The Ascent of Money

The Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson ★★★★★
The review reluctantly receives 5 stars in that I disagree with many of the suppositions and conclusions of the author. Yet, Ferguson makes a fascinating story of the money world that is quite worth reading. His writing style tends to lead to many thought-provoking hours if one takes the time to consider the implications of money history. And, as the subtitle states, it is a financial history of the world. Ferguson presents six chapters with an epilogue questioning whether the financial world as we know it will persist. But, that question is not to be approached in this review, as I don’t have a clue. The six chapters neatly divide money history into 1. The history of stocks, 2. The history of bonds, 3. The history of central banks, 4. The history of the insurance industry, 5. The history of the mortgage market, focusing on the US, and 6. Globalization and its implications in the world of finance, including the role of the IMF and World Bank. Ferguson makes a good but not solid case against a gold standard in economics, though he never really challenges the gold standard as such. The strength of this book is that Ferguson is able to show how all monetary systems are not fool-proof and are highly subject to the foibles of man. Perhaps the world economic boon suggests that the economic system with corrections is the best that could be, though a serious crash, perhaps sufficient to enter the world into another dark age, might rule that out. My distress with Ferguson’s book is that he left much unanswered. How did civilizations such as Rome in times past build massive systems without stocks, bonds, derivatives, and hedge funds? How was America able to be most successful in the pre-Jekyll Island days? Is it right that there is a massive surge in “money managers” that make ungodly sums of money for doing nothing but gambling? Shouldn’t money managers and corporate executives be held personally responsible for failures since they receive massive personal gain from success? I’ll leave those questions and many more to a subsequent book by Ferguson. In the meantime, go out and get a copy of this book to read-you’ll be glad you did.