This is an opinion piece by Jimmy Song, a Bitcoin developer, educator, entrepreneur, and programmer with over 20 years of experience.
I’ve been saying this phrase for about 2.5 years now and end my podcast, newsletters and speeches with this phrase. In this piece, I wanted to get to the heart of what it means and why I keep saying it.
Carthago Delenda East
The phrase fiat delenda is comes from the Latin expression, Carthago delenda is, which means that Carthage must be destroyed. The expression is attributable to Cato the Elder. He would end all his speeches to the Roman senate with this sentence, no matter what he was talking about. He was like a nagging mother screaming for her teenage son to come downstairs for dinner. And, like the teenage son leaving his food to cool, Rome ignored Cato until they suffered casualties to the Carthaginians.
Who were the Carthaginians? They were the enemy of Rome. Like the Romans, the Carthaginians were a competing empire along the Mediterranean. As they expanded, they clashed and the two competing empires had epic battles. Two Carthaginian generals, Hamilcar and his son Hannibal inflict serious losses on the Romans,
In fact, we don’t know much about the Carthaginians because Cato’s words were finally heard. Rome didn’t just loot Carthage, they completely pulverized the city. They were determined to obliterate them, so the Romans made sure to leave the city in ruins for over a century.
In short, Cato wanted to destroy Carthage because otherwise Rome would itself be destroyed. The victory over the Carthaginians was a major conquest that would lead to the legendary status of the Roman Empire in history that it has now. The destruction of Carthage was the landmark victory that propelled the empire to the heights it eventually reached.
The word fiat in Latin is not an adjective as it is in English. Here is Genesis 1:3 in Latin:Says Deus fiat lux et facta est lux.” Which means: “And God said let there be light and there was light.” fiat lux here means “let there be light”. Fiat is a Latin verb meaning “let there be”. And indeed, that is where the term fiat money comes from. It means there is money. Money requires no work and is decreed, so fiat is an adjective in English meaning “by decree”.
Fiat is the idea that you can create something by telling it to exist, not by doing the work to make it exist. The fiat mentality is the illusion that you can decree something into reality just by saying it.
But as any child can tell you, wishing for something to exist doesn’t work. Someone has to do the creative work. I can say there is steak all day, but that will only happen if someone raises a cow, someone slaughters the cow, someone cooks the steak and someone delivers the steak.
Who does the work?
In other words, we have to ask the question, who or what is actually fulfilling the decree? Who does it like this? Someone or something has to put in time and energy to get it done. Someone has to do the job. Labor is not given voluntarily in a fiat system, but by tyranny. Force and violence are how you get involuntary labor.
Force and violence are not popular and they usually escalate tensions and make it very difficult for a government to stay in power. Tyranny is rightly fought and revolution is not far behind. The former Soviet bloc used mandates and decrees to “create” things at gunpoint. They were particularly cruel and authoritarian, all because they had the fiat mentality that they could decree new things. This is nothing new, of course. Civilizations as ancient as the Egyptians used force and violence to make things created by decree. No wonder so many rulers considered themselves gods. What they have decreed will come true, but only at the cost of massive human suffering.
In contrast, the modern western world has used a different form of fiat through fiat currency. Fiat currency allows for flexible mandates. Fiat money is always decreed, but all other decrees are not imposed on others as much as they are paid for by printing money. The main advantage of fiat currency is that it is an indirect money order system. By paying people for their labor through inflation, fiat money creates the illusion of market forces. Because there is monetary compensation and monetary incentives, fiat money makes government mandates look like normal market operation. Yet, as we all know inflation is a form of theft and their action is akin to a thief using your wallet to pay you.
Fiat currency is a decree limited to the most tradable good on the market – money. But because money can be used to buy almost anything, the end result is that authorities can force the market to do whatever it wants. The authorities get what they want and the governed become involuntary slaves. Instead of being forced to do the work, they are made to do the work. The authorities seem like a generous employer, but in the background, they steal your savings to pay you. Like Tom Sawyer, they managed to trick us into doing something.
Fiat mentality issues
Proponents of fiat currency at this point might say, well, what’s wrong with this system since people feel good providing these goods and services and we’re not forcing people into gulags ? Although not as harsh as a traditional authoritarian regime, there are serious problems with this fiat mentality.
First, fiat money centralizes power. The theft is very subtle and the result is centralized power with a mild form of authoritarianism. The controller of fiat money can make us do whatever we want, just by paying us for it. It’s a milder form of slavery than, say, communism, but it’s still slavery. The ability to steal money through inflation means those in power can control our production of labor.
Second, fiat currency creates serious incentives to destroy civilization. Cheating and theft are becoming widespread. I had a friend who in high school was trusted with certain computer systems that mistakenly gave him access to the school’s grading system. He discovered that and he gave himself good marks. Of course, being a teenager, he couldn’t keep this information to himself and soon his friends were offering him money to change their grades. He took their money and changed their notes. Then the pretty girls asked him to change their grades and he did. Soon the whole school knew about it and, predictably, he was expelled from high school when the news finally reached the school authorities.
Fiat money is a bit like that. While it lasts, working for fiat money is a cheat code for civilization. You don’t have to provide value and few people even know you’re stealing. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy created by fiat money grows like a cancer and destroys civilization.
And this brings us to the final consequence which is the ubiquity of the political. Fiat money makes everything political. To understand why, let’s go back to the growing bureaucracy. Rent-seeking positions are inherently political and everyone wants one. After all, who doesn’t want to work little and earn a lot of money? It doesn’t matter that they tax many transactions without providing any value. It’s easy to rationalize such choices when there’s money at stake. Rent-seeking is an easier way to make money than supplying goods and services to an unstable market.
So how do people offer rent-seeking positions? By politics. In politics, high character is a great way to get what you want. This is especially true in fiat-currency societies, as there is an implicit obligation for those in power to do something about any kind of suffering. The assumption ultimately means that everyone is motivated to turn into some sort of victim. There’s a reason we’re inundated with claims of victimization. It’s because they all want the stolen money!
Lack of respect for the truth
That means the truth doesn’t really matter. In politics, the one who receives the money is not the one who tells the truth, but the one who can say that he is oppressed. And eventually, it permeates everything as the fiat contagion spreads.
This contrasts sharply with a world based on sound money. In a fiat money system, we have enslavement by tricking people into doing the work. There is a strong rent-seeking that leads to the destruction of productivity. Finally, we get a society and a political environment based on lies. Bitcoin, on the other hand, frees us from government interference, encourages production, and is based on truth. As you can imagine, actual production and actual construction are aligned with Bitcoin and not fiat currency.
That’s why I say fiat delenda east. Fiat must be destroyed because this fiat mentality, this illusion that you can create something out of nothing, is destroying civilization. Fiat is an existential threat. We must destroy fiat because otherwise it will destroy us.
How to destroy Fiat
So how can we accomplish this? First, we are destroying the mentality of entitlement. Many people think that they can decree that others do something for them, whether they realize it or not. For example, making health care a right means that someone is obligated to provide that service. All rights are ultimately paid by someone and theft and/or violence is what provides them.
Second, we must punish rent-seeking. The best and brightest minds of the past 50 years have gone into rent-seeking businesses like investment banking. We must make such behavior shameful and offensive. Why is someone like Warren Buffet, someone who has only moved money his whole life, one of the most respected people in the world? Compare that to 100 years ago when people who created stuff, like Edison or Tesla were some of the most respected. Whatever a society worships, it will have more of. We give reverence to the wrong kinds of people. Too many people prefer to seek rent and avoid productive labor. We need to put these tax leeches to shame.
Third, we must restore truth to greatness. Fiat money would not have been possible if the truth had prevailed. Unfortunately, the lies prevailed and we have all suffered from it ever since. A market economy cannot operate on lies. There must be a fundamental respect for truth for markets to work. We must not be deceived.
The truth is that there are a lot of thefts in the current system. This is the basis of how the fiat mentality develops and the obvious opposite is embracing money that is very hard to steal. Bitcoin is that money.
Fiat must be destroyed if we want to preserve civilization.
Fiat delenda is.
This is a guest post by Jimmy Song. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.