Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Shameless Plug For Ancient History

Readers may be wondering why I have devoted several posts on the "Greek Crisis".  Apart from newsworthiness - the subject is everywhere, it seems - there is another, less topical reason that goes back thousands of years. Literally.

A couple of weeks ago I had some time on my hands, so I strolled inside a bricks and mortar bookstore to peruse the titles on offer.  I am a big fan of history (not just the facts ma'm, gimme some reasoned interpretation too, that's what I pay you for), particularly financial and economic history.

This time, however, I walked out with a hefty, 670-page tome on ancient history. The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox spans the centuries from Homer to Hadrian in a wonderfully written style, arranged in relatively short chapters that had me turning the pages like a novel.  The book was written very recently (2008) and is fresh both in content and language.  There is none of the ponderously dry academic style here, so common of similar works.  This is a serious book, but it is meant to be read and enjoyed, not sit on a shelf to make you look "well-read".  (I admit to owning  Gibbon's  Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, all six volumes, five of which have never been cracked open).

And what does the classical world have to do with today's world?  Oh, just Empire, sourcing vital commodities from client states in the Middle East, currency and military domination, an indifferent voting public... you know, nothing important..


  1. Sounds good. You've got me interested here (meat and potatoes stuff...).
    Your plug reminds me of how I pushed open this saloon door. I think it was the time you did your five part series (?) set in ancient Rome. Loved it. Still love it.
    I know what you mean, believe me, about being on topic...

  2. For the guy padding around in his slippers in the middle of the night, I have stuck down a post called "Cops and Numbers". Not mine... a French one, but MY translation. Enjoy..

  3. In my desk sits: The Collapse of Complex Societies (Tainter). In my shelf is the abridged version of A Study of History (Toynbee). Have you read them? You might like them...

  4. Get the abridged edition of Decline and Fall - great writing on every page, and plenty of sarcasm.

  5. You may also find Homer and Sylla's "History of Interest Rates" a good read. And I trust you've read Reinhart and Rogoff's "This Time is Different"? Both are great books about events that happen again and again and again.

    Of course, no worries now. All's in good hands;

  6. My suggested reading list -

    My thoughts are where this is headed -

  7. If anyone knows of a good history book that tracks GDP evolution since ancient times, post it here.


  9. Robin Lane Fox is the father of ...

  10. Hey, Yophat, I left you a comment on your March post. Enjoy..

  11. And while you are at it, look at this chart:

    Diminishing Productivity

    What are the implications when it goes negative like this?

  12. re diminishing productivity of debt.

    I think I was one of the first persons who looked into that, way back when in the late 2006 or early 2007 timeframe. If you look into posts from then you will see my commentary.


  13. Anon,

    At you can find extensive book reviews (see library) and databases. This is the site of the Economic History Association. Its sistersite has some nifty graphs and calculators that are fun to play with. It is mostly US and UK data, last few centuries.

    If you want more and older data, go to
    Their list of datafiles goes back till Babylon. Lots of weblinks. It's all academic stuff though.


  14. Thanks for that link, Okie.
    Hell, why don't you refresh us MORE on your position ?
    You must remember it. Just a summary (if possible).
    Yeah, I'm a lazy lout.
    That is probably why the U.S. is bankrupt right now.
    Since I am not an exceptional person, imagine the hundreds of thousands of others who are lazy too.
    Kind of sinks productivity.
    Why... WORK when the magic Ponzi debt scheme fills people's pockets with all that virtual lucre anyway ?
    The Emperor's got no clothes.
    I think that the Chinese government knows this, at least.
    Our world leaders probably know this.
    But they are trying to keep the rest of us from knowing it for as long as possible.
    Hey, those... elections are still important, right ?
    What is really amazing here is that this is a DEMONSTRATION of the power of language.
    This situation has been going on for quite some time now. (Things looked really bleak in the U..S two years ago on my trip home...)
    But... as long as the WORD "bankruptcy" is staved off, denial remains in place.
    Indeed, this entire situation could be a text book case for the dangers of abstraction...
    It is not in the interest of the Chinese people for the bankruptcy word to impose itself on the collective consciousness.
    Nor in the interest of the American people.
    Interesting philosophical/theological question..
    WHAT are the limits of negativity ?
    HOW are they created ?

  15. Results are in for our regional elections.
    Abstention at 49%, (I think, maybe 51%).
    The left has not managed to gain control of Alsace, a STRATEGIC place if ever there was one..
    The crusty old plain speaking guy who regularly shocks the politically correct status quo has called for a minute of silence for the demise of our political parties, left and right, white dwarfs that are still burning dimly.
    The voting public, should I say, the abstentionist public is NOT indifferent though.
    They are just not convinced that the current political system is going to change things very much. They have lost faith in it.
    And THAT, at least, they share with a good percentage of the American electorate.

  16. I've been wading through Wealth of Nations recently and I was also struck with way events in relatively more recent financial history resonate so loudly with what we see happening now.

    I wonder if reserve bank governors could be done away with completely and money and trade policy just left to computer algorithms. It really is pretty simple stuff its just that people always believe that if they fiddle a bit here or there things will work out more to their advantage. It might be to their individual advantage but the damage to the collective is catastrophic.

  17. I see that on December 18 and 19, 2006, you wrote posts on Diminishing Returns (and the Trading Sardines story).

    As for the ones in early 2007, those are much easier for you to look up as someone would have to reload the page to get to January.

  18. ""History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

    -- Mark Twain

  19. About debt intensity of GDP (ΔDebt/ΔGDP)..

    The following appeared back on Dec. 18, 2006, after a relevant chart:
    It immediately becomes apparent that the US economy has lately become a desperate debt junkie, needing increasingly massive hits of borrowed dollars to create economic growth. As the economy transformed from “production-based” to “asset-based” it had to find additional capital to sustain higher asset prices so as to create consumption through the wealth effect. Unfortunately, it has been “debt” capital instead of “equity”. Indeed, such a massive amount of “money” (total US debt is currently $44 trillion) is simply not available in "equity" form, since it is equivalent to 330% of US GDP or 140% of the world’s combined GDP, ex-the US.

    Such capital, therefore, has been created as “money” via the ever expanding synergy between lending and asset appreciation, i.e. a debt bubble. At some point, however, “someone” may want out of the game and wish to liquidate his asset(s). If there is no lender immediately available to provide incremental credit then the seller must find a buyer with “equity” and/or accept a lower price. That is how debt bubbles burst, historically.

  20. Thanks Hell.
    I particularly like the "little" things in the post.
    Like... "money" between quotation marks..
    Check out the "but somebody may eventually want out of the game and reclaim his assets".
    That's what... RETIREMENT is all about.
    That's why this way of doing business WAS erected on an elaborate case of massive denial.
    Yeah, we are NOT rational animals at all.
    2006 ? Have I been here that long already ?
    Time sure flies..

  21. So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only ... you can see in Ancient Greece Ancient Greece Peloponnesian war and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,