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July 8th, 2009
The Ascent of Money Episode 1: From Bullion to Bubbles

In the first episode of the four-hour series THE ASCENT OF MONEY, economist and historian Niall Ferguson documents the roots of money and finance in the conquest of the Americas, from the Incan empire to the Louisiana territory.

  • Donald Barnes

    Excellent presentation.

    It seems that financial history is an important part of history that was missing from my West Civilization course in college.

    I recommend reading the book, as well, in order to fix these ideas in your mind.

  • nigel

    As Jim Rogers once quoted (I think) to a student, “If you want to do well in finance, forget economics or business, concentrate on your history instead.” I completely agree with his suggestion. For a means of anticipating the future, the past is as good a guide as any other. regards, Nigel

  • Austrian School

    This is a very good presentation.

    However for money to achieve full trust by all market actors, it must be free from the threat of debasement. In this regard, I disagree with Mr. Ferguson that a medium of exchange can be paper (fiat money). I have come to understand that only hard money such as gold and silver can meet the requirements of commercial trust and ultimately economic freedom itself.

  • Fredrik

    Thank you PBS for making this excellent series available online. True high quality programming.

  • David W

    the problem with gold and silver is that people will not agree what its worth. which defeats it purpose as exchange, when folks can’t even agree how to measure it. lots of ancient times were full of fraud based on how much was really exchanged. and today gold won’t buy much. as most people will not accept as currency

  • Ruth

    It’s about time people knew the basics of our economy, and this program will give them a good grounding in how money works and sometimes, doesn’t.

  • Preston

    This Ferguson guy is a real scatter-brain. What’s this guy’s point?! Talk about the price of tea in China! He makes absolutely no sense at all, and I suspect is lying at least half the time. Who’s funding this idiot?

  • dan considine

    an overdue education for this academic,,,,but many places where explanations and connections were too fast. i require lots of footnotes and additional …filling in of the dots

  • John Johnson

    This presentation was a bunch of crap. You need to educate yourself on the facts before making statements such as the ones you made about Deregulation of Banks by Bush. The truth is had you look at the Clinton speeches 6 months before he left office you would have heard him push for deregulation so the poor could buy property. He also pushed for no regulations of Default Swaps and no regulation of Collateralized Debt Obligations(you call them derivatives). Bush tried to get congress and the senate to keep regulations in place but Clinton had already done the deal before he took office.

    You just don’t produce a series that tells the truth. Had you understood that the DNC pushes to support welfare and GOP does not. So the principles you used were backwards.

    I could go into issues about the English trying to do a history lesson on the US and the major misconception you have about America. Some include the 1940’s housing market. That was a reward given to the military for stopping the Germans from kicking you a…Along with the chicken move your military made when the Iranian’s captured 7 soldier’s in Iranian waters.

    I don’t know if you have had any schooling but one would think that would be a requirement before tacking on the story of the money market.

    John

  • Pittsburgh Banker

    I’ve been in the financial services industry for nearly two decades, and spend a number of years working back-end portfolio (collections). If every loan applicant, underwriter, originator and bank executive were required to view this series, there would likely be not so great a need for bill collectors.

  • Geoff

    PBS should stream everything and charge for it rather than have a stupid “Buy the DVD” commercial at the end of every show. I’d pay $50/year for that.

  • Bob Bushnell

    Mr. Ferguson makes excellent sense. Starting with the Medicis, and before the Industrial Revolution, money begets money, regardless of who’s in power.

    George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    PBS is to be congratulated for supporting this, as well as Thirteen/WNET.

  • Joe

    As a high school teacher I must say that this is a must see for my seniors. Ferguson weaves world/European history with economic building blocks in a presentation reminescent of the great James Burke series “Connections” of the late 1970s. Thank you PBS for making this available for teachers like me and students like mine.

  • John L

    This is different from the original release which can be seen on google videos. That version takes a much closer look at how this all relates to the U.S. and our present economic situation. The PBS version is much less accusatory. That could be due to the fact that the PBS version is underwritten by some very large companies that benefit from from usury fees.

  • Hana Ginzbarg

    The ascent of Money is a great program. The only problems is that it had a buffering problem and and was continuously stopping. I paused to let it download and then it worked better, but I could not advance the tape to select a section that I wanted to play. Please let me know how to do that. Is there a transcript of the show on the web?

  • Brett

    Absolutely horrible. I tuned in for a scholarly treatise on the evolution of money and how various financial instruments came into being, but instead got treated to the self-centered and psychotic vision of Mr. Ferguson. I do not watch CNN anymore because of the narcissistic likes such as Rick Sanchez and Cooper Anderson [sic]. Please, PBS. Do not ever again pay for rubbish such as this.

  • Davu-san

    Is it only a slight exaggeration to argue that the modern financial system was invented by a bunch of crooks, e.g., the Medici and John Law?

  • Leslie

    I watched about 15min into the program and realized that I wasn’t
    going to get anything informative from this show.

    A much better presentation is Money As Debt, Paul Grignon’s 47-minute animated presentation. You can watch it here .
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVkFb26u9g8

  • Preston

    Leslie, thank you for that link. That is an ‘interest’ing perspective that makes sense and has potential. .. Now I have to watch it again, to sort out and absorb further. A big thank you, Leslie.

  • dr_watsup

    I think this is an excellent series. While this isn’t like exactly the series, connections, it has similarities. I like how the program shows how historical points in time can be seen in our current financial system(s).

  • Joe Schottland

    I find some of the avove comments interesting. I do not believe the point of this series is a scholarly treatise on the evolution of money but a primer on how some aspects of modern economics developed and how this development is intertwined with history. As for the “Money as Debt” presentation, high school seniors are a bit too spohisticated for a poorly animated cartoon covering nuts and bolts. Fergueson presents a financial history that is a good set up for the students watching “Commanding Heights” which covers economic systems of the 20th century. As a teacher you can always point out the biases which are present in all educational material to some degree.

  • A.C.Fellows

    In this episodic and highly personal presentation the busy visuals are so distracting it is hard to concentrate on the points made by the narrator.

  • Batman

    I really do not think it is a good practice to speak too much foriegn languange in this program. The pronunciation itself does not offer additional information other than the impression that the host is trying to show himself.

  • Ron Wandell

    I found the show to be pretty good. Being PBS it is of course too Keynesian and not enough Austrian in the economics. At the point where he says they set up a central bank to protect people for “dodgy” coins caused me to roll my eyes. There should never be any central banks. No one should be able to print money out of thin air. That fuels the booms and the busts. I would recommend Thomas E Woods book, “Meltdown” http://www.thomasewoods.com

  • Kolya

    I cannot stream the video – it says “The selected item is not currently available”. Perhaps PBS should just use youtube – it would be more reliable. Or better yet use bittorrent.

  • Jason Shornak

    Umm, i have a question. I like this video, and i want to download it so i can show it to other people, young people that in the future may become entrepreneurs like me, and Become MultiMillionaires

  • Chris

    I cannot stream the video either, it just tells me, as above, “The selected item is not currently available.” Is this one of those sites that blocks Canadian viewers? And, if it is, why doesn’t it say rather than “not currently available,” “not available in your location,” as other networks do? It’s frustrating, we get all of these major networks in Canada, watch them and their advertising, then they say we can go to the internet and watch them, but are blocked. When will these networks realize Canada is basically the same market as the United States, not some utterly disconnected foreign market. Probably about 90% of the things that are advertised in America and on American networks are the same products and services available to us, but there’s still some sort of issue with adding Canadians to your online viewership statistics?

  • Justin

    Never in my life have I seen such a high quality “documentary” on any topic in general and on finance in particular. Incredible job guys, maybe there is hope for television after all.

  • Dave

    Great program!!! I am hearing impaired and wish the PBS online streaming videos supported closed captions. Useless to me otherwise. I would think captions would be useful for the non-hearing impaired also in many viewing situations.

  • Mark

    “The selected item is not currently available” is what I’ve been getting too.

    I guess any further pledges or donations will not be currently available either ……

  • Judith maxwell

    This Series is well worth repeating. Please provide sufficient notice and lead time so that all our friends can be alerted

  • Roy G. Biv

    Episode 1 covered the birth of the bank, credit, bonds, and the stock market in the ascent of money. A brilliant historical analysis, with great verve, dynamism, and clear thinking. His insight that trust is the key to the development of money is central to the presentation. (The credit card and other even more modern forms like microcredits and beyond are further developments in trust.) I look forward to viewing the other three episodes.

  • Lisa

    Episode 1 would be really excellent as an historical introduction to money for middle school grades — unfortunately, I am wary of using it because Ferguson uses the word “damn” in his narration. A relatively small thing, but, unfortunately, one I have to avoid as an educator that needs to be conscious of my parents’ sensitivity levels — what a shame!

  • Karenaa

    uhmmm this is confusing make smaller words and shorter sentences!!!

  • Robert

    I just watched episode 1 and really enjoyed it. It´s almost too much info for such a short period for those of us that don´t know the history and not enough info to satisfy those who know more. So, I understand the criticisms and will, as always, do further research on my own. That said, I believe this program is great. He has to make it entertaining and educational for a wide audience within a strict time frame. I would have to take his classes at Harvard to get it all. I wish we didn´t have to make the comments political and just use the information and supplement it on our own. Thanks to PBS.

  • Lindan

    Has anyone noticed — the Production Editor, the Coordinating Editor, the Executives in Charge, among others — that this episode of The Ascent of Money, “From Bullion to Bubbles,” contains voice-over visual cues and edits all the way through? The voice is male and American, not Ferguson’s voice, and they tell us what Ferguson is doing or seeing every minute or two. “In an archives, Ferguson flips through pages of a yellowed ledger.” Sure enough, we see Ferguson flipping through the pages of a yellowed ledger. “Ferguson gazes at city buildings.” There we see Ferguson gazing.
    “In an archives, Ferguson studies a book.” There’s Ferguson, there’s the book. “Ferguson strolls along a Parisian street.” Cue Ferguson and the Parisian street. This intrusive American voice telling me what I was seeing on the screen disrupted the flow of Ferguson’s narrative, and, for me at least, ruined the entire episode.

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  • Michael Hasenstein

    Instead of the video I only get a voice “this content is currently unavailable”???

  • Bill Archibald

    Hi
    I am currently teaching a Business College course in Financial Institutions and Risk Management. Your series The Ascent of Money would be a perfect discussion assignment for my students. I have purchased the book and the DVD and would like to assign to the students to go to your website to watch each video over a 4 week period and then discuss in class.
    I cannot access the videos. I get a recording that says “This material is currently not available.” Can you please tell me whether it will be available and if so when? Please let me know.
    Thank you.
    Bill Archibald
    Instructor, Faculty of Business
    Douglas College
    New Westminster, BC

  • Ascent of Money webmaster

    Mr. Archibald, unfortunately due to rights restrictions, we cannot stream the video online in Canada — online viewership is restricted to the United States only.

  • Steve Marshall

    “Content is unavailable..”- that’s useful. A must read on the subject is this free book “The creature from Jekyll Island” by G.Edward Griffin,here: http://www.spielbauer.com/JekyllDownload.htm

  • galois

    About inflation of XVI century Mr. Ferguson says that Spanish didn’t understand the value of money when the School of Salamana was a pioneering contributor of the monetary theory.
    http://mises.org/books/salamanca_grice-hutchinson.pdf

    The documentary is entertaining but the author is too self-centred.

  • elisheba

    I was surprised by the errors. It was not mentioned that money-lending was the ONLY profession allowed to the Jews. Regarding the book of Deuteronomy allowing interest to foreigners…Jews were the only monotheists at the time of the writing of Deuteronomy – everyone else was an idolater – there were no Christians yet.

  • elisheba

    You need alot more than music and a clear speaking voice. You need complete research. I was surprised by the errors. It was not mentioned that money-lending was the ONLY profession allowed to the Jews. Regarding the book of Deuteronomy allowing interest to foreigners…Jews were the only monotheists at the time of the writing of Deuteronomy – everyone else was an idolater – there were no Christians yet.

  • elisheba

    You need complete research. I was surprised by the errors. It was not mentioned that money-lending was the ONLY profession allowed to the Jews. Regarding the book of Deuteronomy allowing interest to foreigners…Jews were the only monotheists at the time of the writing of Deuteronomy – everyone else was an idolater – there were no Christians yet.

  • China west

    I agree with Brett, Leslie, Preston and Batman…He jumps all over the place and kind of goes on tangents…I am the worst at this…but i am not making a film about it…given the person who e-mailed this to me I suspected a much more informative “treatise” on the subject and can only hope the next three will be more along the lines of that you`tube video done about the Rothschild s.

    My only critique of construction here is that if your gonna make a documentary about a fiat system which was perpetuated on a seemingly large scale you simply MUST make a direct connection to lucifer to keep things interesting. “Obfuscation” is the name of the game and it’s possible this fellow did not do well at book reports…{ I feel for him in this case as I myself do jump around in an unintentional non-communicative manner} OR…there isn’t much of a point to be made…It’s not like he is trying to say that this fellow Jean Laws created the idea of Bank shares and Bonds…or is it…if so…that leaves about 35 minutes of air time to fill with something more interesting.

    How about… just HOW did Mayer Rothschild get any king or queen { whose picture is ON the money…} to not only ALLOW them to create fiat money…{NOT IN THEIR INTEREST ~ as in…why didn’t monarchs do this themselves!!!} but later on charge an interest to their subjects !!!

    This fact {???} to me is a very conspicuous incongruity to the great big picture of economics.

    Can anyone answer me that ? !!!

    Thanks much…China West ~ New here.

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  • denny mayer

    seems good

  • Pete

    The concept that is hard to understand in a capitalistic society is everything fluctuates in value, but at the same time
    everything has an intrinsic value at any point in time. Identifying this value is difficult, Warren Buffet may be the best at evaluating value at a specific point in time. Thats what I get from the program.

  • The Seeker

    Whatever said and done, the documentary does put together a lot of facts which have shaped our modern financial system. While errors abound (as pointed by my fellow viewers), we certainly cannot discount the fact that the series makes the world of finance accessible for beginners like me. Moreover, the historical backdrop which he provides on each occasion just makes it so much easier to logically comprehend each of the concepts! I’m pleased to comment Mr. Ferguson for his work.

  • Reader

    Lindan,
    This is kind of late, but did you watch this episode on television? There is a setting where for the visually impaired the TV describes what all is going on in the current picture. If you saw this here, I don’t know what the problem is but try to see if the same setting is turned on when you play the video.

  • chandra

    hi i need the written story of ‘The ascent of money documentary’.pls send it to my mail.my mail id is chandumca.2009@gmail.com

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  • Daniel Martínez

    When trying to play the movie you can only listen “this content is unavailable”; when it is going to be available again? Best regards

  • Philip OJETOLA

    With The Ascent of Money history is taken beyond the archive stuff and given a life that makes the discipline relevant even in the analysis of monetary issues….a must read for the WALL STREET GUYS and indeed all of us.

  • http://jonathancavell.com/wordpress/book-review/2010/08/book-review-the-ascent-of-money The Blog of Burgher Jon » Book Review: The Ascent of Money

    [...] couple of weeks it takes to read this book, may I suggest the PBS documentary of the same title (all 4 one hour episodes are online).  It’s hosted by the author himself and, though I haven’t seen it, seems to have [...]

  • Teerex

    As much as I appreciate PBS’s exposure of the single most important subject of our time, this show is so full of propaganda. It has obviously been through an approval process that left it nearly worthless for those interested in the truth. Skip this and go to this,

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-515319560256183936#

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    [...] No que toca a esta sessão, venho recomendar a audição da primeira parte do programa sobre A Ascensão do Dinheiro do Professor Niall FERGUSON (Harvard) que foi produzido pela estação pública de televisão [...]

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    [...] The Ascent of Money Episode 1 From Bullion to Bubbles The Ascent of Money PBS [...]

  • Linguiniman

    This is without a doubt the best documentary ever made. Everyone should watch it. It’s too bad that school systems in the USA don’t teach their students the truth about our history, and the history of the world. It’s almost as if someone wanted to keep all of this secret. Thank you, PBS, for awakening some of us.

  • Candice

    How come this is no longer available online?? PBS: MAKE IT AVAILABLE AGAIN, PLEASE!

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  • Billy V

    I like how some people were like, “I don;t like the history, so this is bad.” You’re entitled to your own opinion, but come on, your own facts?

    Please…how many of these people have backgrounds in History or Economics? If you don’t know the facts, they might be uncomfortable.

  • Jim

    This is a fascinating take on money in the MODERN world, rather than a scholarly look at its history. Metals were money for Western civilization, because they were important building blocks of life. Gold, silver, and bronze had important medicinal, industrial AS WELL AS aesthetic properties. The Inca did not encounter enemies against whom bronze weapons would have been useful, for example. They did not discover how useful bronze fittings could be to hold things together. They had not discovered the antiseptic properties of silver. HOWEVER, these metals were relatively light, hard, and universally useful in Eurasian history since the first to second millennia BCE.

    Ferguson’s sweep of history tends to overlook facts such as these and lean on explaining current crises in terms of modern developments. It still is an interesting look at modern economics, if you know that is what you are viewing. Unfortunately, its pastiche of late Medieval finance is riddled with problems and any statements before the Renaissance are unreliable. Basically, it becomes reliable from about episode 2, where his scholarly expertise lies.

  • erick

    this show is urber gay!!!

  • Max

    In Episode 1, Mr. Ferguson’s statement that Jews were placed into ghettos in Europe because they were money lenders is completely historically inaccurate and conceivably Antisemitic. Jews were located in ghettos primarily because they were perceived as “different” and an ideological threat (on religious grounds) to the church power structure in Europe, which was the dominant political force in Europe from the 5th century to the 18th century (see Wikipedia’s “Time-line of Antisemitism” for more information). Furthermore, his frequent reference to Shylock (above and beyond what was necessary to make his point), and the use of that character as symbolic of the Jewish money lenders of Europe, was offensive and did nothing to clarify the topic of discussion aside from providing a well-known stereotype for the audience to focus upon. He also mentioned that Jews could not lend to other Jews, while at the same time avoiding a detailed discussion (which would have provided more appropriate historical contextualization) about how Jews were prevented from engaging in most other pursuits that could lead to financial gain due to formal and informal Antisemitic policies in Europe. I cannot say whether Mr. Ferguson is an outright Antisemite, but these aforementioned issues makes it appear that way.

  • Margarita corea

    the ascent of money is a great financial history since the people didn’t have tecnology advantage, It is wonderful what financial evolution has created. The ascent of money has been one of the driving forces behing human progress. Among the places Ferguson visits are Bolivia, where SPain estabilished vast gold and silver mines.

  • more education please

    Excellent episode with many revelations. More like this please. America needs this sort of education even if it’s sort of dumbed down but better than other programs.

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  • Amici

    Would be Canadian viewers should either look for another site to view this program or download a program that will give them a US IP address allowing them to watch this and alot of other websites that they cannot access from canada.

    To clarify, it’s not that PBS wants to block the program it’s the CRTC rights holder that has exclusive rights to broadcast programs in Canada…even if they don’t use the rights .

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  • JD

    I think it’s funny that someone said that money must be free of debasement, and use silver and gold as a means of ending that. Niall pointed out that digging more of it out of the ground debased the value of silver that it ended Spain’s empire. Using one material resource to define the value of all other resources doesn’t make sense in my opinion.

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  • Jason Wilson

    I think that this is an excellent documentary. Very educational particulalry for the man in the street. No one else has bothered to educate the general public as to where the worlds wealth has vanished and how it all came about.

    I am amazed by someof the remarks that are being sent through. Who cares if it was Bush or Clinton who pushed for deregulation, the fact remains that it happended, it could have been stopped by Bush, as President.Who cares if the name Shylock is menartioned more than once. This is about the financial crisis, the History of global economics, and not about indivudual egos,political opinions, and bias towards religious or ethnic groups.

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