Niall Ferguson – The Ascent of Money Series
Author: Niall Ferguson
In this six-part series, historian Niall Ferguson tells the story of money and the rise of global finance. Bringing context and understanding to the current economic crisis, he reveals how the history of finance has been punctuated by gut-wrenching crashes. Each episode shows how a big bang in the ascent of money has changed the course of history.
Historian Niall Ferguson examines the role of money and
financial institutions in world history. Exploring topics
such as foreign exchange, the evolution of credit and the
origin of debt, this six part series looks at how the
world’s financial market has developed.
Episode 1 | Dreams of Avarice
From Shylock’s pound of flesh to the loan sharks of Glasgow,
from the ‘promises to pay’ on Babylonian clay tablets to the
Medici banking system, Professor Niall Ferguson explains the
origins of credit and debt and why credit networks are
indispensable to any civilisation.
Episode 2 | Human Bondage
How did finance become the realm of the so-called masters of
the universe? Through the rise of the bond market in
With the advent of bonds, war finance was transformed and spread
to north-west Europe and across the Atlantic. It was the bond
market that made the Rothschilds the richest and most powerful
family of the 19th century.
Today, governments turn to the bond markets to bail them out.
Episode 3 | Blowing Bubbles
Why do stock markets produce bubbles and busts?
Professor Ferguson goes back to the origins of the joint stock
company in Amsterdam and Paris. He draws telling parallels between
the current stock market crash and the 18th-century Mississippi
Bubble of Scottish financier John Law and the 2001 Enron bankruptcy.
Humans have a herd instinct when it comes to investment, and no
one can accurately predict when the bulls might stampede.
Episode 4 | Risky Business
Life is a risky business – which is why people take out insurance.
But, confronted with an unexpected disaster, the state always has
to step in.
Professor Ferguson travels to post-Katrina New Orleans to ask why
the free market can’t provide adequate protection against catastrophe.
His quest for an answer takes him to the origins of modern insurance
in the early 19th century and to the birth of the welfare state in
Episode 5 | Safe as Houses
It sounded so simple: give state-owned assets to the people. After all,
what better foundation for a property-owning democracy than a campaign
of privatisation encompassing housing?
An economic theory says that markets can’t function without mortgages,
because it’s only by borrowing against their assets that entrepreneurs
can get their businesses off the ground.
But what if mortgages are bundled together and sold off to the
Episode 6 | Chimerica
Since the 1990s, once risky markets in Asia, Latin America and eastern
Europe have become better investments than the UK or US stock market.
The explanation is the rise of ‘Chimerica’ – the economic marriage of
China and the United States. But does it make sense for poor Chinese
savers to lend to rich American spenders?
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