There is a steady stream of worthy publications to fill the shelves of the most ambitious and dedica...
There is a steady stream of worthy publications to fill the shelves of the most ambitious and dedicated IFA, and then there are books which won't help in their business in the slightest but will probably stay on the bookcase for longer.
One of these is The Rich and How They Got That Way by Cynthia Crossen, the senior editor on the Wall Street Journal published this month by Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
It is not, as the clumsy title suggests, a self-help book promising to set out a route-map up the yellow-brick road to wealth. What it is, is an entertainingly written history of the ways fabulous fortunes have been accumulated through the centuries.
Crossen does this by focusing on 10 super-rich people, each of who was at the apex of wealth-accumulation in their era. They may not have been the first to do what they did, though often they were, but they were undisputedly better at it than their peers or forebears.
Bill Gates' fortune is the most famous dealt with in the book, however other notables include a fifteenth century pope, an eleventh century African king, a sixteenth century money lender, a sixteenth century Derbyshire indus-trialist and a speculator in the early days of the US stock market.
There is no sure way to riches, and certainly one of the book's main themes is quite the opposite of from rags to riches. If there is one abiding message from the book it is money begets money. Very few have made a mint from a poverty-stricken start.
Many of those focused on had head starts either financial or social. Royal lineage or a rich and powerful family base and the power they brought were the headstart for Machmud of Ghazni, Mansa Musa, and the rapacious Pope Alexander IV.
Others occupied a protected position which cut down the competition to a manageable size such as Jacob Fugger, a fifteenth century moneylender who held debt-laden kings in the palms of his hands. Lending was restricted to the Jewish community and Jacob had a useful financial leg-up from his merchant father. Chinese trader Howqua had a protected position in the bureaucracy with which to amass the equivalent of $3bn in the early seventeenth century.
That you need money to make money is a truism that can't be applied quite so compellingly after the development of modern trade and money markets. For a peasant in Medieval Europe to become a wealthy man was unthinkable, however in the late eighteenth century a poor man like Richard Arkwright could take the patent for a spinning machine (which many dispute that he actually designed), persuade Nottingham textile producers to underwrite development costs and go on to employ 1,800 workers, gain aristocratic title such as High Sheriff of Derbyshire, and launch the age of modern production.
Arkwright, however, is probably beaten in his rise from obscurity by Genghis Kahn who bestrode a fifth of the world through pure and unremitting bloody violence, and the Scotsman John Law who gave the world the first paper money economy in France in the early 18th century.
The chapters that will be of particular interest to those who believe the new economy is a bubble waiting to burst, are those on John Law, which includes treatment of the Dutch Tulip bubble, in which men gambled their houses on tulip futures, (one man committed suicide when a cow ate his investment) and a similar speculative bubble, largely created by Law, in Louisiana futures.
Technology, media and telecommunications valuations seem almost sensible in comparison to the excesses of early European speculation.
The Rich and How They Got That Way by Cynthia Crossen
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