Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Ascent of Nonsense

Niall Ferguson’s book ‘The Ascent of Money’ is an interesting book that attempts to give a historical and global framework to today’s financial crisis. I understand he finished the book a few months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. So timely was the subject of the book that it was enough to give it a boost for people who are inclined to look at the past in order to understand the future. Niall Ferguson is a good writer and I enjoyed his book on the British Empire. He is the type of author who likes to think broadly and deeply ala Paul Johnson. Intellectually, they may both inhabit the same political spectrum with possible right wing imperialist tendencies of the Winston Churchill mold. Intelligent Englishmen who look nostalgically at their old realm and who like the United States to lead the world in the manner of the British Empire.

But Ferguson is a good and intelligent writer who may be considered a revisionist in his views of history. He writes knowledgeably of the Venice, Shakespeare, economic hit men, John Law, bubbles and speculation and other relevant subjects on money and finance. He looks at his subject from a broad view and lacks the detailed economic and financial analysis that other writers provide in their analysis of the financial crisis. The main thesis of his book is that the rise of finance and money mirrors the rise of man and society. He even references the work of people like Yunos of Grameen bank fame and Latin American economists like those who advised the Pinochet government in Chile.  He is not squeamish in expressing the cold hard facts of life even at the expense of life. An interesting supplement of his book is ‘The Money Nexus’ – a work depicting the intersection wars and money and finance.

I guess he is the sort of writer that the Bush neo – conservatives would love. If they needed an erudite Oxford trained intellectual who teaches in Harvard to provide a justification for all their actions then Ferguson fits the bill. Reading the first few chapters of  ‘The Money Nexus’, he gives a good argument that wars today have less casualties and perhaps attributes it to advanced weaponry. He seems to say that wars today cost less than in the past despite the fact that the Iraq war cost billions. Ferguson does not shy away from controversy and his Wikipedia entry expresses a lot of his controversial ideas. for example, England should not have entered into World War I, a German victory during that war would have resulted in a sort of Economic Union (EU), Germany was pushed into the war by France and so on. He leans toward Germany rather than France with regards to European leadership today.

Ferguson is the opposite of the left leaning writer Naomi Klein – another writer with brilliant ideas (ex. ‘The Shock Doctrine’). Both these writers seem to inhabit a different sphere with their intellectual dexterity. Both have interesting ideas on the why thing occur in the world. I guess they both would be considered true intellectuals. In contrast perhaps to someone like Abraham Lincoln who is self-taught and credited with only one year of formal education. But I have no doubt that Abe would be the person with the correct solution when faced with a problem. The reasoning behind such action like the emancipation proclamation was not done through brilliant intellectual reasoning but a more practical and insightful analysis. Perhaps it is like ‘game theory’ in the most basic and intuitive sense. I guess that is the real American tradition that disdains intellectualism despite the brilliant ideas into a more practical mod of thinking. I guess reading these books provide a sort of mental exercise but not to be taken seriously.

No comments: