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Richard Robinson Business History Workshop: The Cultural History of Money and Credit
May 22-24, 2014 

Keynote address: "Recurring Debt Crises and the Contours of Global History"
by Mark Metzler, Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin
Thursday, May 22, 2014, 6pm
Smith Student Union Center Room 238
Free and open to the public 

Systemic debt crises are among the most significant events of modern history. The greatest of them—for example, the crisis of 1873 or the crisis of 1929—have historical importance comparable to that of great wars. What’s more, we now live in an age that is shaped by bubbles and debt crises, though we have a hard time seeing the events of our own time in their long-run historical context.

In an effort to grasp that context, this talk scans back over the past three centuries. First, I consider some archetypal eighteenth-century bubbles and busts, which signified the beginnings of modern financial history in both Europe and Japan. One side of this story—the story of Japan’s first economic bubble—has been unknown, and in light of recent events, it takes on a new meaning. During the nineteenth-century, the forces of globalization led to globalized cycles of credit-boom and debt-destruction, which became bigger and more coherent. This was the age of the classic business cycle, when great booms were followed by great depressions. The greatest of these was the Great Depression of 1873. But the great debt-deflation crisis of the 1930s seemed to be the last of the classic debt-deflation crises. Or was it? Credit inflation marched on through the twentieth century, deflation became a forgotten word, and economies seemed to function in a new way. But then in the 1990s, in the wake of Japan’s great financial bubble, deflation returned to the historical stage. Now, Japan looks like a forerunner of the current age of economic bubbles.