, colleges and politicians. For example, much of the evening news is telling its viewers, “you should do X.” Same with college education and political rallies. They’re not so much reporting or educating as telling. These institutions are mouthpieces of the state and operate like the politburo of the USSR, taking orders from above and telling others what they need to do to stay in line.
The propaganda is necessary because these new behaviors are not intuitive. For example, it wasn’t considered moral to stay at home during COVID-19, until health authorities declared it so. Fiat morality is handed down from above, and is not individually decided. As a result, fiat morality can be arbitrary, creating new rules that could go one way or the other depending on circumstances. To paraphrase George Orwell, one day we’re at war with Eurasia, the next day we’re at war with Easters.
You would think that such arbitrary dictates would be seen as tyranny and people would rally against them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most people comply because they don’t want to be the target of the bullies. Some don’t just comply but declare their loyalty with gusto and become deputized bullies. We call this virtue signaling and it’s a major indicator of the effectiveness of the propaganda.
“Virtue signaling” is a misnomer because it is unconcerned with displaying traditional virtue. It signals not just compliance to fiat morals, but enthusiastic support of it. Most people will avoid being blamed or outcast but not go as far as to virtue signal. The virtue signalers curry the favor of the elites in an attempt to gain entrance into their ranks. Membership into the elites requires this compliance.
As you might imagine, elites have a lot of well-paying, rent-seeking positions from money printing. It’s no surprise, then, that the most enthusiastic virtue signalers are people in rent-seeking positions. Your typical government bureaucrat is much more likely to be full-throated in their support for ESG, masking or invading Iraq than your typical manual laborer. Rent-seekers want everyone to do what the elites say, whereas productive people generally want to be left alone.
Rent-seeking opportunities are what drive virtue signaling behavior. This is where the “signaling” part comes in. The people that virtue signal model behavior that they want others to copy. Whether it’s mask wearing, supporting the invasion of Iraq or gun control, taking a stand on something the elites support blesses the behavior as moral. They are like bandwagon fans that support whichever team is winning. There’s little loyalty to the morals themselves, it’s all about currying favor of the people who made the rules.
Fiat morality is thus constantly changing the moral landscape. Virtue signaling is a way to take the newly created fiat moral high ground.
This is in sharp contrast to traditional morality, where righteous behavior is derived from a priori moral rules. Traditional morality is based in natural law. These are rules of behavior that are intuitive, like not stealing others’ property.
Natural law is the basis for what we think of as justice, or treating each other fairly. The atrocities of an evil government, like, say North Korea, are considered wicked because we judge them according to a standard of justice. That standard is natural law. It’s common to people, which is also why it’s sometimes called common law or even common sense.
Governments throughout history have tried to change this standard for their own benefits and the result is fiat morality. When justice gets corrupted with fiat morality, there are significant consequences. The ones who suffer are the ones on whom the fiat morality is imposed.
Why Elites Push Fiat Morals
The elites of society want to get away with behavior that would be considered abominable under natural law. Take stealing, for instance. Fiat money lets elites steal from others through inflation. They reframe money printing as “bailouts” or something that prevents the collapse of the entire system.
Giving certain companies and individuals favorable treatment would be considered unjust under natural law. But reframing that to be about the environment and making judgments about which companies are more moral makes picking winners and losers sound reasonable.
Historically, war has been the most common reason for fiat morals. Governments want to justify war, and use fiat morality to gain support for the war. Every war, even in ancient times, needed justification. The invasions of Iraq were framed as moral crusades. The defense of Ukraine and the billions spent per month is being framed in the same way.
Ultimately, fiat morality is about political power. Elites push a morality that will give them more moral authority. The BLM movement, for example, places the people pushing that agenda as moral arbiters. It’s similar with the ESG movement. The elites gain the power to decide what is or isn’t moral through the mechanism of fiat morality. Instead of earning trust from the populace, they can take trust implicitly by declaring themselves the referees.
Fiat Money Leads To Fiat Morality
Fiat morality is like fiat money. It creates unstable situations that erupt violently. Whenever money gets debased, morals also get debased by decree. I wrote about this with respect to no fault divorce and the end of the gold exchange standard. Fiat morality is easier to impose under an easy money standard. If money can be changed, why not moral standards?
Money, like moral standards, exists to make trusted interactions between people easier. A high trust society is a moral one where debts are repaid, contracts are upheld and fraud is punished. The debasement of money makes all such interactions more fraught with danger and less trustworthy. Thus, the debasement of money is also a debasement of trust and ultimately, a debasement of moral standards.
Perhaps debts are repaid with bailout (read: stolen) funds. Or bank deposit contracts are allowed to be broken for the purposes of not letting the economy collapse. And fraud that brings the country to war is allowed under particular circumstances. These all require some justification and this is where fiat morals come in. Justifying new behavior, especially behavior that enriches or empowers the elite, requires some rationale, or new rules. Every fiat moral rule is really a justification of something the elites want to impose on everyone else. They are a necessary, costly part of any political game.
New moral rules not only justify big changes, but also justify the very small. Never underestimate the pettiness of bureaucrats. Thus, we get fiat moral imperatives like recycling, or not littering or social distancing. These are really ways to get us to make the bureaucrats’ jobs easier.
Fiat Morality Is Fiat Slavery
Fiat morals reflect a shift in how the authorities see the people. Under natural law, governance is really about enforcement of already existing moral standards. Under fiat morality, people are seen as resources of the government, to be done with as the elites please. People are manipulated through fiat morals to do the bidding of authorities.
When the authorities treat the populace as their slaves, they mandate petty authoritarian rules like recycling. Controlling the money puts the authorities in a position to mandate morals that favor them. The citizens become their slaves through propaganda.
A good history lesson in this regard is the four pests campaign under Maoist China. The sparrow was made into an enemy by fiat moral decree because it was thought to decrease crop yields. The people became slaves to the system and were tasked with killing sparrows. The campaign was a spectacular failure as it contributed to famine and starvation, but the bigger question is: Why are people being tasked with making a socialist paradise?
Fiat money creates a slave view of the populace through fiat morals. Our central-bank-backed fiat monetary system brings us much closer to socialism than we realize.
Better Money, Better Morals
Bitcoin gives us a stable monetary standard. Instead of a fluctuating and constantly changing money, we get a standardized, unchanging money. Since money is half of every market transaction and a large part of almost every other relationship, making money constant makes transactions, or trade, more trustworthy.
The hope of Bitcoin is that interactions between individuals become better because the central bank is removed from that interaction. There are also no Cantillon effects to win. This means less need for justifications. The lack of rent-seeking means less fiat morals! You don’t need an excuse to steal when you can’t steal.
As a result, the specter of fiat contagion disappears and the need for fiat morals lessens. The associated costs of propaganda and heavy coordination go away and get put into productive use. The elites need less justification for their bad behavior because they can’t benefit from Cantillon effects. Governance becomes about the governed instead of the governors and citizens aren’t seen as slaves to be manipulated. We can go back to using natural law and not get twisted morally.
In short, we can kick out fiat morality to the curb and stop being manipulated by virtue signalers.