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July 8th, 2009
About the Film

Niall Ferguson at NYSE

As the world continues to struggle to find its footing amid rising unemployment, constricted credit and crumbling banks and industries — raising questions about how the economic system collapsed — PBS presents Niall Ferguson’s ASCENT OF MONEY. This groundbreaking four-part series examines the creation of the economic system by taking viewers on a global trek through the history of money. (An abbreviated version of the documentary, which focused on the current economic crisis at the advent of the Obama administration, aired in January; it can be streamed in full on the Website.) The four-hour version delves deeper into how the complex system of global finance evolved over the centuries, how money has shaped the course of human affairs and how the mechanics of this economic system work to create seemingly unlimited wealth — or catastrophic loss.

ASCENT OF MONEY is based on Ferguson’s best-selling book The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, which predicted the current economic crisis and was released within weeks of the meltdown of sub-prime loans.

Said Ferguson, “In the midst of a major economic depression, it is often hard to appreciate the historical precedents and truly understand that while a situation may look dire, our system of finance, banking and trade has allowed for unprecedented progress. I’m hopeful the film will allow viewers to better understand the on-going evolution of our financial system and how our economy remains extraordinarily viable even as we are grappling with a crisis of historic proportions.”

For millions of people, the recession has generated a thirst for knowledge about how our global economic system really works, especially when so many financial experts seem to be equally baffled. In ASCENT OF MONEY, economist, author and historian Ferguson offers insight into these questions by taking viewers step-by-step through the milestones of the financial history that created this system, visiting the locations where key events took place and poring over actual ledgers and documents — such as the first publicly traded share of a company — that would change human history. Ferguson maintains that the history of money is indeed at the core of our human history, with economic strength determining political dominance, wars fought to create wealth and individual financial barons determining the fates of millions.

Among the places Ferguson visits are Bolivia, where Spain established vast gold and silver mines — still in operation — and enslaved the indigenous people to create so much currency for the Spanish crown that it eventually became worthless; Italy, where the Medici family transformed the sinful practice of usury into the banking system we know today and in the process became as powerful as monarchs; Paris, where Scotsman John Law created a Ponzi scheme tied to the Louisiana territory that brought France to its knees; London, where bonds trader Nathan Rothschild and his family nearly went bankrupt by helping to finance the British army’s war against Napoleon, then achieved enormous wealth through the buying and selling of war bonds; Scotland, where two ministers established the first life insurance fund, and New Orleans, where the shortcomings of their calculations would be demonstrated to tragic effect in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; and New York, where Ferguson interviews financial wizard George Soros about the concept he introduced of short selling derivatives based on a prediction that they will lose value.

Through this history, viewers learn economic fundamentals that inform the meanings of sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps and an understanding how the Chinese economy has risen to dominate the world.

  • Bob Roberts

    This is a great documentary, and very informative. Our current fiscal predicament in the U.S. could have been avoided!

  • Gina D’Agostino-Quattrociocchi

    Isn’t this supposed to be a six-part series as shown at the link provided below?

    Are the “two-hour special” on the 13th of January, and the “expanded four-hour version” to be shown later in the year, then actually the entire series cropped and edited for US viewers? Or is the first “special” the last two episodes, to be followed later by the first four episodes?

    Would it not be possible to simply show the series in its entirety, in tact, in order, in its original form? Please consider this option instead, or additionally, some time in the future. It is really a disservice, and act of disrespect, to the American audience, to the makers of these films, the subject matter, and for that matter to history and international relations, to insist upon edits or altered programs in attempt to try and shape your viewers opinions, win their favor, attract their attention, or for whatever reason one might do so. I expect this sort of small-minded antics from commercial television gurus, but am disappointed and saddened when I hear PBS has resorted to such behavior.

    http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/A/ascent-of-money/episodes/episodes.html

  • Philip Beard

    Gino’s objection is on the mark. But even more serious, I fear after having checked out the content of each episode at the link Gino provides, is that it appears Prof. Ferguson has devoted little attention to the central flaw of our money, one which is at the root not only of today’s financial meltdown but of much of the destructive behavior of the last several centuries: the issuance of money as private-bank debt, burdened with interest payments that can’t be made from the existing store of money, and therefore create systemic scarcity. I hope I’m wrong about this; I hope the Ch. 4 blurbs just didn’t find that issue worth highlighting. In any event, the biggest question Ferguson should be asking is: Who should be in charge of our credit? We the people, through our elected representatives, or a rich private elite? Ben Franklin knew the answer: It was practiced in several American colonies under the name “colonial scrip”, and King George’s prohibition of it was arguably the prime cause of the American revolution. We can re-create it at whatever level we like: national, state, regional, local. But first we need to get clear on what’s rotten in the dominant system, and it has to do with a lot more than subprime mortgages.

  • David King

    Great point by Gina. Will there be a full broadcast of all 6 episodes in order?

  • David Bean

    I have not seen the work but know a bit about the subject. Our population is SO ignorant on this subject that, If the point of Public Television is to inform then this is timely, pertinent and of great public interest. What is the problem with fulfilling that charge?
    If the households are in debt, and the businesses, banks and governments also…. could there be something wrong with the debt system? If we better understood the creation of money, we would not
    be MIRED in our current fix.

    “This instrument can teach.” Edward R Murrow

  • Ted Darid Mauro

    Fantastic Video – I really enjoyed it and feel it is must watch for anyone who wants to better understand the modern economic system. Great gains come with great risk still remains true no matter how un PC it is.

  • Howard Kaneff

    I have read most of his books, een him on book span interview and read his book, Ascent of Money.
    This film is the essence of the Excellence of Niall Ferguson. WELL DONE!!!!
    How do I buy many copies for friends, associates and relatives?????

  • m.ray

    A brillisnt documentary which deserves to be seen by mass audiences so hopefully pbs will plan many re-runs and use this in its fundraising activities.

  • clay bounds

    This is one of the best productions I have ever seen. The clarity and sequencial continuity of the presentation is proof of dedication to truly inform. Major kudos to Niall Ferguson for the attention to detail and the obvious effort in sifting through all the relevant data to “link” the currnet and historical facts and how they are interrelated and connected.
    I would like to address a particular obsevation brought to the program that may be of value in an assesment of the Chimarica question. As was reported by Mr. Ferguson how is it that an economy such as China with a average income of $2,000 could leverage such a major influence over an economy that has an average income of $44,000.
    May I offer an observation that may explain a part of the disparity. The current deficit of the US is calculated to assess a debt per man, woman, and child of $35,000. So, net net, the difference between the two is effectively only $7,000. This does not take into account the likelyhood that many of the children in the USA do not have a job.
    As you reported the Chinese savings rate is also much greater than the rate in the US., as are most countries in the world, but their GDP is also much greater than ours. I would also like to suggest a review of the book, “The Downwave” by Robert Beckman and The Great Depression of 1990 by Dr. Ravi Batra. The later book has a reference to the two volumes by Dr. Sarkar of Calcutta and his esposement of the Theory of Prout. “The progressive utilization theory”. Also, of interest to me is the theory surrounding the 5 stages of culture which is an agrigrarian society followed by a warrior class, then an intellectual culture then political then completed by an aquisitor (wealth) stage then all the stages collaspe back to the agrarian stage.
    I am also a native Memphian and wish to thank the producers and Mr. Ferguson for putting the spotlight on the problems that face our local economy as it relates to the world economy. Thanks

  • greg thomson

    I have been watching pbs for 20 years,this is the
    most informative program i have seen.
    Mr.Ferguson has a great gift,the ability to take a
    complicated subject and simplify it for the average person. I wish all americans would view
    this,maybe then we as a nation would save more
    and spend less.

  • Darah

    Wow, I finally understand why the US is in such a financial crisis. I feel enlightened and empowered. For those of us who have seen this documentary, we need to make sure that we share it like we do those stupid chain letters that claim Bill Gates is giving away his fortune.

  • Lawrence Pavilionis

    This should be required viewing by everyone in this country, if not the world, especially students and members of Congress. If we are to ever learn anything from history, the time is NOW!

  • Ellison Horne

    This is such a hodgepodge and a flimsy, poorly produced video essay. It’s hard to absorb because it’s overwrought. The directing gets in the way of the information. And a little Ferguson goes a long way. If this is the best they can do it works much better as a book, not a as video. This subject would be much better served in the hands of BBC journalist and filmmaker, Adam Curtis.

    A hodgepodge, indeed.
    .

  • Scott Rainey

    Very well done. A few nits.
    One nit is the absence of a discussion about the over-leverage that killed Bear Stearns, Lehman etc. Another nit: the lack of 30-60 seconds dissecting a mortgage backed security, and the resulting derivatives.
    I loved the presentation at the end, comparing the value of US Stocks, vs the US economy, the global economy vs the value of financial derivatives traded in a year.

  • Martin Carbone

    Wonderful show — but only a show.

    My suspicion is that it is a melange of half-truths that will completely miss the causes of our current meltdown. I need to look at it a few more times before I can decide if it is worthwhile or not

    I would like to buy a copy of the show, so I can watch it enough times to really grasp what it is saying.

    Is a copy of the show for sale? Is a copy of the text for sale? The text would be the most valuable. The images, in my opinion add little to the message.

    Marty Carbone / martycarbone@yahoo.com
    http://www.alphabeticalist.com

  • S.Burnett

    Fascinating insight into the mechanisms of our financial arena. Particularly the theories and speculation of both the derivatives and bond markets – which are so significant in nature(psycologically). I hope more time is explored and broadcast on how our financial mechanisms are utilized as of “today”, exactly what groups or entities are investing in these mechanisms, and ultimately various commentary on what America will stand for once its citizens realize that they no longer are in control of their own destiny. And perhaps some more time devoted to the corrupt forces that are allowed to persuade policy before it is enacted.

  • Derek Creisler

    After viewing this documentary on PBS I watched the Cobert Report (Comedy Channel) and was surprised to see Ferguson holding an ‘Ascent of Money’ book. Did I miss something? I have yet to find any reference of this book in your web site. I guess I’ll just email my local library.

  • gary

    This was great but the one thing i think was most missing was stressing the point that in this particular crisis we have came to a time when china must spend some money and lots of it as the western world has done for the past sixty or so years if not then china will also find themselves in a bind at some point,i’ve live in some major industrial cities like gary ind. pontiac mich. and also detriot mich.,from the time of 1967 to 1992 and all of those cities are disaters and china has had hand in it’s undoing all the time while saving their money now it’s time for them to spend the problem we have now is we don’t know how to save and thats a problem within itself. Oh and i also stayed in flint mich. also.

  • Patrick Young

    I agreed wholly with Phillip Beard. Prof. Ferguson needs to hammer home the root cause of a rotten system which floated trillion of dollars of derivatives exceeding ten times total global productivity with zero oversight. An entire segment can be devoted to the mindless debacles of Greenspan alone allowing credit to run amok. The collapse of Lehmann and others financial powerhouses exposed to the world that our financial market is nothing more than a giant casino. We desparately need someone (is Ferguson the caliber of Carl Sagan?) to bring clarity to voters, politicians and even Nobel Prize committees. It is unimaginable (or perhaps imaginable) that a pair of pseudo- geniuses who crafted a badly flawed option-trading formula won a Nobel Prize, only to have the winners go down in infamy a year later. There’s a ton of great public interest material for Public Television if they dig a bit deeper.

  • Mary Ann Campbell

    Great documentary…thank you. It causes one to think. Where might I find supplementary resources to use for college students?

  • Josue Machado

    First of all, I think it was a great documentary, even though he misses some key points like you guys are commenting, it gives you a very good overview of causes of our current financial crisis. The message that I would like take from this film is that human behaviors, such as greed, cannot be modeled; when mathematicians want to model human behavior, they fail by not assessing human greed properly. It has been proven that human greed as no limits and that the markets cannot balance themselves, I use to believe in free market but now it is clear to me that the government, meaning “we the people” needs to regulate the financial markets more closely.

  • Chad Smith

    If China’s financial district is set to rule the world; why do I keep reading stories of the mass exodus of workers going back to their farms?

  • Jeff

    I saw this program last night.
    I found captivating and well structured, and definitively very interesting. I was hoping to see a documentary like this on PBS, some day, and I am pleased Professor Ferguson took the time to make it; however, many points are not yet clear to me.
    The opening was very nice and simple to understand, but then later things got a bit confused, like Prof. Ferguson never showed how money is actually made these days, who makes it, and why. I would like to know who has control over our national financial system, what the Fed is, and why it can determine interest rates. I think it is important that viewers understand what money has become, EXACTLY, since this seems the purpose of a documentary titled “The ascent of money”, and I hope that Prof. Ferguson , being so competent on the matter, will want to add this important piece of info to the final product.

  • Ned Flanders

    I was more than a bit surprised that the only mention of banking reserves was in passing when discussing LTCM. Seems to me that the current scandal (and it is just that), with all its fraud, would have a much smaller impact if the “banks” were forced to keep higher reserves.

    It’s understandable that the banks see reserves simply as wasted money, but it is the duty of the government to push back and promote a higher priority than making money for bankers, that being the safety and security of the system as a whole.

    Also, what is with the glaring omission of the Savings and Loan scandal (there’s that word again… hmm seems like a pattern here) from the 80’s?

  • Jim S.

    I went to the Channel 4 UK link to try to view the entire series, but was unable to watch because the content is only available in the UK and Ireland. Is there any way to get around this? Also the 2 hour US version is not available at WNET. I don’t encourage this show to be viewed by a widespread US audience, might cause a run on the BANKS. Prof. Ferguson made a show that the average American would understand. Thank heavens that American Idol had a 2 hr. season premiere last night. The players on Wall Street knew models didn’t work, but they did it anyway, it wasn’t their money it was the shareholder’s, now the US tax payer’s. All the perps in this crime were in the NY FED in Oct. 98 when the Long Term Bailout was structured, some of individuals in the room were also investors in LTCM. If you liked this show, read the book When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein. They walked away with BILLIONS and we got stiffed.

  • NLCowart

    This was very informative and easy to understand. I enjoyed Prof. Niall. I hope that all the colleges can get a copy. Thanks.

  • Pradeep H. Desai

    It was a very good programm. Prof. Ferguson tried to explain lots of things. Looking forward towatch this kind of programm again in future. Thanks.

  • Charles Keoho

    Because of the comment of a colleague, I watched this on the internet starting at midnight in Maui. Excellent production, I will be sending this to friends, clients and colleagues. I would have liked a futher discussion on the role the fed plays. and also on Congress and how they have stripped the protections that were put into place after the great depression. Thank you

  • Tom McNeely

    This explanation overlooks one important fact. If you strip away money and financial creations you are left with the human condition…people building, producing, making war on each other, etc. The financial model is only a way of organizing human activity. If it were taken away humans would still go on being human. Thanks.

  • critical thinker

    I watched the show lst night and I’m appalled that monetary policy and the Federal Reserve system/fractional reserve banking was not addressed. I believe that if one considers the corporate sponsors of PBS to be benevolent institutions that want an informed populace- one should think again. My thoughts are that the entire(unedited for Americans) documentary may contain too much libertartian/Austrian economics for the liberal/neocon power brokers to feel comfotable with. Do your own research about the Fed and these other important issues and listen to Ron Paul and Peter Schiff to get the truth. PBS is now a tainted news organization.

  • Cheryl Nelson

    A couple of points I have differences with that are covered in the two-hour American version:

    1. The recent subprime mortgage meltdown: Dr. Ferguson got the point right about how institutions lent money to mortgage borrowers without adequately assessing their income and creditworthiness, then rolled over those mortgages into securities sold to unsuspecting buyers. He briefly covered the use of teaser rates and skyrocketing interest on these non-traditional adjustable rate mortgages. However, by indicating that these loans were targeted to lower-income people of color who couldn’t qualify for traditional fixed-rate mortgages, he perpetuates the myth that only poor people of color defaulted on these loans. In reality, just as many, if not more, of these ARMs and other non-traditional mortgage vehicles were pitched to and undertaken by middle and upper-middle class white people – “aspirational” buyers who otherwise couldn’t afford a bigger home in a “better” neighborhood, or couldn’t come up with the necessary down payment to qualify for a traditional fixed-rate mortgage. The producers also failed to cite the existence of community “microbanks” which lent money to lower-income borrowers whom they properly vetted. These microbanks, such as South Shore Bank in Chicago, did not “flip” the mortgages into securities. Instead, they held them and continued to service them themselves. Those institutions are doing very well.

    My second point is WRT the Enron scandal. At two points in the film, Ken Lay is portrayed in a photograph imposed on a streetscape having a tall skyscraper piped in green argon to the left of Lay’s photo. Enron was based in Houston; but that skyscraper is located in Dallas. It’s just a nitpicky thing, but does undermine the credibility in the eyes of those familiar with Houston, Dallas and the Enron Corporation.

  • ronnie boone

    One of the best programs I have seen on the history of money. I would love to see it again.

  • Josh Penrod

    The negative picture of plasma donation depicted in your program does a disservice to the many dedicated people in the U.S. who donate plasma in one of 335 federally licensed and industry-certified plasma collection centers in the country.

    Plasma donation is essential. The life-saving therapies that are manufactured from it are available to the patients who rely on them to lead healthy, productive lives.

    Plasma is used in the manufacturing of: albumin, which is used in acute trauma cases and to treat severe burn injuries; clotting factors that are used for people with hemophilia and other bleeding disorders; immune globulin replacement therapies, which are given to individuals suffering from various immune disorders; and alpha-1 antitrypsin, which is administered to those suffering from genetic emphysema. Many other proteins found in plasma are harvested and used in medical treatments and scientific research as well.

    It is disappointing that plasma donation was somehow characterized as desperate and undesirable when in fact it is directly the opposite: an admirable activity that results in lives saved each and every day.

  • Richard E. Breed IV

    Hmmm, to begin:
    It was the single most important television program for all Americans, yet I fear very few watched. I found not one of the 5 papers I read daily did a preview or review, yet they are in the throes of the quickest deflationary spiral in world history. In adition to 2 advanced degrees focusing on market manipulations and depressions I am blessed with an “estimated” IQ of 210. (comical-elief pop-quiz: What’s an education? It’s what’s left after you forget everything you learned in school! rofl’in) I feel compelled to suggest that I can offer insights into two things which would make the program truely
    “conclusionary”…yet I must forewarn that the conclusion is very sad & terrifying: We are on the cusp of the deepest and longest depression in world history, which is impossible to stop. (Well, unless they can print $4,420,864,000.00 in under 8 months and send it out as treasury checks t the bottom 84% of income brackets, while allowing roughly 48% of our largest banks fail and forgive/write-off all of their consimer loans & mortgages. I am a business modeling fan, using them for 24% of my analysis, then I read 5 papers/4 websites daily…while going out twice daily to talk wth the average people in restaurants, bars and on the street. Then I hand it over to my subconscience mind – my intuition, and voila! I presicted the tech crash crash to the day w/the entire whitehouse press coups as my witness..missed the next one by 16 days…and in a series of email predicted this most recent one to the day (Kinda lucky…when I made the latest one I waffled between 2 dates as I has to have a couple of drinks whenever I thought about it – this ones really bad. I am a VERY empathetic person and fully realize the sufering and disbelief which lies ahead – which your program deliniated so well. I would love to open a dialog for two reasons, first to offer my two insights and to see if you agree, and two – because misery loves company when downng a cheer beer! New edress where some friends and I are playing a game – for beers:

    predictheplung@yahoo.com

    or use my Saigon one:

    chardbuddha@yahoo.com

  • Aaron R. White

    I thought the program was very good. I was disappointed that there was no discussion of seignorage, gold standards or Bretton Wood.

  • Gary

    I was fascinated even through the serpentine approach of presentation. This could be a GREAT mainstream educational feature about current economics with some kickbutt editing. Make this a knock-socks off! Everyone needs to see the meat of this presentation! Slender it down and make it hit between the eyes!! Five stars from me!! Great job!! WOW!!!

  • Margie Quince

    I agree with Cheryl Nelson: Surveys of low-income homeowners who are properly vetted show that the mortgage default rate is significantly lower than the general population. Opportunistic politicians and other lackeys of the corporate sector are desperately trying to pin the blame for the mortgage meltdown on poor people instead of the greedy, unregulated investment banking industry!

  • carol tosczak

    I happened to wake up at 2:30 a.m., put the TV on at my PBS channel and was fascinated with “The Ascent of Money”, but it is a bit scary as I don’t have too many more years to re-coup this year’s losses. I will email my broker and hope he watches it on line. Thanks for airing, but I wish it had been at a better time on my station.

  • nick cluess

    informative – yes
    comprehensive – maybe
    beneficial – we’ll see as history once again repeats itself

    charles r morris wrote “the trillion dollar metldown ‘ in 2007 and it was published in feb of 2008
    he was literally “on the money” about the arrival of our current situation
    i suggest a read of his work as well

    it puzzles me to no end that there are reputable and widely published economists out there who saw/see without a doubt that this all was inevitable and yet we had mr paulsons whimper for help at the last minute as if there was never any other choice

    puzzling – yes
    disturbing – yes
    beneficial – not

    philip beards comments here are also “on the money”

    i suggest we all take our debt directly to the hill and petition w/paperwork in hand (while singing “money that’s what i want…”)for our own personal “bail out” with which we will choose (or not) to use to stimulate OUR own personal economies

    cheers

    live long

    prosper

  • gary l. zerman

    I thought the program was interesting, but was sketchy in parts. For example, about the U.S., a thorough explanation was/is required about the Federal Reserve (neither federal and with nothing in reserve), the bond & stock markets (that what is good for them many times is not good for the overall country/society) and all the intentional escape clauses & loop holes in corporate law for white-collar criminals. Finally, I thought Prof. Ferguson’s bias was revealed where he tagged G.W. Bush (and there are many other things he deserves to be tagged for) with Ken Lay/Enron. Enron filed bankruptcy in 2001, thus most its major criminal fraud & accounting tricks/magic took place during Bill Clinton’s two (2)terms and I believe Lay was a frequent visitor & stayed in the Whitehouse several times while Clinton was there. Further, when it was getting hot for Lay/Enron, Lay in fact frantically approached Bush (then in the Whitehouse) and begged Bush to intervene and to call the dogs off. To his credit, Bush brushed Lay off, said no and gave no relief. However up to that time, the Bushes had in fact been very friendly with Lay/Enron (the Texas & oil connection) and maybe Bush acted the way he did more from the fact that the jig by that time simply was up for Enron. Maybe if Lay had approached Bush at an earlier time, when not so radioactive, Bush would have intervened and tried to help the crook. Recall Charles Keating/Lincoln Savings and the “Keating 5″? That’s just what the pols in fact do most often. (Chris Dodd’s VIP loan from Countrwide and campaign donations from Fannie & Freddie.) Ferguson should correct this error re Bush and point the finger instead at Clinton on that one, as well where Clinton lifted the “Bucket Shop” rules in 1999 or 2000 (despite the fact that the LTCM debacle/scandal had just occurred) and gave a green light to derivatives.

  • Anoop

    Its a great film,very informative and I would like to watch it again. One thing that struck me was how India was not even mentioned when talking of Globalization, saving culture and the flourishing of Asian economies- Chimerica was explored while the intricate counterpart Chindia was ignored, thus leaving a wonderful chapter of the subject unexplored. There was a very interesting video that I saw on a similar subject – may interest the readers..

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4343898391323537541&ei=PlRvSbvrLoSM-QGjseCoBQ&q=globalization+mr+venkatesh

  • Dave Dahl

    Excellent program (great job stringing all the financial/political events together). The brighest minds in the world will never be able to accurately predict random political/social events and herd mentality. That is why diversification of assets and education (like this program) may be the only way to prevent us from making the same historical mistakes over and over. Thanks for the timely education, I will share it with everyone who will listen.

  • Ollie

    Very informative documentary! It’s too bad PBS was unable to air the entire series, but hopefully the later episodes will touch on the breaking developments that continue to surround the ongoing Financial Crisis.

  • Mandeep Biswokarma

    wow! great documetary, nobody in the world even
    “Bush” brother have ever tried to explain what happened that led to this economic crisis of today. thanks very muchprof.Ferguson.

  • Karl Quick

    Certainly a great documentary, but largely confirming in 120 minutes what Fox News included in its 44 minute documentary “Saving Our Economy: What’$ Next?” last October (see at http://www.hulu.com/fox-news-specials ). Professor Ferguson provides much more background and some beautiful photography, mostly taken from his larger special on the history of money. I got the impression he cut and pasted portions of this older documentary with newer information to address the current financial crisis. Both Fox and Ferguson show some political bias: Fox spends far too much time talking about ACORN (it was a “hot” topic back in October) but at least spreads he blame by name across all parties and generations. Ferguson astutely avoids mention of politicians by talking only of dates when things happen, never mentioning the president or party in power EXCEPT, curiously, for the two Bush presidencies! He claims Ken Lay was a great friend of George H. W. Bush, but overlooks the fact that Lay was an even better golfing partner of Bill Clinton. He reports Lay’s crimes in terms of dates that fall during Clinton’s term but does not mention that it was George W. Bush’s administration that prosecuted Lay and Schilling. He shows George W’s clip calling for an “ownership society”, mentioning that “even Republicans” climbed on the NINJA bandwagon, but fails to mention a single Democrat.
    Both specials make a great point about the birth of Fannie Mae during the Great Depression, and the promotion of an “ownership society” then, in the 1960’s and especially in the last decade as an answer to the temptation of socialism. Both point the the extravagant extension of “leverage” and the failure of statistical models that were supposedly estimating “risk” as the cause of our current financial disaster.
    Professor Ferguson does a better job of pointing out that the situation, world-wide AND in the United States, is much worse than we realize. I am glad to see that President Obama is now pledging “entitlement reform” ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/15/AR2009011504114.html ). Indeed, the greatest failure of Bush’s 2nd term was his total squandering of “political capital” on the effort to reform Social Security and Medicare. Yet the financial abyss we look into this year is nothing like the abyss coming at us in just a few short years due to our inability to fund the promises made to the baby boomers as they retire. In fact, President Obama may well find it impossible to end this current recession until he addresses the debts coming due just over the horizon.
    Thanks, PBS for an excellent documentary, but understand all our limitations, including those described here.

  • Mary

    Please air this 2 hour film again… Airing it in the middle of the night is a disservice to the viewers & film makers… THIS IS A MUST SEE FOR ALL AMERICANS… Mary

  • covered

    This video is a great start. A “meltdown 101″ if you will. Yes, the Fed and derivatives should be part of the discussion, but for the average layman this is an excellent introduction to what is happening. People’s eyes glaze over when you explain the real cause. At least this video is informative to a wider audience, as evidenced by some of the comments here.

  • qwa

    One of the most extraordinary segments in this impactful documentary was an interview with Georg Soros (who once brashly cornered the pound sterling and made a big bundle off of it).

    When Naill asks Soros why he didn’t use his fortune to bail out the options speculators when their flawed investment strategy blew their paper worth away, Soros appeared to be groping for a summary explanation that had a substantial amount of truth and would play as something more meaningful than a sound byte. He drew a normal curve in the air and declared it to be a figment of misplaced faith (my words, sorry). That moment with Soros left me stunned and gratified. I don’t often see anyone on TV refer to the black swan problem, but I think Soros here suggested that the naive belief that things (even investments) all get normalized under the bell curve is why these big collapses and bailout requests keep hammering us, because we’re not shifting to models that predict the inevitability of black swans.

  • Steve B

    First let me commend Professor Ferguson and PBS for putting together and airying this fascinating documentary. I learned a great deal. I agree with many of the above who have made comments that this documentary should be seen by all (Americans & non-Americans). It may not be perfect, but we all need to start understanding (and understanding quickly!) how we got ourselves into the present financial/economic state so we can hopefully fix it (?) and prevent it (or anything like it) from occurring in the future.

    My big question, which this present documentary does not address, at present, is the following: is the process of giving TRILLION(S) of tax payers money to financial institutions and its LEADERS (?) who in some way oversaw and made the mistakes, or some of the mistakes, (knowning or unknowingly) that got us into this mess THE ANSWER? Or are we in some way being blackmailed by the same people and finanical institutions? Overall, I think the words “ACCOUNTABILITY”, “REGULATION”, and “KNOWLEDGE” are powerful words in our search for answers to our present financial/economic crisis!! This documentary certainly gets us on the road towards KNOWLEDGE!

  • Volker Hild

    Excellent documentary. A must see for anyone -not just in America. Where can I purchase the DVD?

  • Reuben Rajala

    Got up at 3:30 AM to feed the woodstove, here in “Gorberia” (20-30 below zero in recent days) and caught an hour of this program on MPBN. It’s a superb, eye-opening program that should be show in it’s entirety on all PBS channels during daytime and early evening hours. Heck, it should be shown on CSpan or other stations so that all Americans can see it and, hopefully, learn something. Given the recent melt-down and the costs in money, jobs, etc., it’s imperative.

  • Brian Grant

    Quite educational, informative and inviting. I will e-blast family and friends to make it a point to review the program. Ascent of Money will the next topic at our local barber shop.

    B.Grant
    South Central Los Angeles

  • Junior

    Excellent documentary. Well researched and well presented. I think this is Must See TV

  • Ben Claassen

    The documentary is called, “The Ascent of Money, a line borrowed from the great PBS series, “The Ascent of Man”. The explanations of current events in the show are plausible. The push by American banks to lend the glut of dollars held in Chinese savings accounts to marginal home buyers in the US was a story I never had heard. As I suspected, the fall (then bailout) of many more giant corporations in 2008, and the breakdown of financial markets, had the same bogus “balance sheet” slight-of-hand. Didn’t the ENRON guys go to jail, yet the practice continued? Where were the federal oversight, scrutiny and change once the much publicized hearing on ENRON executives were over? If news reports are true that up to $4B “off the top” from the $350B went to compensation for 100 or so (invaluable) top executives, then the oversight is more than gone. If the same accounting practices were used by these executives (as reported in the “Ascent of Money” ), why are these guys not being prosecuted?

    So would a panel of advisors on economic issues/ approaches to moderate the recession/ agree with the “facts” presented in the “Ascent of Money”?

    Is there any independent review of the theories offered in the series?

  • Rob Z. Indiana

    As I watch programs like this and read about our current financial & economic crisis, I can’t help feeling angered, frustrated and sad all at the same time. Angered because my very conservative retirement fund and home value have both lost nearly 30% total value. Frustrated because I have no legal ways to recover these losses without continuing to gamble whats left (which I wont do). And sad because my children will live in a world that is much different, having to contend with mounting debt and government interference. Why do we continue to build things and then blow them up? This is truely a sad day in many ways. I hope future generations can find a way to fix this corrupt system that takes advantage of so many and rewards the few, very rich insiders. Some day people will figure out the game is rigged, and they will remove their money and invest in things that actually help their communities.

  • Terry Burgess

    Phiip, you are right a lot about money. Of course its also good to point out like with most things we don’t have to go crawling to DC and NYC for our money. Any trusted local group or groups can do far better than the central bank and Wall street in isuing money and equities. As the show and Volker said its all a matter of trust and confidence. Our present money is backed by nothing but the trust in the federal government and thats pretty low for good reason.

  • esotericx10

    Although this is a relatively good documentary, it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t explain how the Federal Reserve is a privately held corporation, operating on a fractional reserve banking system, and how that system is predatory, and vampiric by it’s very nature.

    I think most people believe the Fed is a branch or agency of the government. This is a popularly held misconception. There are several documentaries available on google video for viewing or download that explain the history and function of the Federal Reserve in vivid detail.

    They are: The Money Master’s
    Money As Debt
    Fiat Empire
    The Monopoly Men
    America: From Freedom To Fascism

    I highly recommend these documentaries to anyone truly wanting to understand why we are in the financial mess that we are currently in.

  • KHL

    First, the sub-prime mortgage boom was unleashed during the Clinton years, utilizing the Community Reinvestment Act to browbeat lenders into making improvident loans. Every effort to reign in Fannie and Freddie was met with vehement opposition from Countrywide Chris Dodd, Barney “My Boyfriend Runs Fannie” Frank and numerous other congressmen from both sides of the aisle. The entire debacle would have been avoided had the numerous efforts of the White House been heeded and accepted.

    Nothing is going to change until the Fed is abolished and sound money becomes the rule of the day. Once politicians can no longer implement an inflation tax to buy votes that will be the end of the scam. Unfortunately the longer this is put off, the more the painful will be the transition.

  • KingofthePaupers

    Jct: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Xsk4An54bmQ has my video response explaining how Ferguson is wrong about banks lending out depositors’ savings when they in fact lend out brand new credits.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WefdeNLup3M explains how banks create this money with plumbing from the tap to the drain with pipes.

  • Citizen Pete

    This is a good production and through a Keynesian pair of glasses and Keynes perspective explains the mechanisms and symptoms of a failing fiat economy. Ferguson, like so many other Keynesian School economists, never ventures to question the underlying system of fiat controlled by privately owned banking cartels (i.e. THE FED). This system allows these current failing mechanics to exist and perpetuates booms and busts. It would be nice to see PBS spend the same time and effort on the Austrian School economist perspective — a systerm which predicted this current disaster years ago.

  • Jodie

    A very good and detailed production, but missing one of the base causes of the current crisis: The repeal of the 1933 Glass Steagall Act in 1999. This change alone set the stage for what transpired since in the United States.

  • Murph

    I own a copy of the two-hour DVD of “The Ascent of Money” as well as a hardcover copy of the book – now there will be a 4-hour version – will I have to buy that as well? Perhaps I can provide the info (or send back) the 2-hour copy (that I have let several friends watch) to get the 4-hour version. I realized that there was something off about the show when Dr. Ferguson kept referring to “this series” even though I was watching a single 2-hr presentation.

    Hopefully there will be an opportunity to convert my 2-hr DVD into a 4-hr (or full series) version, since that could provide much more valuable informatino. The “Channel 4″ site referenced by Gina above does not indicate the time of each episode – were they 30m (24m) or 60m (48m) episodes?

    I am almost done with teh “Introduction” to the book, and theer are a few similarities (where text was lifted directly form the intro) – good idea when you’ve gone to the trouble of writing something well, but I’d hate to have to pay for a third title called “The Ascent of Money”.

    In terms of the current economy – What happened to the houses? Lenders lent to unfit borrowers. Lenders then packaged mortgages into investments and sold the securitized mortgages to a variety of investment banks, who sold some and held on to some. Then ARMs (and other bad mortgage innovations) reset and borrowers defaulted. So, the investment banks are out their money (monthly slice of the mortgage) so insurance companies had to pay out on the CDSs. So, who owns the houses? From what I can tell, the original lenders now have a lot of free houses that they have no real incentive to sell again until teh market “recovers” and the houses are worth more money. Is that true, or am I missing something?

  • Bayard Waterbury

    This is fascinating, so far as it goes. Jodie points out a weakness. There is almost nothing about the vast deregulation (Glass Steagall and others) and the vast failure of regulatory oversight that goes to the root of the current crisis. It is excellent otherwise. An entire four hour movie could be devoted to the connections within what has been referred to as the Oligarchy, that is the cooperative relationship between those with great financial power (addiction to wealth) and their enablers in the polical arena who made the crash possible by a failure in ethical leadership.

  • ignatius

    I watched the last 2 episodes. Overall it is good for layman to understand what is happening but it is extremely misleading by blaming the Chinese who saved and lent money to US. I am sad for such professor producing such distorted and simplified series to mislead us. The recent crisis lie at the greedy of the bankers. And the US Government was “forced” to save them.

  • mushumbusi kappia

    am in Tanzania Africa.Howa do i access the book and dvd?

  • Peter V

    I stumbled on this channel and luckily caught this show as soon as it started. I love history and money even more! I liked your presentation so much I ordered the book and the dvd combo! I cannot wait to read/watch the rest, thank you.

  • F. Cerezo

    History is written with money and money makes it possible to create History. We would have not got here without it. I had just watched the first chapter of the PBS series at a very unusual time (1:30 AM) but had to disagree with Ms. Gina D’Agostino-Quattrociocchi –one trail that started at the top of oldest comments, not to pick on her particularly- and those that quote her claims of premeditated packaging of the series. The so called “Channel 4’s six episodes” look to me as short sketches (averaging 2 minutes long) of key points of the work. This is not to say that PBS production has not been edited, that is plausible…
    In my honest opinion, the chronology set by the first chapter starting with the Incas and the Conquistadores sets the interest (no pun intended) in a wrong footing. It seems to lay an important blame on Spanish crown (yes, there are other faults to be traced back to this crown, not the subject of this writting now) for the birth of money when in reality the concept of such predates even the monarchies of the 14th Century. In effect, the conquistadores came to this side of the Atlantic (1492 forward) long after the first gold coin were ever minted. By then the Medici had already established their bank, and was their money that partially founded -through loans to the crown of Spain- the travel of Cristobal Colon.
    The “Ascent of Money” work is a condensed look into modern History that lacks explanation of the real origin of the trade and exchange of goods predating the invention of modern banking. However condensed, it is an interested addition to the need to understand how we have come this far and why we would continue to go forward. Looking forward to watch the second episode, where I am certain Enron would be mentioned and also Memphis (the Tennessee one).

  • Mike X4

    Okay, I give up. WHEN IS EPISODE 3 AIRING?
    I’ve been thinking about EP 1 & 2 for a whole week, waiting for tonight at 9PM when EP 3 would air. My whole day I was thinking about what EP 3 might be… and NOTHING. Rerun of EP2, and no evidence that EP3 even exists.

    How about a new series The Ascent of Incompetent Broadcasting. I’m in Los Angeles, so even the inaccurate TV listings have the wrong timezone. Enough, just let me drive to the corner 7-11 and buy a DVD of all episodes of the thing the 1st day it broadcasts. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand TV anymore. WHEN IS EPISODE 3?!

  • Holly K

    A compelling series, very timely, agree with many of the comments here. But production is somewhat overdone at times, in order to appeal to 20-somethings? And starting with the exploitation of the Incan silver by the Spanish misses all of the earlier history. Maybe there would need to be an episode 5 to go back to earlier forms of money — China, Rome, trade on the Silk Road, etc. Some surprising no-shows such as how Wall Street started.
    I’d like to say directly to Niall Ferguson that I disagree with your assessment of Japan. I can tell you don’t know anything about Japan because all your shots are at the same places all foreigners flock to for their shots for documentaries that have a few minutes on Japan. You should have talked with people who know Japan well. There are economists and sociologists there, you know. (Or maybe you didn’t know.) It’s regrettable that you, like so many others, have spewed out misinformation that will be believed and perpetuated. Welfare state? I was sure you would focus on the Scandinavian countries and there wasn’t one word on any of them! Japan has problems, you got one right with the low birth rate and aging population, but a welfare state?? You are totally wrong about that.
    Nowhere in the series or in the credits that I could find was there any indication of who Ferguson is. His background. Where he has and is teaching. That information needs to be there.

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    “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance” -(President James Madison). Money, money, money, it’s always just been there, right? Wrong. Obviously it’s issued by the government to make it easy for us to exchange things. Wrong again! Truth is most people don’t realize that the issuing of money is essentially a private business, and that the privilege of issuing money has been a major bone of contention throughout history. Wars have been fought and depressions have been caused in the battle over who issues the money.
    http://www.celticsurf.net/freeworld/money/index.html THE SECRET HISTORY OF MONEY

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    This is fascinating, so far as it goes. Jodie points out a weakness. There is almost nothing about the vast deregulation (Glass Steagall and others) and the vast failure of regulatory oversight that goes to the root of the current crisis. It is excellent otherwise. An entire four hour movie could be devoted to the connections within what has been referred to as the Oligarchy, that is the cooperative relationship between those with great financial power (addiction to wealth) and their enablers in the polical arena who made the crash possible by a failure in ethical leadership.

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