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The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

by Trace Mayer, J.D. on December 18, 2008 · 5 comments

Reading time: 6 – 9 minutes

After watching Mr. Ferguson on BNN video on my way to lunch with a friend I immediately purchased an overpriced, paying $32 versus about $17 on Amazon, copy of The Ascent of Money.  I suppose I am the irrational American consumer but I was doing my patriotic duty to stimulate the economy and I wanted the book immediately to read on the airplane ride the following day.

I have since devoured the 382 page book which is a financial history of the world.  The nexus between money, currency, economics, law and politics is unavoidable.  This book provides a good overview of the subject but also is a terrible apologist for the debt-based system.

I doubt I am Mr. Ferguson’s average intended reader.  For electives in law school I took American Legal History I and II from Professor Belknap who holds both a Juris Doctorate and a Doctorate in History.  Those classes provided an insightful look into the legal and financial development of the United States.  I even received a high mark on a 29 page scholarly paper, meticulously footnoted, titled The Evolution of Money and Currency in American Law.

While researching the subject I found a dearth of quality sources.  For example, in several books I came across the same quote by Thomas Jefferson about ‘inflation and deflation’.  However, when I attempted verification the Library of Congress researcher informed me that some of the words were not even created until the 1920’s!  After a lot of effort I eventually located the foundational quote from the original source.


Mr. Ferguson’s book is extremely detailed and meticulously footnoted which provides paths for further reading if interested.  During my research The Ascent of Money would have been a useful asset.  Sure it pales in comparison to Dr. Vieira’s Pieces of Eight.  But that is the definitive treatise on American monetary jurisprudence, weighs in at a hefty 1,700+ pages, is thoroughly footnoted by the Harvard trained lawyer and I understand such a treatise is not for everyone.

At least Dr. Vieira uses the terms lawful money, legal tender, etc.  Somehow in a history of money Mr. Ferguson avoids the use of the terms fiat money or fiat currency.  Mr. Ferguson also scurries away from any serious explanation of what the gold standard(s) are, how they came about, etc. let alone any meaningful discussion of the matter and instead includes propaganda.  But Mr. Ferguson does not even understand the basic elements of money because he assets it is ‘trust inscribed’ whereas the US Constitution states that Congress has the ability to ‘Coin Money’; notice the word coin, not printed, inscribed, etc.

Another problem with Mr. Ferguson’s book though is that is apologizes about the necessity of a debt-based monetary and finance system.  It even tries to tie in the Jewish role in banking and finance to imply that those who oppose the debt-based system seem to have some ax to grind with the Jewish participators.

Overall, the book is shallow, biased, intellectually dishonest and the scholarship could be improved tremendously by being more objective.  The book is an attempt to defend the indefensible.  Sure, there are some very well done areas like the section on German hyperinflation or the House of Rothschild which is mainly drawn from his other books The World’s Banker, House of Rothschild Volume 1 and  House of Rothschild Volume 2.  But it leaves out critical details like the criminal liability for owning gold while the FRN$ rose to power.

It has been said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.  Understanding history and how our systems developed is extremely important because it adds perspective for the investor.  Past experience, like observing apples falling from trees, is usually helpful at prognosticating future events that oranges will fall from trees.  As those with a historical perspective understand the current turmoil is simply the latest iteration in a long chain of events.

The The Ascent of Money is an appreciable book for that purpose from a servile writer of the Establishment.  But if you want a book that is actually useful and has valid logic then I recommend Murray Rothbard’s What Has Government Done To Our Money.


This series on the BBC is fairly entertaining.






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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Trace Mayer, J.D., author of The Great Credit Contraction holds a degree in Accounting, a law degree and studies the Austrian school of economics. He works as an entrepreneur, investor, journalist and monetary scientist. Follow him on Twitter. This is merely one article of 242 by .
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dominick Graziano April 19, 2010 at 2:37 am

Trace-I generally agree with your assessment of the book. Indeed, I didn’t finish reading it for the reasons you articulate. The book was an accompaniment to a BBC special series, and that explains some of its flaws.
Lately, Ferguson seems to have changed his tune a bit, becoming more critical of the debt based system. Yes, even Oxford trained scholars can grow.-Dominick

2 Vanessa Collette August 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

Trace, I watched this series on the plane and found it very entertaining when they explored the Medici family and the usury laws but then when they showed the Rothschild interview and the Bond markets it just felt like it was missing a lot of key elements, some of which you mentioned, which they skirted around and ignored. I was wondering if the book would be worth reading to see if they went more in depth but now I know it was just like the series. I do like how there are more programs about money being created.

3 Trace Mayer, J.D. August 25, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Interestingly Mr. Ferguson has written a book on the House of Rothschild. I do not necessarily think there is a huge market for a book on the Rothschild’s which begs the question: how is this book going to be profitable and who is paying for it? Additionally, his general tenor seems like he is an apologist … almost like he has been hired by their PR firm or something which would go towards answering those questions. Lots of skirting and lots of ignoring.

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