04 January 2010

The Ascent of Money

I downloaded to my nook because I'm obsessed with my new toy picked up Niall Feguson's The Ascent of Money because I really want to start understanding where the bits and pieces of the economy came from.  Given that Ferguson's book is more of a history book than an economics book, I thought this would be a pretty good place to start.  Ferguson does go through quite a bit of history regarding the world of finance.  We learn about bubbles and busts and the stock market with the Renaissance banking systems of France and Italy (and why the stock market wasn't well-loved in revolutionary France).  We learn about the evolution of the mortgage and how it morphed into this massive, risk-laden, multi-corporation enterprise.  It's very useful information and very fascinating, particularly the evolution of usury in Renaissance Italy when the practice was still banned by the Vatican.  However, I did have to keep a running tally of banking/finance terms because, and it's not Ferguson's fault, the world of finance has it's own strange English dialect (it's worse than learning medical terms because at least those have similarities of stems and origins). 

I didn't quite agree with Ferguson's analysis of a few economical ferragos at times.  He most definitely comes down on the Friedmanite side of things and favors the "free-market" (I don't think it's all that free and a free market definitely has problems).  I found it interesting that Ferguson would refute or counter the argument of someone like Paul Krugman, who argues from a stance critical of Friedmanite and "Chicago Boys" economics, but he doesn't mention Naomi Klein.  There's an extensive bit about the Latin American market upheavals in Argentina and Chile, of which Klein writes extensively in The Shock Doctrine (and she is particularly critical of US intervention and Friedmanite dealings in those juntas) but Ferguson does not allude to her work.  An omission like that makes me think Klein has the evidence that Freidmanite market theory doesn't work they way it should and Ferguson had no good counterargument available ("head-in-sand" doctrine).  Ferguson also has this long afterword that is boring, particularly when he starts quibbling over reasons why the book is titled The Ascent of Money; it's not that interesting.

Coincidentally, the January 11 issue of The New Yorker ran an article about the recession and the possibility that the "Chicago School" devotees might have to realign their thinking and look at Keynesian theory again.  There are some "true believers" and some devolving into apostacy.  What do I think?  It's all a giant clusterf*ck - deregulation, greediness, government ineptitude, and generalized stupidity.  The article in The New Yorker was very interesting, particularly the conversation with Paul Krugman (aside: I get The New Yorker on my nook now - it's fantastic!).

Current book-in-progress: The Complete Stories, Illness, What are Intellectuals Good For?, and Twitterature
Current knitted item: baby sweater for my new niece
Current movie obsession: The Edge of Love
Current iTunes loop: John Mayer anything (love, love, love)

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