Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Ascent of Money

432 pages; © 2008 Niall Ferguson

Money makes the world go 'round. In today's globalized economy, this is a statement that's never been more true. Considering the importance of trade in human history, writing a financial history of the world seems like a staggering challenge, especially considering how dense and complex the language of high finance is. How many average people can read the newspaper coverage of the financal crash in 2008, or of the crisis in Europe, and really understand it? Niall Ferguson attempts to address average obliviousness by focusing on five pillars of the global economy: the birth and evolution of currency, from coins to cards;  the bond market, through which governments finance large projects and wars;  stock exchanges, real estate, and globalization. The book is smartly organized, but while it makes plain the influence finance has played on human history, the execution is not quite as thorough as I had expected. The origins of each concept are easy to grasp, but as they become more integral parts of human history, the complexity intensifies. Ferguson describes what happens, but doesn't necessarily explain it, leaving the uninitiated no better off except for knowing the fundamentals. For instance, he refers to a given government buying bonds to inject liquidity into the market. I could figure this out -- the government is redeeming the loan it took out, paying the bond owner back in full, leaving the owner with more cash to spend -- but that's only because I happened to be familar with the concept of liquidity. I'm not confident that I'm understanding the sentence correctly, however.  Though I didn't take in all the author attempted to communicate through the book, it is a foundation for further reading.

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