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Fiat money is a type of currency that is not backed by a commodity, such as gold or silver. It is typically designated by the issuing government to be legal tender. Throughout history, fiat money was quite rare until the 20th century, but there were some situations where banks or governments stopped honoring redeemability of demand notes or credit notes, usually temporarily. In modern times, fiat money is generally authorized by government regulation.
Government-issued fiat money banknotes were used first during the 11th century in China. Fiat money started to predominate during the 20th century. Since President Richard Nixon's decision to suspend US dollar convertibility to gold in 1971, a system of national fiat currencies has been used globally.
In monetary economics, fiat money is an intrinsically valueless object or record that is accepted widely as a means of payment. Accordingly, the value of fiat money is greater than the value of its metal or paper content.
One justification for fiat money comes from a micro-founded model. In most economic models, agents are intrinsically happier when they have more money. In a model by Lagos and Wright, fiat money doesn't have an intrinsic worth but agents get more of the goods they want when they trade assuming fiat money is valuable. Fiat money's value is created internally by the community and, at equilibrium, makes otherwise infeasible trades possible.
Another mathematical model that explains the value of fiat money comes from game theory. In a game where agents produce and trade objects, there can be multiple Nash equilibria where agents settle on stable behavior. In a model by Kiyotaki and Wright, an object with no intrinsic worth can have value during trade in one (or more) of the Nash Equilibria.
The Royal Canadian Mint still issues Playing Card Money in commemoration of its history, but now in 92.5% silver form with gold plate on the edge. It therefore has an intrinsic value which considerably exceeds its fiat value. The Bank of Canada and Canadian economists often use this early form of paper currency to illustrate the true nature of money for Canadians.
An early form of fiat currency in the American Colonies was "bills of credit." Provincial governments produced notes which were fiat currency, with the promise to allow holders to pay taxes with those notes. The notes were issued to pay current obligations and could be used for taxes levied at a later time.Since the notes were denominated in the local unit of account, they were circulated from person to person in non-tax transactions. These types of notes were issued particularly in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Massachusetts. Such money was sold at a discount of silver, which the government would then spend, and would expire at a fixed date later.
Colonial powers consciously introduced fiat currencies backed by taxes (e.g., hut taxes or poll taxes) to mobilise economic resources in their new possessions, at least as a transitional arrangement. The purpose of such taxes was later served by property taxes. The repeated cycle of deflationary hard money, followed by inflationary paper money continued through much of the 18th and 19th centuries. Often nations would have dual currencies, with paper trading at some discount to money which represented specie.
During the American Civil War, the Federal Government issued United States Notes, a form of paper fiat currency known popularly as 'greenbacks'. Their issue was limited by Congress at slightly more than $340 million. During the 1870s, withdrawal of the notes from circulation was opposed by the United States Greenback Party. It was termed 'fiat money' in an 1878 party convention.
The Bretton Woods system was ended by what became known as the Nixon shock. This was a series of economic changes by United States President Richard Nixon in 1971, including unilaterally canceling the direct convertibility of the United States dollar to