A Very English Deceit: The Secret History of the South Sea Bubble and the First Great Financial Scandal

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9780007292783: A Very English Deceit: The Secret History of the South Sea Bubble and the First Great Financial Scandal

The paperback of the critically acclaimed popular history book: the story of the South Sea Bubble which in Balen’s hands becomes a morality tale for our times. A classic collision of political ambition, mercenary greed and financial revolution.

The early years of the 18th-century produced two great monuments: one, Christopher Wren’s new cathedral of St Paul’s, an enduring testament to principled craft and masterful construction; the other, an empty fraud of such magnitude that its collapse threatened to overturn monarchies and governments. Its failure delayed the introduction of modern market economies by two generations. Yet the full scale of this monumental deceit was quietly covered up and hidden, its enduring legacy a poorly understood colloquialism: the South Sea Bubble.

It was all planned by one ambitious promoter, who had decided to launch ‘a company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is’. This eighteenth-century mission statement has now acquired an almost uncanny resonance: these words could aptly have been applied to the bursting of the internet bubble and the collapse of Enron. With the financial scandals that have beset global companies recently, such as Rank Xerox and Worldcom, this tale is all the more relevant today.

Balen reveals the full story of corruption and scandal that attended the birth of the first shareholder economy, and with it uncovers a parable for our times.

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Review:

‘As successive corporate accounting scandals surface in America, and global share prices again tumble, Balen reminds us that the murky tale of the first Bubble still stands as a cautionary tale for our time.’ Lisa Jardine, Sunday Times

‘They are rattling good yarns, and Balen spins them with all the mastery of the seasoned newsman that he is.’ Peter Jay, Guardian

‘Author Michael Balen has picked a good time to tell a tale of skullduggery, mania, and greed…It is the classic story of boom and bust.’ Express

From the Back Cover:

The early years of the eighteenth century produced two great monuments: one, Christopher Wren's new cathedral of St Paul's, an enduring testament to principled craft and masterful construction, the other an empty fraud of such magnitude that its collapse threatened to overturn monarchies and governments. It failure delayed the introduction of modern market economies by two generations. Yet the full scale of this monumental deceit was quietly covered up and hidden, its enduring legacy a poorly understood colloquialism: the South Sea Bubble.

The Bubble was a share scam that had its origins in the designs of a brilliant Scots economist, John Law, who while exiled in France launched a scheme that transformed Paris and French society. He persuaded people of all classes to exchange their gold and silver first for paper money and then for share certificates in a company whose fortunes seemed guaranteed. The shares soared in value almost overnight and the country's first millionaires were created. It seemed a model that no rival power could afford to ignore. France flaunted its new financial might and investors hurried across the channel with their cash. Nobody yet realised that markets could go down as abruptly as they had gone up.

Unfortunately, the English version was run by a reckless, ruthless and venal coterie. They sold similar paper shares, but in a company that had no assets, no business and no point. The deception drew in every level of the establishment from the King to the Commons, the professions to the Church. It deserved to bring down the whole rotten edifice that had supported it but, in a very English manner, the guilty parties were protected from the full force of justice.

Malcolm Balen uncovers the story of corruption and scandal that attended the birth of the first shareholder economy, and with it uncovers a parable for our times.

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Balen, Malcolm
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Balen, Malcolm
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