Lessons of history

One of my correspondents, Brett Christophers of Uppsala University, just asked me which books I’d read on the history of finance that had helped me think about the financial present in a new way. (He has a superb book out early next year, Banking Across Boundaries, about the role of banks in the economy over time, and the links between financialisation and globalisation. It will be an essential read for anyone wanting to understand the deeper roots of the financial crisis.)

Anyway, here is the list that came to mind replying to Brett’s email this morning. Other suggestions will be welcome.

Liaquat Ahmed’s Lords of Finance – the monetary policy debates of the 1930s, and a page-turner (really!)

This Time is Different, Reinhardt and Rogoff.

I have high hopes for Jonathan Levy’s Freaks of Fortune, about risk-taking in 19th century American capitalism

Niall Ferguson’s The Cash Nexus: Money and Politics in Modern History alongside David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years – a contrast between a conservative historian and a progressive anthropologist

Benjamin Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth – why growth enables democracy and liberty

Benjamin Roth The Great Depression: A Diary – a contemporary diary from the 1930s mid-west, and a vivid reminder of how long it will take to emerge from the present stagnation

Roger Backhouse and Bradley Bateman, Capitalist Revolutionary, the best modern revisiting of Keynes.

Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones, a political scientist traces the multi-decade project that enabled a particular ideological perspective to come to dominate public policy.

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6 thoughts on “Lessons of history

  1. Lords of finance is wonderful book.
    As someone with no formal economics education I also really enjoyed John Cassidy’s How Markets Fail: the Logic of Economic Calamities as an introduction to recent economic thought, and the first half of David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War is fantastic on the Great Depression and its consequences in an American context.

  2. Hyman P. Minsky. Can “It” Happen Again?: Essays on Instability and Finance.

    Steve Keen. Debunking Economics.

    David Graeber Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

  3. “books I’d read on the history of finance that had helped me think about the financial present in a new way.”

    That’s tricky. I’d agree the Lords of Finance is an excellent read. But a new way? Also revisiting Keynes or Hayek (or Keynes V Hayek) doesn’t really fill the brief.

    There’s a couple of books on your list I don’t know, so by default Graeber wins my vote. I enjoyed his book although I don’t agree with his ideas on money.

    There is a book that might help with a new meta-view, though. I think Graeber mentions it his tome, and it’s relevant to Keynes, Hayek and the Lords of Finance. It’s New Heaven, New Earth by Kenelm Burridge (1969); an anthropological study of millenarian activities. I read it about 10 years ago but I just bought a hardback copy off Abe books for a fiver – a bargain! It has lots of interesting things to say about how we form cults around new ideas of money – how prophets create a new vision of heaven which in turn creates a new earth.

    Not much economics in it though.