Karine van der Beek op de Industriële Revolutie

January 2, 2013

What my credit can do in (medieval) Venice

January 2, 2013

Mueller, Reinhold C. (1987) I banchi locali a Venezia nel Tardo Medioevo. Studi Storici, 28/1: 145-55.


There is a lot to be admired in Austrian economists, their resilience, their attachment to simple elegant ideas and their sound understanding of the long-term factors that give the economy its cyclical nature. But one must admit that their Ludite-like hatred for finance is to the very least puzzling. They claim to trust nothing but gold and they would like to see the activity of banks restricted to little more than a locker service. Their trust in free market and in the adaptive nature of human ingenuity ends at the door of their local branch of HSBC. Read the rest of this entry »

Lest we forget life

November 11, 2012


As the Brits celebrate the young men how have fallen for the crown, numerous touching stories are told in the papers. This one by Caroline Green in The Telegraph caught my eye.

All too often, life is crowded out of war stories. We concentrate on dramatic events such as battles, sieges, the absence of the men at home, the huge traumas when they do march back and other such things but we forget often totally the background. Specially the economic one.

I, for one, was completely stunned when I read this paragraph in the article dedicated to Gordon Eltham (positively dashing young fellow), the writer’s grand father, who had been declared missing presumed dead by White Hall during the First World War:

Surprisingly, there were also a series of letters from Gordon’s bank, diligently reporting to his father that various cheques signed by their “missing” son had begun to turn up at the Berlin office, suggesting that he must still be alive.

I have no clue what bank it was but apparently while countries were at war some business kept on as usual and information could still flow back and forth. I wonder if it was still the case during WWII. That would be a story worth telling.

Separating property and housing market

September 24, 2012

In The Spectator, the ever-brilliant Rory Sutherland uses a 19th-century Barbados example to make an excellent economic point:

If the all-party Parliamentary Housing Sub-Committee were to embark on a week-long fact-finding tour of Barbados, it would create a tabloid scandal. Yet it might be a good idea all the same. For among the palm trees they will find remnants of a fascinating housing experiment which began almost 200 years ago, yet which affords a useful lesson for housing policy today.


When a giant dies

August 14, 2012

Danny Boyle must be an happy fellow. The man who directed the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony made no mystery of his very critical view of the Industrial Revolution: that dark, unfair, flesh-eating process which brought an insignificant green island to the position of sole world power for almost two centuries. To Danny’s great relief, one of the last remaining monuments of this time has finally succumbed to poor timing, lack of credit and depressed prices.

Stephenson Clarke, the oldest shipping company in the UK, created in 1730, was put in liquidation last week (read article). The Germans and the Taiwanese have taken over. The Greeks too, these old friends of the British navy are among the rare beneficiaries of the dire times most of the industry is sailing through. After having been the main hub of the world’s shipping, Britain is now out of the competition. How does a country loses such a strong advance over its competitors? Rather than silly sabre-rattling about the success of the athletes of team GB, the British would be well-inspired to reflect upon this national catastrophe.

Unlike most of the industries inherited from the Industrial Revolution, shipping is still a viable sector. The problems faced by another grand old British company, Barclays, may shed some light on the causes of the debacle of British shipping. The bank is accused to have practiced what amounts to insider trading on the interbank market, this shows that the city has failed to engage in the financing of British industry. International finance may be more glamorous but it has little impact on the country at large. Boastful Cameron should bear in mind that local country banks, not the city, bankrolled the Industrial Revolution.

First occurrence of Breton Shirt

August 10, 2012

The battle of the piggy banks with the money doses

June 14, 2011

I didn’t know this piece by Pieter Bruegel. That’s the only interesting thing I got from Niall Ferguson’s  BBC series the Ascent of Money. The show’s dismal and often out right inaccurate. Worse, instead of the promise financial history of the world, we get a third rate finance class with, admittedly, historical examples. It’s completely different, in particular there is an idea of evolution through try and error that is absolutely absent from the series. I’d like to see what a real historian like Oscar Gelderblom would have done with it.