Cover image for War and gold : a 500-year history of empires, adventures, and debt
Title:
War and gold : a 500-year history of empires, adventures, and debt
Author:
Kwarteng, Kwasi, author.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, 2014.
Physical Description:
424 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates ; 24 cm
Summary:
This history of money describes the gold standard, which began in 16th century Spain's quest to collect as much gold as possible through the introduction of paper money as a means of wartime financing during the French and American Revolutions.

"The world was wild for gold. After discovering the Americas, and under pressure to defend their vast dominion, the Habsburgs of Spain promoted gold and silver exploration in the New World with ruthless urgency. But, the great influx of wealth brought home by plundering conquistadors couldn' t compensate for the Spanish government' s extraordinary military spending, which would eventually bankrupt the country multiple times over and lead to the demise of the great empire. Gold became synonymous with financial dependability, and following the devastating chaos of World War I, the gold standard came to express the order of the free market system. Warfare in pursuit of wealth required borrowing - a quickly compulsive dependency for many governments. And when people lost confidence in the promissory notes and paper currencies issued during wartime, governments again turned to gold. In this captivating historical study, Kwarteng exposes a pattern of war-waging and financial debt - bedmates like April and taxes that go back hundreds of years, from the French Revolution to the emergence of modern-day China. His evidence is as rich and colorful as it is sweeping. And it starts and ends with gold."--book jacket.
Language:
English
Contents:
Gold : the establishment of order, c. 1500-1914. Sweat of the sun ; Rival nations : England and France ; Revolutions ; Pillars of order ; Great republic ; London 1914 -- War : the consequences of Armageddon, 1914-1915. guns and shells ; victors and vanquished ; World crisis ; Bretton Woods -- The new dollar order, 1945-1973. Pax Americana ; Weary titans ; Japan Incorporated ; Imperial retreat -- Paper : the end of gold, 1973- . The impact of oil ; Thatcher and Reagan ; The creation of the Euro -- The rise of China ; Delusions of debt ; Crises and 'bailouts' -- Appendix. Value of gold stock to world GDP.
ISBN:
9781586487683
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

The world was wild for gold. After discovering the Americas, and under pressure to defend their vast dominion, the Habsburgs of Spain promoted gold and silver exploration in the New World with ruthless urgency. But, the great influx of wealth brought home by plundering conquistadors couldn't compensate for the Spanish government's extraordinary military spending, which would eventually bankrupt the country multiple times over and lead to the demise of the great empire.

Gold became synonymous with financial dependability, and following the devastating chaos of World War I, the gold standard came to express the order of the free market system. Warfare in pursuit of wealth required borrowing--a quickly compulsive dependency for many governments. And when people lost confidence in the promissory notes and paper currencies issued during wartime, governments again turned to gold.

In this captivating historical study, Kwarteng exposes a pattern of war-waging and financial debt--bedmates like April and taxes that go back hundreds of years, from the French Revolution to the emergence of modern-day China. His evidence is as rich and colorful as it is sweeping. And it starts and ends with gold.


Author Notes

Kwasi Kwarteng was born in London to Ghanaian parents in 1975. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at Harvard University, where he spent a year as a Kennedy Scholar. After completing a PhD in history at Cambridge University, he worked as a financial analyst in London. He is a Conservative member of Parliament and author of Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World . H lives in London, UK.


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Several centuries ago, a Spanish chronicler referred to his countrymen's lust for gold as a disease of the mind and soul. As this fascinating survey reveals, this lust to accumulate gold and silver that began with the conquest of the Americas has proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The plundering of the wealth of several indigenous civilizations made the Spanish Empire the greatest power in Europe. Yet it eventually led to the demise of Spanish power, as incessant warfare to defend its colonial possessions and trade routes bankrupted the treasury. Furthermore, the insertion of massive amounts of gold and silver into the European economy fueled rampant inflation. On the other hand, the use of gold as a standard to gauge the value of paper money was a vital source of economic stability, and some economists still mourn the abandonment of that standard. This is an easily digestible melding of history and economics that helps explain both the past and present sources of wealth and national conflicts.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

The title's implications aside, this is really a history of money-thoroughly satisfying and remarkably accessible. Aiming to explain today's international financial turmoil, British historian and Conservative MP Kwarteng (Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World) begins with Spain's conquest of America and its resultant bonanza of gold and silver. This bullion allowed governments to pay for wars and bolstered the European nation-state, yet it also fostered inflation, deficits, and a vast expansion of paper money-the three sins of classical economics. Centuries of financial bedlam paused during the Victorian era of gold-based stable currency and balanced budgets, but two ruinous world wars resurrected deficits and unprecedented government spending. The 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement revived gold-based discipline, but its end in 1971 led to an explosion of credit, easy money, financial chicanery, the rise of Japan and the European Union, the spectacular transformation of China, and the continued, if shaky, domination of a pugnacious, free-spending America and its dollar. While John Kenneth Galbraith's 1975 Money: Whence it Came, Where It Went remains the subject's touchstone, Kwarteng superbly brings that volume up to date in explaining the almost unexplainable. Agent: Georgina Capel, Capel & Land Ltd. (U.K.) (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Kwarteng places the 2008 global financial crisis in historical context and makes the case that money in all of its forms is key to building hegemony and financing war. Deficit spending, trade imbalances, inflation, and the value of currency, he explains, have long been tools that countries have used to increase power and influence their citizens' standard of living. The 2008 financial crisis was the bursting of a credit bubble like many others. While the book's title suggests that it will cover 500 years of monetary history, the thrust of the narrative takes off with the stable monetary years of the Victorian era. Paper money was pegged to gold, profits were predictable, and those with money were almost guaranteed steady interest provided that they behaved responsibly. Constancy unraveled, however, with the outbreak of World War I, and from 1914 to 1921, Britain's national debt grew by 1,000 percent. Since World War I, Kwarteng continues, deficit spending has increased steadily in the West, sometimes owing to wars and other times to pay for social programs or because of the rising costs of major goods such as oil. The author is a conservative member of the British Parliament who has spent considerable time in the United States. This book has a decidedly Anglo-American view and is largely nonpartisan, and while the author clearly describes the world's descent into easy credit and irresponsible monetary policies, he doesn't offer solutions. Verdict This book will be valued by historians seeking a foundational understanding of the role of monetary policy, students of international relations and international finance, and readers seeking a broad understanding of fiscal policy.-Beth Dalton, Littleton, CO (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

This carefully documented, scholarly, well-written work provides an account of the development of international financial institutions over the past five centuries. Kwarteng, an acclaimed author and a member of Parliament, covers the first four centuries succinctly but thoroughly in the first of four parts of the book. Having set the stage for examining the consequences of events from 1914 to the present, the author focuses in part 2 on WW I, the Great Depression, and WW II--all events that irreparably disrupted the international financial system, which had operated under the 19th-century's discipline of the gold standard. Part 3 deals with the new world order emerging after WW II, the hegemony of the US, the Bretton Woods Agreement, and the gold exchange standard. The consequences of the end of the Bretton Woods Agreement and the gold exchange standard in 1973 are examined in part 4 along with the creation of the European Union and the euro, the rise of China, reliance on debt, and recurring financial crises. In the concluding section, the author explores the possibility of a future link to gold. Overall, the book is a captivating narrative of monetary history that starts and ends with gold. Summing Up: Highly Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers. --Edward Leonard Whalen, Clarke College