Military fiat

From Academic Kids

Military fiat is a process whereby a decision is made and enforced by military means without the participation of other political elements. The Latin term fiat, loosely translated as "let there be," suggests the autocratic attitude ascribed to such a process. For example, many coups involve the imposition of a new government by military fiat.


Origin of government

Historically, military fiat had no relation to particular theories of economics or how to use the power of the state ("political science"). It was simply seized by the powerful with some support from empowered citizens - typically resulting in a monarchy where power was passed on to heirs with no public consultation. Over time, this evolved into consultative systems, e.g. of other nobles holding fiefdoms, e.g. of public in parliaments.

In democracies, however, the political parties who run for office to represent the public will, must agree to certain guarantees to use power for public good - the relation between military and police powers is clearer but not obvious. In all countries, some fundamental decisions are made by the administration "without the participation of other political elements", and in general the administration of money has been one of those functions. Public recourse is limited if the state relies on any other nation for major military support, e.g. Israel's reliance on the United States. So "a decision is made and enforced by military means" could be anything done by the administration or bureaucracy as a normal part of its foreign policy.

What is participation?

Theories vary on how to measure "participation of other political elements."

In economics, military fiat is one of three ways to guarantee the value of money, credit money and commodity money being alternatives - but both relying to some degree on the fiat. True fiat money has no trust or product value of its own, but is backed only by military fiat, i.e. the capacity to collect taxes by force, or require conversion of some other resource (e.g. oil, iron, labor) into that currency.

This view is questioned by some theories of political economy that argue that there is always some intrinsic reliance on trust, or expectation of the delivery of the commodity itself. Critics of these views argue that withholding taxes in domestic trade or defying powerful nations regarding trade in narcotics or arms will very rapidly prove dangerous or fatal to some of the participants - and, furthermore, that at least some of these decisions are unpopular and are not reflective of the public will. This is a common accusation made by the anti-globalization movement which argues that governments have been elected on a mandate to oppose global "free trade" and instead pursued it.

Military vs. monetary

The use of the military fiat to back economic transactions is what a given theory of political economy actually justifies, e.g. in the political economy of capitalism, military force is justified by the protection of property rights (which are presumed to optimize economic outcomes). Adam Smith defined "defense, infrastructure, justice, education and a stable currency" as the role of government. All defined, in his time, 1776, strictly by a military fiat in most countries, although Britain had a nascent democracy. When the United States broke with the British Empire and its military hegemony in that same year, it was to establish a fiat of its own.

Smith wrote specifically against monetarism, where fiat would be exploited to protect favored industries, monopolize precious metals, and other goals that were not generally shared between the state and the more general public.

The later contributions of David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill led to the first theory of (classical) political economy.

Money and military -- inseparable?

The tangled history of military and money relationships led in the mid-19th-to-mid-20th centuries to a variety of critiques of the use of military fiat. Some saw an evolution to political consultation, others saw the increased concentration of power as a sign that this consultation was only skin-deep, and that the bureaucracy and military's habits would be increasingly aligned and in opposition to public will.

Marxist economists generally hold that military fiat is in practice held exclusively by members of the ruling class and used for its own interests against that of the working class. This has led to the broad range of debates regarding socialism, communism, and the duty of the state to use its political and economic power for the benefit of all. Questions of this nature merge into those of political science in general.

Ecology as military

The central role of science in the late 20th century gave rise to another debate. Some green economists ask whether ecoregions in fact already have a limited military fiat based on their ability to protect people and guarantee value by diluting pollution, preventing erosion, circulating stagnant water which would otherwise breed disease, and other services.

These are considered (by mainstream economists) to be benefits of natural capital - but could also be considered defense. This debate is mostly important for its influence on theory of biosecurity and bioregional democracy.

A global fiat?

An extreme version of this view, held by some militant Gaians, is that humans who identify more with the biosphere than with other humans, ought to set standards and prices that are "made and enforced by military means without the participation of other political elements."

Perhaps fearing the rise of such views, opponents of the Kyoto Protocol and the Biological Weapons Convention, notably G. W. Bush, declared that the implicit control of military and economic affairs implied by both pacts were unacceptable to the United States, committed to retaining its own fiat and power to act unilaterally, "without the participation of other political elements" outside the United States, regardless of impact on other countries. This is the essence of military fiat: power without any direct means of assigning or enforcing responsibility for the outcome on any party.

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