The Ascent of Money

Just finished Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money. It was my weekend read – and a good one. He’s a good writer and helps provide a grand narrative of money, markets, insurance, and markets. There are lots of things to learn here. A couple of the big take-aways for me:

  1. The modern world, prosperity and progress depend on a lot of these financial innovations. We may not like all of them, but without them, most of the world we currently have wouldn’t exist.
  2. A lot of these innovations are very recent. Which means we easily misread history and historical context. For example, the basis of insurance (mathematical analysis of risk, for example) are pretty recent (17th and 18th century, really). For Christians who try to think about these things, this means that Scripture nor most of church history can provide any direct commentary on this. The fact that 2 Scottish pastors started the first real insurance program is an interesting theological anomaly, at least!
  3. History tells us a lot of things that don’t always match “common knowledge”. For example, as he notes in the book (published in 2008 before the worst of the recent financial crisis), real estate isn’t always a good deal – because housing prices don’t always go up. And economic ups and downs come regularly – so don’t count on permanent 8% returns on your investments as a guarantee. One more. Wars (like WWI) are explainable by historians after the fact, but before hand and at the time, they seem to surprise people. Get ready to be surprised.

It’s really not a negative book, but one that does subject a lot of what we deal with to some helpful historical perspective.


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