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July 27th, 2009
The Ascent of Money Episode 4: Planet Finance

In the final episode of four-part THE ASCENT OF MONEY series, Niall Ferguson chronicles the spread of good — and bad — financial practices across the globe, the meteoric rise of the American real estate market, and the consequences of the subprime mortgage fiasco.

  • Grace Kelly

    This film is half truths leading to the wrong conclusions. For example, it tells about lack of regulation in the 1984, but skips the lack of regulation contribution to the current housing crisis. It skipped over the fact that World Bank gave loans that projected a growth rate that was impossible to achieve and thus the loans could not be paid back. It skipped over the fact that one of the reasons that sub-prime loans failed was variable rates of interest. It skipped over the fact that one of the reasons that micro loans work is that it has reasonable rates and reasonable payments. And then the whole China relationship was treated in a way to antagonize people. America gave money and loans to Japan which resulted in a friendship, not a war. So the whole loan/borrower relationship can be done well or done badly. That is the real point. And this show missed that entirely. I think PBS should allow funding to put out a show to correct all the errors of this show. The Nigel smug voice is just like an advertisement, some truth but mostly lying.

  • billy ray valentine

    lighten up Grace Kelly. this was a good,informative series. my favorite was the 1st episode. thanks PBS. this is what all tv should function as-intelligence sprinkled with wit

  • jerome Parker

    A slipshod collection of cliches, superficial generalities, and benighted assertions regarding the “creation” of money. To me, this suggests a payoff to the financial corporate sponsors of PBS – nothing else could explain the near complete absence of serious economic analysis.

  • dan

    Great show. I also cant wait for all the detractor’s shows to come out! It seems there are a lot of people out there confident they can do better, to me thats the right attitude- waiting for the follow through.

  • Ernest Johnson

    Outstanding. Both historical and entertaining at the same time. Mr Ferguson had excellent researchers to be able to chronicle the world monetary problems. Thanks for opening the eyes of the world with this great documentary.

  • Micheal Turner

    Thanks for both airing this whole series and having this episode available for viewing here (I missed the first twenty minutes on my local station). Only a course in economics would be better than this series in explaining the causes and effects to many of the problems on the world, assuming that the professor is open to more than the conventional views.



    One thing about Japan – they were barred from having a military to fight any war as per armistice conditions upon surrendering to allied forces in WWII, fyi. There are also plenty of other facts that did not make the documentary – this does not make the documentary invalid.

    Jeffrey Lytle
    McKinleyville – 5th District

  • Ray Farabee

    This is an outstanding series. I particularly appreciated Episode Four about home owndership and the Texas savings and loan crash of the 1980’s. Many small, responsible S&L’s went out of business because of the fraud and abuse of a few. This is important history and economics, since history has a way of repeating itself, as we have recently witnessed. Thanks for the excellent programming we get through KLRU and PBS. Ray Farabee, Austin, TX.

  • guido

    Wonderful series. I agree with all the comments, which seems contradictory, but economics is as complex a subject as can be because it is a straight reflection of the human condition. I recommend reading John Perkins expose ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ as well as ‘Freakonomics’ and Richard Maybury’s Uncle Edward series, all contradict each other, but you gain a lot of perspective, just as in this series. Thanks PBS & WNET, you are always awesome.

  • Michael Kirkland

    Why are you blocking Canadians? We contribute to PBS too, you know.

    But not anymore.

  • Jose

    This is an excellent mini-series that gives a great overview and historical account from the view of finance. Of course it isn’t the only lens to view the world, but many have ignored this important facet of world history. Some of the negative reviews just seem to come from whiners who are upset that their point of view isn’t represented. Sure there are many “nodes” that led to the collapse, but to gain the broad understanding you really have to focus on the main crossroads in the network of this phenominal collapse… and also, thanks PBS for making it available online…

  • Raj Khemai

    The facts are interesting and informative. It provides the historical backdrop that helps me understand our current economic fiasco. I recommend it for all and thanks to PBS for airing a facinating history lesson on money.

  • JHLundin

    Why does it surprise me that events in the context of history make much more sense?!…

    PS Grace Kelly… Provide some scholarly evidence (books, papers, lectures, reviews) to support your sniping and I would be happy to consider that perspective. Just critiquing content does not constitute a valid argument or perspective.

  • AAG

    Grace Kelly is obviously another pissed off republican, who somehow pressed the wrong button on her remote… he/she was expecting real ‘right wing subjective news’ aka FOX but got objective Public Service instead. The objective truth can be hard on your ego when it makes you realize all you’ve ever seen/heard from FOX IS A LIE.
    Eg. OBAMA IS NOT A MARTIAN… he’s born in the USA
    Terrorist knuckle handshake ect ect.
    I could go on and on.
    Thanks to PBS for being the only station with actual objective news/brainfood
    Keep up the good work

  • vandalfan

    This intersting show suggested that fear of poverty provides the incentive to be fincially creative and successful, and that a “welfare state” fails because there is no such incentive. If that were true, shouldn’t the US be filled with millionaires who are black and brown? Certainly our US minorities are most endangered by our lack of retirement and disability equity, and therefore have the most incentive to be “successful”. I am hopeful that this Freidman- Chicago theory will be properly debunked in further installments.

  • iolanik

    Grace Kelly is correct but another MAJOR point left out of this lame attempt at a dcoumentary is the concept of fractional banking and the banking cartel/Illuminati creation of the FEDERAL RESERVE> For a TRUE Explanation of the money system in the U.S. and its effects across the world watch Money,Banking and the Federal Reserve

  • harry chapin

    AAG and Grace Kelly – please both spare me your vain blathering agendas (whether you are right left or center) as neither of you have anything objective to say beyond the typical debate hijacking loud mouth egos at both ends of the polar spectrum….. I love PBS and their work for the past 35 years and the ‘ascent of money’ is a very well done great and informative objective expose – BRAVO Niall Ferguson, WNET and PBS!!

  • Mark B.

    In response to Ms. Kelly: first, while the 1980’s S.&L. scandal did result in a flurry of prosecutions and denouncements, little in the way of effective re-regulation came out of it (just as the case appears to be today), thus leaving the door open for our current mess (and history repeats). Secondly, saying that variable interest rates are at the root of the sub-prime crises is like claiming that a person with lung cancer died from ineffectual therapy. While the onerous usury obviously hurt them, the fact remains that these people were poor credit risks in the first place. Lastly, in the example of Japan, the U.S. was already a major creditor of that nation before the war (we were a primary source of raw materials and energy resources to Japan, a large part of what lead to their declaration of war was when we cut them off), and afterward they were a defeated nation with no choice but to accept our terms, no matter how greedy or generous. I would also like to say to Mr. Parker that far from being some sort of homage to the corporate world, this series appeared to more aptly show the pitfalls of greed and mismanagement of funds, with portentous results. The most pertinent business examples illustrated in the series are all either defunct, floundering, or viewed with a great deal of intimation. Hardly what most would think of as endearing. Overall, the series did an excellent job of explaining some of the basic vagaries and principals of the financial systems. Could it have gone further into depth? Definitely, but perhaps Mr. Ferguson’s budget only allowed for a four part series.

  • Jayne Matt

    I am alarmed by Ferguson’s recent comments published in the Financial Times: “President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US as he takes a well-earned summer break after just over six months in the world’s biggest and toughest job.” Racist?

  • Jack goldman

    A 1964 US silver quarter bought a gallon of gasoline in 1964. A 1964 US silver quarter buys a gallon of gasoline in 2009. That’s all we need to know.

  • KIT

    By the way Ms. Kelly-it wasn’t de-regulation but (intervention into the Market) Govt. regulation that set this current crisis up. The Fed exists to regulate Money and thus markets. Money is the water the economy swims in. Easy money=incentives to invest. It’s not going to be stored under the pillow. Fannie and Friedie were govt. created at their origin. The purpose, to make home ownership easier by having the govt. underwrite the loans like Big Daddy writes a check for Junior and covers any deficit. Then the Democrates and Republicans get votes by passing out these favors to voters. Then it gets so bad that pizza delivery boys get loans backed by government for the mortgage. Then the bubble created by govt bursts cuz its a flip- your -house Ponzi scheme. But Representative Barny Frank, and yes ,Obama, and NY Sen Schumer, and others got political contributions from Fannie and Freddie specifically and thus won’t do a thingto check the bubble. Even Bush wanted to pump up the “own your own house without savings dream And these guys are in charge of cleaning up the mess now??
    This isn’t laissez faire -Govt.- leave- it -alone -capitalism ;its crony capitalism. Printing money to create wealth is a modern alchemy. Question what you believe Grace Kelly?

  • Rich

    The Ascent of Money is incredibly weak and would be a better fit on Fox News than it is on PBS. Ferguson plays fast and loose with the facts and is shaky on the economics. It is a series full of propaganda and misinformation.

    Krugman on Ferguson: “When it comes to economics, however, he hasn’t bothered to understand the basics, relying on snide comments and surface cleverness to convey the impression of wisdom. It’s all style, no comprehension of substance.”

    “I think he’s a poseur.”

  • Mark Stouffer

    Absolutely fantastic program. In the US we get almost zero financial math in public schools and look at the result. I can calculate a ballistic trajectory but can’t balance my check book.

    This program flips the script by not just giving us a readers digest of economic history but also by introducing the concept that all historic conflicts have just been the most drastic out-lash of underlying economic turmoil.

    Certainly you could say that it was after the Medici and Rothschild families spawned the wealth management industry and liberated wealth that we have seen the vast bulk of products around us invented and therefore our ability to buy them. Why did it takes so long to liberate markets? Why did we languish so long.

  • Johnno

    Hey AAG, Grace Kelly sounds like she’s for regulation and against current world bank policy. How does that make her Republican? Obama is for more regulation as well remember? Did you not know that? Did you just buy into hype when choosing your candidate without understanding that you’re against his policies? That is what your rant implies. You just went crazy over someone who could be on your side, if you even know what side that is. It’s scary that you have voted or one day will. I mean, come on, “Eg. OBAMA IS NOT A MARTIAN… he’s born in the USA”? Where did that come from? I’m not saying I’m for or against any policy here but your post was something else. Ignorant and too extreme. I’m sure you don’t like my post but that’s bc “The objective truth can be hard on your ego.”

    Another job well done by PBS. I wish there was more to the series but for the time allotted it was very informative. It promotes interest on the subjects discussed and I know I’ll be reading up on them for many nights to come. Thanks again PBS.

  • Mariana

    As an 18 year old history enthusiast, I have to say I am quite ashamed and surprised. Not at this series, but at the commenters!

    Are you guys kidding me? Most of you must be more than twice my age and you’re prattling on and on about left-out facts and apparent bias. “Wah wah wah, what a stupid idiot Ferguson is” Big crybabies, the lot of you!

    Let me give you a news flash, every historical account, you will ever hear, read, or watch IS BIASED. Get used to the idea that not everyone views history in the same way. No historical account is complete and entire. For all of you so vehemently pitted against this documentary, this is just another side of the coin that hasn’t been presented to you yet. That doesn’t mean its wrong. That doesn’t mean that its a poor account. Its just another one of the many. The smart thing to do is accept it gracefully as a new facet of your mental library- not stick to your political guns and vilify Ferguson and his work. Yes, he presents his information in a way that backs his point. That is what every historian does.

    I’d like to say that this was brilliantly done, visually pleasing, and informative for someone like me- I certainly don’t know everything, but this documentary gave me some very good points of interest that I plan to further research.

  • mann good road

    one word… GREED and the modern american has become lazy!!!! grow food, save water resources,
    forget about european cars, back to basics..
    3 meals a day and education for our children…

  • docwazzup

    Good program….this brings ideas to one’s mind…it surely cannot be as comprehensive as a course or a degree in economics to study in detail every concept and every theory.

  • forumobc

    I love all of the ridiculous commentators on this site. Your basic argument is “This show does not conform with my biased, preconceived beliefs, therefore it is completely wrong and Ferguson is an idiot.”
    You are all absolutely pathetic! If you think you can do a better job why not make your own series or at least post comments with data to support your rants?

  • Leslie

    My friend, Frank Terrugi, an American student was murdered by the Chilean junta without so much as a trial but you think its o.k. because someone made a buck. My support for kqed has ended.

  • Sumsum

    I am a university professor of Global Studies & Globalization and I was excited to see that KQED had put out this series. However, my excitement waned and my disappointment grew as I continued my viewing beyond the first episode.

    While I found the first two episodes in this 4-part series interesting and informative, I was appalled and dismayed at the level of gross generalizations and the author’s bias. First, in the 3rd episode, he uses capitalism (a type of economic system) interchangeably with democracy (a political system of government). While there is clearly a link between economics and politics, democracy and capitalism are not equivalent systems and should not be treated as such. This slip up leads to sloppy thinking and analysis. Additionally,he does a poor job of connecting the economic causes of WWI and WWII. This linkage alone needs and deserves further elaboration.

    Second, in the 4th episode, he passively mentions the IMF & World Bank, but fails to address GATT (later to become the World Trade Organization) and its revolutionary influence on global trade and finance. The Seattle revolt at the WTO meeting is significant as many local and international organizations have been critical of the power the WTO holds over democratically elected governments. The WTO is an essential component of any historical development of money, finance,trade, and economic globalization. The fact that he skips this is bewildering.
    Again, in the 4th episode, he quickly mentions the new global economic order established in 1944 after WWII, but completely skips over the demise of the Bretton-Woods global system of exchange which lead to the US government (under Nixon) to float the US dollar in the early 1970’s. Our current system of tightly interconnected economic AND cultural globalization have proceeded rapidly during the last 30-40 years, directly linked to the end of the Bretton-Woods system. He seriously compromises his credibility as both a historian and economist in this failure to address such a critical change in Twentieth Century economics. Yes, I do recognize that you can’t do everything you may wish to do in a 4 hour film series, however, this oversight is extremely negligent and highly problematic.

    Finally, his discussion in the 3rd episode on cotton plantations, the US Civil War, and slavery is so littered with holes. He talks about money and finance as having indirect influence on the outcome of the US Civil War, but fails to address or even mention how the accumulation of wealth, expanding finance, trade and profit were made possible by and predicated upon the sale and enslavement of human beings. In addition, the desire for wealth and profit motivated colonialism and imperial expansion across the globe, and directly lead to the atrocities that went along with subjugating half of the world’s population. Here I refer to the largest genocide known in human history–the genocide of Native Americans. Remember, most nations of the world (Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas) were colonial entities held by the empires of Europe. Interestingly, Ferguson does mention some of the racialized systems of mortgages practiced in the US during the 1950s & 1960s—all of a sudden, race becomes a factor worth mentioning in its link to wealth and finance, but quickly forgotten. This linkage is not new. Just as quickly as he mentions race, it completely drops from his discussion.

    I think Grace Kelley’s statements already mentioned in a previous comment (#1) are excellent and right on point. Her critiques reveal the flaws in Ferguson’s assessment of the current crisis of our globalized capitalist economic system and its institutions. At the end of the final 4th episode, I am left feeling like there is a 5th episode missing, where he intended to tighten up the loose ends in his argument. Remember, he aims to use economic history to explain the current crisis. If explaining the current economic situation is his objective, then the 4th episode is an abysmal failure.

    Yes, we all need to learn economics, but we also need to be clear about which economics, whose economics, and economics in whose interests. This becomes the central issue that remains unaddressed by Ferguson. In fact, he assumes that capitalist economic institutions operate in the best interests of all members of a society. Thus, what is good for capitalists and investors is good for the working poor. How this works effectively given that the motive for capitalists and corporations is profit seems a real contradiction. Thus, he operates under a false assumption. It is important to remind ourselves that the “economy” and the “market” are human creations (not found in natural evolution), and thus, the system is made to serve and benefit the interests of those individuals and groups who can assert the greatest influence on such systems. The irrational flaws in his assumption and his failure to draw upon any “moral” value (except the value of profit at any cost) in the relationship between human beings is most troubling. Leslie’s statement (comment #29) draws upon the true meaning of the economy which is how we choose to value our relationships with one another. Does value rest in material profit gained from the relationship, at the expense of the human life that is lost in the interaction? At its bases, any economic system is about the relationship between human beings that sets the rules of how we interact with each other on all social levels including the economy.

    I do agree with one of Ferguson’s early assumptions, which is that the history of human civilizations and the history of money are tightly interwoven, which he highlights in episodes 1 & 2. Major gaping holes and problematic assumptions taint episodes 3 & 4, which is a blow to our critical thinking and a great disappointment. I am genuinely saddened by the limitations of Ferguson’s argument.

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