Disappearing Brokerage Commissions

           Few dates are as important in the history of the American stock market, at least for ordinary retail investors, as May 1, 1975. “May Day” brought about the abolition of fixed commissions, the high charges for trading in ordinary stocks and mutual funds defended by the keeper of the kingdom, the New York Stock Exchange.

The Disaster that Made Reinsurance

           Favorable laws and institutions along with innovative practices helped put Britain at the forefront of the world insurance business for centuries. However, when it came to reinsurance, the British were sitting on the sidelines while the industry was thriving in Germany. As with many other historic changes in insurance, the birth of reinsurance resulted from

John Law, the Outlaw Banker

           At the start of the 18th century, a stock market boom was underway in several European countries simultaneously. Today, this episode is best remembered for the spectacular boom and bust of the South Sea Company in Britain. However, it was just one of the companies involved in a larger mania. In France, a bubble in

Quebec’s Card Money

           Though invented in China a millennia ago, paper money was viewed with suspicion for centuries thereafter. With its issuance potentially unlimited, how could its value be maintained? The question was grappled with in colonial Quebec, which resorted to using paper money made from ordinary playing cards in order to make up for a chronic shortage

Commercial Paper Crisis of 1763

           For as long as money can be borrowed short-term at a rate cheaper than it can be borrowed for longer, banks and borrowers will be incentivized to keep the duration of their liabilities short. While this is economically favorable in the short-run, it carries meaningful risks. Such a maturity mismatch has been the source of

England’s 15th Century Depression

           In the mid-15th century, the economy of late-medieval England took a turn for the worse. The result was decades of economic stagnation and a reversal of a paradigm that dated to the end of the Great Plague of the 1340s. To speak of economic recessions or depressions in a pre-modern period, especially those whose root

The Soviet Union’s Global Bank

           Despite the confrontation between the West and East during the Cold War, there was plenty of peaceful economic interaction between the two sides. During the roughly 75-year existence of the Soviet Union, it interacted across numerous different fronts with the capitalist world. One of the most notable of these channels was trade. Many banks financed

WWI’s Emergency Money

           Back when the value of currencies was still linked to the precious metals, and their issuance therefore curtailed, many resented the scarcity of money as the cause of their economic ills. Of course, a deficiency of money makes credit similarly scarce and can slow economic growth even when any stimulus at all would be welcomed.

Paying the Hoplites

           Many industrial and technological advances owe their existence to war and the same is true for financial innovation. In late-17th century England, a financial revolution was triggered in part due to a large European war then underway. The need to fund wars sparked financial ingenuity in more ancient times too. The city-states of classical Greece

Khedives, Canals, Cotton, and Credit

           In the 19th century, control over Egypt fell into the hands of rulers bearing grand ambitions for their country. However, ambitions are expensive and debts mounted as money was poured into new infrastructure projects, most notably the Suez Canal. Egypt was first introduced to the international debt markets while its economy boomed amidst rising prices