“ Author: Niall Ferguson / Format: Paperback / Genre: History / Subcategory: General & World History /Title: The Ascent of Money / ISBN 13: 9780718194000 / ISBN 10: 0718194000 / 448 Pages / Book is published 2009-06-04 by Penguin / Alternative title: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World / Alternative ISBN 10: 014103548X „
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This was my entry into the Express non-fiction contest, I would be very interested in views on the review.
Niall Ferguson suave good looking photogenic history professor writes about the flow of money through world history. Ferguson is best known for his white plague series of history books looking at the flood of white people across the world, in this book he continues on that theme but moves away from the person and into the financial. Ferguson like Simon Schama is a story weaver, he invests his personal opinion on world history through short stories about the people caught up in events.
Niall Ferguson writes like he talks and presents, everything is concise, considered, persuasive and engaging. His personal thoughts and views come through as he debates the importance of money. His final conclusions are on that age old connundrum does money corrupt? No the love of money corrupts and through desire for money came all the worlds problems.
Niall Ferguson good looking and a good read.
Published in 2008 - the year the western world's finance sector nearly completely collapsed - The Ascent of Money - A Financial History of the World, written by Niall Ferguson, couldn't have encroach a better time for getting maximum exposure. Robert Peston was delivering the BBC hourly updates of failing finance markets and Niall Ferguson was providing the historical finance traits and origins in this book; working in tandem, so it seemed. It all started with Scotsman, Adam Smith an eighteenth century pioneer for social and economical cohesion. Smith wrote 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments' - it opened up the realms of social environments to money markets, and the importance of morals binding a relationship to stimulate investment. This is the 'core foundation' to capitalism and the money market west was built up and nefariously thrives on. Yet Ferguson barely touches on the economic pioneer. Not all money orientated books have Smith as a central character, although considering the historical premises this book provides, the pioneer's two minute walk-on part curiously makes the economic expert's eyebrow rise, somewhat.
Others get a look-in - whether their inclusion is based on intellectual prowess, or because they share similar ideologies to Ferguson - the jury is out. Ferguson's structure choice does have a conscious edging towards bellicose acts by the powerful. No doubt this publication flourishes with the additional historical prose; how else could you make a book of this genre, interesting? Supposedly for the war-hungry types who aren't passive when it comes to how wealth is derived at. Having said this, Ferguson's enigmatic approach is in fact duly infectious - He is historically astute, and has pride for the past, where kingdoms were fought over and lost, where finance rewarded the victors with power. Nothing has changed; accept for our complex banking system. And it appears those with the money puppet strings aren't adept to failure. Much of that analogy comes from American's addiction to debt and streams of credit, the problem is, it is highly infectious.
Crash Test Dummies
At the end of the last century, money men could gauge where and when the next market storm could appear, they claimed the trends were easy to spot, 'like a slow car crash' - lessons were absorbed quickly by the early eighties when it was the price of gold causing mayhem. In this new age of prosperity the wealthy got stung; Ferguson, stipulated the event with gravitas: "ruining of a generation!"
Actual 'black Wednesdays' stroke 'banking crisis's' were few and far between; a city banker wouldn't necessarily witness one in ones' career; now is not the case. The withdrawal of the pound sterling from the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in September 1992, due to failing to keeping the pound at the ERM agreed rate; created huge amounts of wealth for hedge funds; yet slammed the UK Treasury. Ferguson explains the fortunes of financier George Soros - who'd systematically made a billion (£) by short-selling the currency pound sterling. Overall the UK lost 3.6 billion pounds - revealed in 1997, five years on from 'black Wednesday.' Foreseeing the future of the currencies short-term effect, via a short selling term called 'derivatives.' Whereby, two connected parties make an agreement to buy and sell shares/ investments, whether its private business or currency, orientated by market price movements. This method of instant wealth has created the assumption that the finance sector is infallible. Transactions such as these have unearthed a human trait - 'greed' - bolstered up by ex Chancellor Gordon Brown infamously claiming 'it is the end of the boom and bust culture;' influenced and spurred onward by the imperial US Federal State.
The Federal Reserve mechanism works profoundly in this capitalistic monetary arena. Some ventures fail, yet is always covered via another derivative mechanism in-place. Out of the 52 states in the US, only four (local governments) are in cash surplus; the rest of the States are in huge debt; partly because of their global presence in every corner and their deranged unethical misuse of credit - this is due to extreme self imperialism that America has of themselves. A sublime super-power two decades ago in 1991 aided their lucrative oil deals in Kuwait and in return protected the region's prosperity from a notorious Iraqi tyrant. The Gulf War greatly aided the US, as did the Second World War - and too this day that premise lives on. War systematically aide's finance - Evaluating the history of skirmishes as told by Professor Ferguson, does have a notably profound effect on national wealth.
Fascinatingly enough in the last four years Ferguson has created a neologism called 'Chimerica' - basically it means a collaboration of the two super-powers; China's mindset it to save and it feeds America's addiction to expanding credit. So America will at present always over-indulge - invest in lucrative enterprise - continue their plight in spreading global democracy. Together Ferguson portrays the term 'Chimerica' as a solitude working economy, well until the Chinese want repayment and then, and only then will their be a shift in super-power status. Experts apart from Professor Ferguson estimate the power shift could come as early as 12 - 15 years time.
History and Finance marinated well together, to make interesting concoctions of interest; for example: the remarkable analogies of small Island societies whom have their own form of wealth and currency. The Inka civilization (13th Century - resided in S. America) had their own form of currency - 'livestock' or their own 'customary assets' is traded instead. Palm sized molded plates were also used as coinage, exchanged daily as a trading currency among locals, around three thousand years ago. It wasn't until modern day trends six hundred years ago that we see money being used in the same means we use the monetary system today. And that was sparked off by war origins also. Money and war goes hand in hand, colonies create national wealth and before the colonies were formed, money and war played a major part. UK taxation came from requiring finances to aid the war of the roses against France around the 1780s; the rest is history, now we've been embedded with a myriad of taxations.
Professor Ferguson's title echoes Bronowski's early 1970s BBC series; "The Ascent of Man"; cajoling science with civilization. Although unlike Bronowski, Ferguson's approach to detail cumbersome monetary formulae's, is odious to the masses; even written in Ferguson's affable manner. No doubt the concept of the book is pleasantly jovial and nevertheless, as demonstrated on a Channel Four documentary style format Narrated by Professor Ferguson himself; an enthused, character with oodles of presentational skills; sadly, doesn't for me deal a damnation blow against our capitalistic monetary system; although tinkers half-heartedly in a lackluster fashion. 'The money men have been a tad naughty, oh, but they are only conveying the financial techniques available to them'. Mildly disappointed that the content, so a re-read is not on the agenda - because the enormity of the financial crash was not observed as I had hoped, considering the severity of the global market tremors.©1st2thebar2011
Thanks for reading.
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World was written by Niall Ferguson and published in 2008. I can't say I know an awful lot about economics myself but I like history books and this one, in addition to looking at the world financial system and the recent crash, has a lot about the history of capital and how countries rose and fell as great powers on the strength of their financial management and decisions, especially during times of conquest and war. There are many historical anecdotes here about the history of finance and how it affected the course of history. Did you know, for example, that a Scotsman named John Law helped trigger the French Revolution when he was placed in charge of public finance in France and created a financial bubble and crash there not unlike the one the world experienced a few years ago. 'It was as if one man was simultaneously running all 500 of the top U.S. corporations, the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve System,' says the author. It put the French off stock markets for some time. The book is a bit of a slog at times for those like me with only a vague grasp of world finance and the banking system but the historical details were often very interesting and the author provides much food for even if you aren't always sure what he's going on about or even find yourself disagreeing on a particular point. Some critics have suggested that Ferguson is prone to contradict himself from book to book but I've never read any of his other books so I didn't encounter this problem.
The country Ferguson is most interested in in The Ascent of Money is the United States, a nation that is not as wealthy or powerful as it used to be only a couple of decades ago and appears destined to be supplanted by China as the world's largest economy in the not too distant future. America emerged from the carnage of World War 2 in good shape while everyone else was bankrupt and clearing the rubble away. It appears though that their wealth has peaked. Has the United States had its day in the Imperial sun and can it do anything to reverse its gradual decline and escalating borrowing and debts? The author adresses this question with particular emphasis on the knotty and important relationship between America and China, which he refers to as 'Chimerica'. Chimerica is, he believes, an entity vital to the world as an engine of growth but it's a relationship that could be disastrous if the Chinese ever decide to their take their billions out of America. 'In effect, the People's Republic of China has become banker to the United States of America.'
This stuff is all very interesting even if you don't quite understand the full details of it. The author says China has lent the US billions because Americans are the ultimate consumers and borrow ever more - which they use to buy cheap Chinese goods. It was a relationship that they both benefited from but China may decide to use the surplus billions it has for something else one day, like its own population for example. America's position as a great power is very contingent on its ability to borrow vast sums of money. I'm familiar with Ferguson from television but I've never read any of his books before. This one is a tie-in to a television series (there is a definite cash in-whiff about it at times) and apparently not one of his very best ones. He's very clever, to the right politically, and digs up a lot of interesting historical facts. The book is rather prone to going off at tangents but there is always some good stuff around the corner.
I believe that Ferguson has been criticised here because in previous books he said money wasn't the be all and end all of history but here he seems to suggest it is. Also, he was apparently vocal not so long ago in his belief that the United States should be more of a profligate Imperial power but now seems to suggest it should keep its head down a bit and put more money in the piggy bank. There are many historical interludes that are fascinating to read about though. Ferguson says, for example, that the Spanish Empire stockpiled gold but was overtaken by the British and Dutch Empires because they didn't really understand the banking system the way the Dutch and the British did. Germany, he says, could never win the first world war because it didn't have access to the bond market. Ferguson is apparently known for historical revisionism (he once wrote that Britain should have stayed out of the first world war or something) but there isn't much of that on offer here which is a shame as alternative history stuff is often fun.
The author says that times are far less certain than they used to be and the laws of probability don't apply now. He goes into great detail about the recent crash, banks, hedge funds etc. I don't really understand how the world financial system actually works myself but I did feel like I was a trifle more learned after slogging my way through the book. Ferguson compares the financial system to extinct species who were wiped from the earth. Has it reached the end of the line? 'Are we on the brink of a great dying in the financial world -- one of those mass extinctions of species that have occurred periodically, like the end-Cambrian extinction that killed off 90 percent of Earth's species, or the Cretaceous-Tertiary catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs?' The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World is an interesting read on the whole and worth a look if you find this type of stuff appealing.