Ahamed has written a fascinating account of how four central bankers were at the core of the economic madness that gripped the world after World War I and led to the second great war.
The personalities are interesting, and the scent of the times wafts from the pages sufficient to sting the nostrils. This is a book written for a popular audience. No great knowledge of economics is required. But that sure would help. It is not only our elected officials, Wall Street brokers and government officials who are ignorant of the rules of economics. I, and surely many of you are as well.
For me, it is a sort of blockage, like being able to read music. I taught myself to play the guitar at age 15, not well, but at all, and played for some years thereafter, writing a few songs, even performing on stage a few times, but I was never able to learn to read music. I tried several times, but was never able to get past a crude identification of the difference between whole, half and quarter notes. In the same way, whenever I have tried to crack the code that is economics, the result was intellectual cacophony. As that pertains here, while the story is fascinating, and the wealth of information proffered expands our knowledge of the times, one can only grasp a percentage of what is offered if one is economically tone deaf. I just do not get how a currency can be based upon the presence of gold or any other substance for that matter. Why not seashells or jelly beans? As a considerable portion of the book focuses on the ramifications of the gold standard, my intellectual economic disability severely reduces the understanding I can gain here. If you get the gold standard and are comfortable with discussions of macro economics, this will be mother’s milk for you. Great stuff. For the rest of us, it is a fascinating look at a tumultuous period with color portraits of some of the central players in the world economy.
Ahamed appears to be blaming the four economic titans on which he focuses for the ensuing economic and military maelstrom. But what should they have done, what could they have done, had the power to do, differently that would have changed the outcome? To lay blame at their door seems a convenient way to personalize blame for undercurrents that are all too widespread in humanity, short-sidedness, greed, mean-spiritedness, and downright stupidity. OK, wise guy, what should they have done? Yes, people, individuals, particularly powerful, influential individuals matter. But history is not just a series of he did this and she did that. There are currents to history that flow, regardless of how large the fish may be that inhabit the waters. The economic miseries of today are not merely a product of the madness of King Dubyah. The latter reflects the former and not the other way around.
One reason to read this book is to see how our current fiscal crisis might resemble those of the past. And indeed it does. Perhaps the mis-steps that were taken might be avoided today if we are to learn from history. But if there is one thing that we learn from history it is that people rarely, if ever, learn from history. It is an easy and interesting read. Whatever the conclusions the author may draw from his story, and whatever the cranial incapacities of an individual reader, the story itself is quite intriguing.