The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World: 10th Anniversary Edition
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"[An] excellent, just in time guide to the history of finance and financial crisis." --The Washington Post
"Shrewdly anticipates many aspects of the current financial crisis, which has toppled banks, precipitated gigantic government bailouts and upended global markets." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Fascinating." --Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek
"Good old-fashioned narrative history, complete with heroes and villains, visionaries and scoundrels." --James Pressley, Bloomberg
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In this case, it is financial engineering ("engineering"= learning things by trial and error in focusing more on technical aspects abstract theoretical arguments.)
That would be boring to read all alone, but once you have a story around wish to wrap it, it becomes palatable. Maybe even interesting.
The beginning of this story starts with the wars of the Spanish crown. And they needed some way to finance these wars, but they found the even having access to an unlimited supply of silver was not enough to create the productive capacity necessary to finance Wars.
The story picks up later in Italy, where there are city states that need to finance Wars against each other.
The story then eases down the road to France. (It seems that they have have fiscal problems for many centuries.)
1. Money is not exactly the same thing as capital, and governments fail to realize that mistake over and over again. To their own detriment. (The morass in Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Weimar Germany has its predecessors at least three centuries ago in France.)
2. Juicing the money supply in order to try to create real wealth is a mistake that has been made for hundreds of years. It's almost like a Charlie Brown cartoon, where Chuck thinks he is going to kick that football. And then, you know what happens next.
3. People misunderstand the purpose of a gold standard. Because the government cannot be trusted to have self discipline with respect to a money supply whose creation it controls..... Gold is something that is beyond the control of the government, and that is what makes it a good choice. Not any inherent value.
4. Bubbles and the business cycle have happened, do happen, and will happen. There really isn't any way to uninvent them.
5. Necessity is the mother of invention, and what survives is the result of *much* trial, and *much* error.
Note: this book is not without its critics, particularly among Economists, who can be a cantankerous lot with a wide variety of political viewpoints. The book succeeds as a historical narrative and does not lay claim to technical economic exposition.
Ferguson has the ability to open up the broad sweep of history with easy terms and lots of facts to portray a clear picture. The pertinent statistics that abound in his narrative are particularly helpful in clarifying the history and impact of money. Beginning with money lenders in ancient Mesopotamia (a beginning form of credit) the author shows us how the ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of mankind.
The ascent of money is described as an evolutionary process with development throughout history of new mediums of exchange. Capital mutations bring about the creation of new markets and new products, which are created by a system under capitalism, which provides growth in the monetary system to accommodate economic growth and expansion of the population. One example of the ongoing change in the world of business and technology that is cited: of the 100 largest private companies in the year 1919 only 29 remained in the top 100 by the year 2000.
The author shows us the development of new tools in the supply of money from barter systems to using commodities as money, to the first coins in the Mediterranean region (600BC), to the Inca Empire which had no money (presumably applauded by Karl Marx but not John Lennon), to precious metals backed by coinage in the era of Pizarro, to the introduction of banking systems with the Medici Empire in 15th Century Florence, to the introduction of stocks, bonds, insurance, and international money markets, and to the subprime mortgage debacle.
Within the narrative we get the broad sweep of many of the greatest economists including Adam Smith, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludvig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Karl Marx, Frank Knight, JM Keynes, and Milton Friedman.
The Author asserts that the basis of money is TRUST. National currencies therefore float in value compared to other currencies depending upon international confidence and expected stability. Credit also is dependent upon the commitment that loans will be repaid. According to the author with other things being equal, more “money” only increases prices and does not enrich a nation.
One theory espoused by a number of individuals in popular discourse is the world would be better off if there were no money! The author does not refute this argument directly, perhaps assuming that his readers are schooled in basic economics. Economic history teaches that in a culture where there is no money, a monetary system is created in order that goods and services can be exchanged between individuals. Only if no item in the culture has any value would there be no need for money. If anything, perhaps the life of an individual, does have value then there would arise the desire for a monetary system in order to protect or exchange the items of value between individuals. Ferguson does mention the “no money” topic regarding both Karl Marx and the Inca civilization. Little is known about the Inca Empire except that its time of prosperity was very short. Marxism seemed to flourish during the first half of the twentieth century but seemed to collapse by the end of the century, with many formerly Communist or socialist nations moving back toward widespread property rights and capitalism.
Top international reviews
After a long introduction, he looks at the possibility of and the idealistic notion of a moneyless world. Quoting Engels and Marx, he examines historically Humankind's early years and the idealistic "communist societies ... in which goods will be freely available and free of charge" before concluding a moneyless world would be far worse than today's. This leads naturally to the rise of the banking and bond world.
He looks closely at what he sees as the unusual worlds of hedging, stock-markets, financial bubbles and so on in which, quoting Skilling, the ex-Enron chief, "all that matters is money ... You buy loyalty with money".
In chapters entitled "Safe as Houses" and "From Empire to Chimerica", he examines modern financial phenomena. At 450 pages, it is a thorough examination of our use of money and, although readers may not agree on his conclusions or some of his facts, it is an interesting, challenging re-examination of dosh, loot, lucre, the root of all evil or the secret to happiness.