|The Ascent of Money
||[Jul. 10th, 2010|12:46 pm]
For starters, this book was on my agenda because I currently have two characters that need to have some understanding of finance and the history of that system, so the book was going to be more useful to me than most.
I get the sense that this work could have been at least twice the size, given that the scope of the subject is the history of the financial system. Instead, the author takes a few specific places in time and explains how they made big contributions to our current global financial network. He makes some good points about history and prediction generally, and certainly seems to know his stuff.
A big problem is a lack of a glossary: he introduces a bunch of terms and concepts that are certainly important to the financial system and the kinds of firms that exist today, but I had a hell of a time remembering what they all were every time they were referenced.
The other problem is that he ends up trying to say "the financial system isn't bad, it just reflects human behavior, sometimes bad as well as good, and we can't live without it." While I'm not going to argue there shouldn't be a financial system, I'd point out that the author identifies the two most dominant emotions in most kinds of markets, especially stock markets, to be greed and fear. These are not exactly the best traits of humanity, so I'd say if it's a reflection it's a bad one, and one that needs to be tightly controlled. The text supports that by showing how most of the system shocks have a disproportionate effect that leave the average small investor penniless while allowing those responsible to walk away wealthy, even if they have succumbed to "moral hazard" along the way.
That said, from some other things I've read, I know that there is some good in finance, and financiers have sometimes been able to use the system for noble or patriotic causes, something that the author barely discusses as even a possibility.
So, in the end, it was alright, especially because of how timely it was. New stuff, from the middle of the crisis, was nice to see, and the author does do a decent job of the recent part of the great "how things came to be this way" question.
The next one is short, so hopefully I'll have it for you in less than a month. Until then, happy reading.