Monday 10 August 2009

Quantitative Easing - the old-fashioned way

In May 1275, Marco Polo arrived in Shang-tu and met the Kublai Khan and then went with him to Beijing - the new capital which the Great Khan had built for his Mongol empire, an empire begun by his grandfather Temujin - Genghis Khan.

Among the wonders seen by Polo were asbestos cloth (used as a tablecloth - thank you Stephen Fry and the team on QI), the Summer Palace (the Xanadu immortalised by Coleridge), the postal service, and paper money. Polo was so impressed he became a tax inspector (I know, but I'm winging it here). Salt production was enormous, iron production was five centuries ahead of Europe (Polo didn't know that at the time), canals made for an excellent transport system, and the empire was a single market of enormous size. Paper money and credit facilities were highly developed, and citizens could buy paperback books, fine porcelain and fine silks with the paper money.

The Khan printed more and more money - vast sums - the beginning of the end of the Mongol Empire lay with Kublai Khan, and paper money was to be devalued and vanish from China by 1455 - 161 years after Kublai Khan's death.

The first European paper money was issued by a Swedish bank in 1661 - it ended up needing a Government bail-out. See this printing too much money? Never been a good idea. There have been devaluation crises like the Kipper- und Wipperzeit where the coins were debased (just like quantitative easing, really), the sub-prime lending of Peruzzi and Bardi in the 14th century, Overend, Gurney and Co. taking down a whole load of banks in 1866, the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878 overstretched itself, the 1873 US banking crisis (which might have been caused in Europe), the US had a wee fleg in 1907 as well, the Wall Street crash, BCCI and Barings caused by speculative investment.

Building societies were the very epitome of upright probity, the model that banks should have been following. America's Savings and Loans were just like them until financial deregulation in the US in the 1970s and 1980s led them into the nod-nod, wink-wink, camel-hair coat deals that led to the collapse beginning in the mid 1980s ($132 bn bailout that time). Learning the lessons of this, of course, the UK Government pressed ahead with deregulation of the financial markets.

Even Kublai Khan wasn't that extravagant!

Mind how you go!

1 comment:

subrosa said...

Good links Calum.