9780465023264 / 0465023266

The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000


Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

The idea that money makes the world go round has become so ingrained in popular consciousness that it has almost acquired the status of eternal truth. Which is possibly by why it has escaped close examination. Until now. And as Niall Ferguson's The Cash Nexus makes clear it is one that doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. That there is a link between money and politics is unarguable. In the early 1700s, when governments discovered the black art of servicing debt through bond issues and a central bank, they unlocked the doors to warfare and empire building on a grand scale, and the ability to raise money has remained integral to domestic and international politics ever since. The question that Ferguson asks is whether the link always holds good and that, as both Marxist and right-wing historians continue to maintain, all political life is driven by economic forces. Indeed, so entrenched is the belief that governments themselves believe it. Bill Clinton's electioneering slogan, "It's the economy, stupid" has become such a given that the Labour government appear to be using it as the basis for their new campaign. And yet, as Ferguson points out, if you look at the results of recent elections, you see that the axiom carries little weight. If it had, John Major would have been re-elected in 1997 and Al Gore would have swept home in 2000. Similarly, if poor economic performance was a guarantee of electoral disaster, Margaret Thatcher would have been voted out of office in 1983. So politics--or the pursuit of power--do exist as a separate entity. Partly this may be because most people are catastrophically hopeless at assessing their economic self-interest, and partly because people are motivated by forces over and beyond money. Whatever the reason, the consequences for the way we view the world are immense, and as in The Pity of War, where Ferguson challenged some of the conventional wisdoms of the First World War, he takes a provocative pen to many of the accepted norms of the 21st century. Class war is replaced by age war, with the teens losing out; the Americans have been too timid rather than too aggressive in their global policing; and petrol tax revolts are a political inevitability. The Cash Nexus is ambitious, entertaining and thought-provoking. What it isn't is a populist history-lite easy read. Some of the ideas are just too complex to be broadbrushed; but don't give up. --John Crace

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