Friday, April 24, 2009

Creative Destruction

I just finished reading The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson.  The book sets out to be "A financial history of the world" and has also been turned into a PBS documentary.  I have to say that I was a bit disappointed.  There are some interesting stories within the book, but I think they all could heave been tied together much better.  It isn't until the afterword that Mr. Ferguson acknowledges that economics is at its core an evolutionary process characterized by "creative destruction", an idea put forth by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942.

This is an idea that I have spoken about many times before.  Change is inherent to the capitalist system, and over time these changes generally benefit most economic participants.  Mr. Ferguson points out that "of the world's largest 100 companies in 1912, 29 were bankrupt by 1995, 48 had disappeared, and only 19 were still in the top 100"  We have clearly seen much economic destruction over the past year, and now it will be interesting to see what happens as economic creativity helps lead the way to economic recovery.

Having a thorough understanding financial history is critical to properly managing financial plans and investment portfolios.  I think Peter Bernstein did a much better job covering the topic of monetary and financial history in his two books Against the Gods and The Power of Gold.   I would recommend both of these to anyone interested in understanding how the world's economy evolved from hunter/gathers to the complex global marketplace we live in today.