The Death of Planet Finance

British his­to­ri­an Niall Fer­gu­son has achieved the aca­d­e­m­ic holy trin­i­ty, hold­ing posi­tions at Har­vard, Oxford, and Stanford’s Hoover Insti­tu­tion. Only 44 years old, he has 9 books to his cred­it (includ­ing a new one: The Ascent of Mon­ey: A Finan­cial His­to­ry of the World), and you’ll often find him writ­ing in the pub­lic press. In the lat­est edi­tion of Van­i­ty Fair, Fer­gu­son takes a good look at the demise of the glob­al finan­cial sys­tem and locates the cri­sis “in the long run of finan­cial his­to­ry.” The sto­ry he tells is how the 20th cen­tu­ry — and par­tic­u­lar­ly Amer­i­ca’s urge to become a “prop­er­ty-own­ing democ­ra­cy” — brought us into “The Age of Lever­age,” which car­ried with it a “del­uge of paper mon­ey, asset-price infla­tion, [an] explo­sion of con­sumer and bank debt, and the hyper­trophic growth of deriv­a­tives.” The Lever­age Age is now over. But will its col­lapse have eco­nom­ic and social effects as dis­as­trous as the Great Depres­sion? Or will gov­ern­ment action pull us back from the brink? Def­i­nite­ly give this piece a read, and thanks to “Hanoch” for mak­ing us aware of it. As always, it’s great to get read­er sug­ges­tions.

As a relat­ed aside, I should direct your atten­tion to a new arti­cle by Michael Lewis, who first wrote about Wall Street’s excess­es in Liar’s Pok­er. It’s called “The End,” and it offers an inside account of how Wall Street sowed the seeds of its own destruc­tion. It’s also appar­ent­ly the basis for a new book.

Final­ly, you may want to check out a fas­ci­nat­ing piece in the Wall Street Jour­nal called “Mem­o­ries of the 1930s Still Sear.” It fea­tures inter­views with the old­er gen­er­a­tion who endured the Depres­sion, how they coped, and what lessons they learned.

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