Inflation. Recession. Bubbles. Interest rates. Sovereign debt crisis. Today, everyone’s financial portfolio is falling and that makes people upset about markets and economics. But being angry or frustrated about the market is easy, understanding how and why we arrived at this point is much more challenging.
I was recently helped along in my journey of understanding by a fascinating new book, The Price of Time: The Real Story of Interest , by financial journalist and historian Edward Chancellor. The book examines the history of interest rates, going all the way back to the beginnings of civilization, and takes a particularly close look at periods in history where unusually low interest rates encouraged excesses of financial speculation, like the Japan in the 1980s or the Mississippi Bubble in the 18th century. Are we in one of those periods now, or have we been? And what might we do about it, if so? Some of this inquiry involves going back to the basics. What is money? What are interest rates? Why do we have them?Why did ancients feel so strongly about them, and attach so much moral weight to their use? Indeed, what purpose have they served historically? And most important, what impact are they having today, as central banks are raising them, after a long a period of historically low rates.
Interest rates are critical to financial markets. And financial markets are a key hinge that economically connects the present day with the future. Markets allocate money, investment, and capital, not just across existing businesses and ventures, but across time – they connect the realities of today with the possibilities of tomorrow. And the price of that investment, or the price of that risk over time, or the “price of time”, is what we measure and call “interest rates”. They may seem obscure, but given their outsized influence over the future, they are rather important in the evolution of our economic lives.
So what will be the outcome of this inflationary period, where the Federal Reserve is raising rates after dropping them so very low for so many years? Chancellor and I explore that question and others in this deep dive into interest, finance, speculation, risk, and their profound impact on the future of America and the world.
More about Edward Chancellor
Edward Chancellor is a financial historian, journalist and investment strategist. He is the author of Devil Take Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation. His latest book, The Price of Time, is published by Allen Lane in the United Kingdom and Atlantic Monthly Press in the United States.
Learn more about Edward’s work at edwardchancellor.com