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Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the New World Order [Hardcover]

Philip Coggan
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Dec 2011
The world is drowning in debt, in paper promises. Can we stay afloat? In his masterful new book, Philip Coggan shows how the current financial crisis has very deep roots indeed - in the very nature of money itself. Societies from ancient Greece to revolutionary France have experimented with all kinds of money, from seashells to tobacco, before finally settling on the paper version we have come to know so well. What exactly is money? How has its function changed over decades and centuries? What purpose did the gold standard actually serve? Why, for that matter, is gold still worth anything? Who are the world's real creditors and debtors today? Above all, what promises do we need to believe to stop the whole system falling apart? We take for granted so much about the current financial system. Only by going back to the beginning - to first principles and to our history - can we comprehend where all this debt has come from, and it's very serious consequences now. In doing so, Philip Coggan examines the flawed structure of the global finance system as it exists today, and shows that the world is facing even deeper imbalances than we are yet grappling with. Where will the world go next? How will we get out of the debt crisis? The answers can only be found in surprising places from Mississippi swamps, through Chinese economic strategy, to the Wizard of Oz. The way that our paper promises are kept or broken will determine our future. Before we can solve the debt crisis, we need to understand what is going on.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (1 Dec 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846145104
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846145100
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Bold and confident ... Coggan covers the terrain with characteristic calmness and objectivity, avoids over-simplification, and laces his arguments with his trademark erudition ... The alphabet soup of acronyms, from SIVs to CDO Squareds, is blissfully lacking ... Finally, the book is free from the shrieking ideology that afflicts virtually all contemporary debates over money. Indeed, it offers a clear explanation of the fresh ideological divisions that have arisen over how to deal with the crisis ... the book should be taken very seriously (Financial Times)

This book stands way above anything written on the present economic crisis (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of 'The Black Swan')

The most illuminating account of the financial crisis to appear to date ... [written] with a lucidity that enables him to convey deep insights without a trace of jargon ... [a] thought-stirring book (John Gray New Statesman)

A remarkable book from one of the most respected economics journalists on the planet. Every page brings a fresh insight or a new surprise. A delight (Tim Harford, author of 'The Undercover Economist')

Fascinating and authoritative, with the rigour and depth to satisfy an economist and the accessibility and pace to engage the layperson ... If everyone read Coggan's book we might just be a little more circumspect if and when the next burst of irrational exuberance overtakes the economy (Management Today)

A masterful history of financial crises (Independent)

By far the best analysis of the "new normal" (David Stevenson Financial Times)

An excellent book ... a smart and witty analysis of the current economic storm, set in the context of the history of money (David Wighton The Times)

Coggan is ... an exceptional banking and economic historian (Irish Examiner)

Coggan traces 'history's tug of war between monetary shortage and excess' in this engaging and timely book about the current financial crisis.... Thoughtful and thorough (Publishers Weekly)

Intriguing (Irish Independent)

Coggan ... deserves his Best Communicator award: he moves the story along at a fast and flowing pace, combined with the ability to find the short phrase that summarizes in simple language the kernel of many complex economic ideas ... demonstrates a comprehensive awareness of the major academic debates in economics and economic history ... deserves to be one of the three books you read from the vast literature spawned by the recent crisis (John Gent LSE blog)

A very good and sensible introduction to the history of the recent economic crisis, with an emphasis on debt and also historical perspective (Tyler Cowen Blog)

Paper Promises is not only a great book, it is a great accomplishment - a brilliant work of financial history, a clear examination of the present moment, and a journalistic masterpiece all wrapped into one (800-CEO-READ)

A crisply written look at how the debt crisis may overturn the global economic order ... Like a battlefield guide, Coggan takes us on a tour of paper promises, wending from John Law's monetary experiments in France following the death of Louis XIV to Ben Bernanke's quantitative easing ... A valuable primer to anyone who still asks, as his father-in-law did, where all the money went during the meltdown of 2007 and '08 (Bloomberg)

About the Author

Philip Coggan was a Financial Times journalist for over twenty years, including spells as a Lex columnist, personal finance editor and economics correspondent, and is now the Capital Markets Editor of the Economist. In 2009 he was awarded the title of Senior Financial Journalist in the Harold Wincott awards and was voted Best Communicator at the Business Journalist of the Year Awards. Paper Promises is his fourth book.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping promises 21 Dec 2011
This book highlights, in very simple and understandable language, and with great elegance, the complexity of the world we live in. Everybody wants the best of both worlds. Governments want to please the voters through promises, and borrowing money, which they have to return back. Governments are inefficient than the markets, yet, the markets may not exist without them. We all want a comfortable life - working less and consuming more. However, life is hard. And if we try to do everything for ourself, we might end up growing potatoes in the garden, to cook it using wood chopped from the nearby forest. Trading, amongst ourselves or with other nationalities benefits us, but we always want our nations to prosper more than others. There is always a friction. Like Buddha said, we need to find a balance.

Debt is the subject of this book. Debt is a "promise to pay back", sounds simple. But modern debts are promise to pay back in promises to pay back (as fiat money is also a form of debt). This makes the economic system very complex. Money these days can be created by central banks with a click of a mouse. Creating money may cause inflation, but it may be vital to help the economy function property or to help avoid mass bankruptcies in our society. Money is the store of value as well as the medium of exchange, we need to find a balance between the two functions. The futures of debtors and creditors of the world are tied together. And debt is not only the fault of the borrowers, but also a fault of the lenders. All this has implications of the global economy. This book addresses these issues flawlessly.

To sum up, a wonderfully researched book. Acknowledges ides from all political and economic spectrum. One of the most enjoyable reads (went through the book in 18 hours, and could not put it down). I recommend it to everyone interested in issues facing the global economy.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The financial crisis in context 28 Dec 2011
By M. D. Holley TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author sets the current financial crisis in context. If you are a regular reader of the financial press you may not learn too much about the latest crisis itself. However, in my own case I had huge gaps in my understanding of everything that happened before my own time - for example the gold standard, Bretton Woods, and earlier monetary systems.

Philip Coggan starts at the very basics, with an explanation of what money is, and of various monetary systems that have been tried out in the past, from whales' teeth to gold to paper money, and also the pros and cons of each. By placing the current crisis in context, our overall understanding of what is happening in 2011 becomes clearer. He also answers many questions I had wondered about for years but had been too afraid to ask.

The author writes with an outstanding simplicity and clarity. If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of the current crisis, this would be a great place to start. And if you are familiar, you will benefit from reviewing the crisis in its context.

Highly recommended.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific book 16 Dec 2011
Not many people understand how the world got into such a financial mess. Philip Coggan is the best possible guide. He explains the world of finance with a clarity that is really quite surprising, given the complexity of the subject matter. And he tells stories that grip the reader from the start. Who knew that modern governments, with their overactive printing presses, had outdone the Roman emperors who debauched their gold coins by mixing them with cheaper metals? I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is Owed Unto 27 Jan 2012
On all British bank notes from 5 to 50 the words `I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ...' still appear. In eighteen-century Europe an experiment with paper money was begun by John Law, a Scottish mathematician and gambler, who moved to France toward the end of the reign of Louis XIV. The monarchy of France was, at this time, verging on bankruptcy and, as the successor to the King was still only an infant, the duc d'Orléans held the reins. John Law suggested to him that the creation of a bank that could issue paper money in lieu of gold and silver was the best way to get France out of debt. The Banque Générale was created and the duc d'Orléans decreed all taxes could be paid using Law's new paper money.

Unfortunately, Law held the view that `it did not matter that paper money was not backed by an equal amount of gold and silver' and it was this belief that Coggan cites as the downfall to this early experiment: `Had the scheme been kept on a modest scale, with banknotes backed by gold and silver, French economic growth might indeed have been boosted over the long run.' However, Law's experiment did not diminish the eventual power of paper money, primarily because precious metals are easy to steal, rare and cumbersome to manoeuvre.

In order to keep their gold and silver safe people began to store their valuables in safes at goldsmiths where they would receive a receipt for their deposit. This receipt was effectively an early banknote and the reason why we see the words `I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ...' on our modern day equivalents.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A in-depth view of the financial world
This simple book uses a series of simple historical cases to explain what money or currency really is, which forms the key fundamental bases of the modern financial market. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Cedric
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on background of money and today's problems
Very readable book that gives both the history of money and explains the current situation. Not a bright outlook for the future though.
Published 7 months ago by Stephen E. Stroud
5.0 out of 5 stars Brillian !
This is one of the best books I have ever read about economics. The author combines evidence with theory to let you easily grasp his point as understand current and historical... Read more
Published 9 months ago by bart
4.0 out of 5 stars very insightful
It was great to see that what we are living through now is nothing new, and even though we think we are better than previous generations, the tools around money and finance have... Read more
Published 9 months ago by JB
4.0 out of 5 stars Paper Promises - Tangible solutions not
I read this as part of my attempt to understand where the world is going. It helped that understanding. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. A Howie
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent explanation of what is going on
One of the best books on the current global financial crisis. Definitely a recommended read for anyone interested in politics and economics. Read more
Published 15 months ago by M. Van Deer Spuy
3.0 out of 5 stars It answered some questions
This book made me realize what money actually means today. It left me with more questions though. I will go back to it again in case I missed something.
Published 16 months ago by Shoe Person
5.0 out of 5 stars a 'must read'
Not the only read on the topic maybe, but certainly not to be overlooked. For the price of a few loaves of bread (that's been my new currency for a while now) it would be an... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Soledad
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable read and insightful perspectives
I got this book for christmas and having read would recommend to all interested in todays economic backdrop and climate. Read more
Published 18 months ago by johng
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Very good and written in an easy to undertstand format. One of the better "money" books out today, really enjoyed it.
Published 18 months ago by philip warrington
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