William Goetzmann on “Money Changes Everything”
March 2, 2017 – In the aftermath of recent financial crises, it’s easy to see finance as a wrecking ball: something that destroys fortunes and jobs, and undermines governments and banks. In “Money Changes Everything”, leading financial historian William Goetzmann argues the exact opposite – that the development of finance has made the growth of civilizations possible.
Goetzmann explains that finance is a time machine, a technology that allows us to move value forward and backward through time; and that this innovation has changed the very way we think about and plan for the future. He shows how finance was present at key moments in history: driving the invention of writing in ancient Mesopotamia, spurring the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome to become great empires, determining the rise and fall of dynasties in imperial China and underwriting the trade expeditions that led Europeans to the New World.
He also demonstrates how the apparatus we associate with a modern economy – stock markets, lines of credit, complex financial products and international trade – were repeatedly developed, forgotten and reinvented over the course of human history.
Exploring the critical role of finance over the millennia, and around the world, Goetzmann details how wondrous financial technologies and institutions – money, bonds, banks, corporations and more – have helped urban centers to expand and cultures to flourish. And it’s not done reshaping our lives, as Goetzmann considers the challenges we face in the future, such as how to use the power of finance to care for an aging and expanding population.
William Goetzmann gave that lecture in May 2016 at the Museum of American Finance which has now been made available on Youtube. You can watch the lecture in three parts.
You can subscribe to the museum’s Youtube channel here.
And this is the website of the Museum of American Finance.