Friday, August 14, 2009

Easy Money


When the scheme faltered Law resorted to a number of rescue packages, many of which have their echoes 300 years later. One was for the bank to guarantee to buy shares in the Mississippi company at a set price (think of the various government asset-purchase schemes today). Then the company took over the bank (a rescue along the lines of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Finally there were restrictions on the amount of gold and silver that could be owned (something America tried in the 1930s).

All these rules failed and the scheme collapsed. Law was exiled and died in poverty. The French state’s finances stayed weak, helping trigger the 1789 revolution. The idea of a “fiat” currency was perceived to be the essence of recklessness for another two centuries and the link between money and gold was not fully abandoned until the 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system expired.

Of course, the parallels with today are not exact. Law’s system took just four years to collapse; today’s fiat money regime has been running for nearly 40 years. The growth in money supply has been less excessive this time. Technological change and the entry of China into the world economy have generated growth rates beyond the dreams of 18th-century man. But one lesson from Law’s sorry tale endures: attempts to maintain asset prices above their fundamental value are eventually doomed to failure.

The Economist

1 comment:

Fungus FitzJuggler III said...

Law did a wonderful job. He sabotaged the French economy!