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Ascent of Money: Planet Finance

Airs Wednesday, July 29 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Financial historian and best-selling author Niall Ferguson, shown here at the New York Stock Exchange, traces the evolution of money in THE ASCENT OF MONEY, based on his book of the same title.

Learn more about money management with video-enhanced lessons by Niall Ferguson.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the systems of credit, insurance, bond trading and stock markets had transcended all national boundaries to create a truly global economic system, opening the door to unprecedented growth, but also worldwide instability in the event of one nation’s downturn.

In an effort to establish more stability following the Great Depression, the U.S. government’s New Deal created a “property owning Democracy,” a system of federally backed savings and loans that allowed more people than ever before to buy homes by offering low interest rates and long-term mortgages. Rampant inflation in the 1970s, however, led the government to remove regulations on interest rates and opened the door to a massive scandal in the 1980s and one of the country’s worst economic crises.

The vulnerabilities of America’s property-based economy would be felt again 20 years later, in the current economic crisis that has shaken the world. The crisis threatens “Chimerica,” the symbiotic relationship between China and America in which China’s vast savings from the manufacturing of cheap goods has been lent to America to fuel growth. But at what point will America’s battered economy lead China to cut off its line of credit? And how might America respond? The answer, Ferguson suggests, may be found in the history of the ascent of money.

Watch previous episodes from this four-part series online:

The Ascent of Money Episode 1: From Bullion to Bubbles

The Ascent of Money Episode 2: Bonds of War

The Ascent of Money Episode 3: Risky Business

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