Lessons from the Mississippi Bubble - Edward Chancellor

Lessons from the Mississippi Bubble - Edward Chancellor

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the start of an economic project in France which posterity knows as the Mississippi Bubble. The brainchild of an expatriate Scot, John Law, this scheme has been hailed as the most ambitious economic experiment prior to the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1917. Like Lenin’s creation, the short-lived Mississippi Bubble burst in spectacular fashion. Central bankers around the world are currently embarked on a mission not altogether different from Law’s, making lessons revealed by his failure particularly relevant today.

Law was born in 1671, the son of an Edinburgh goldsmith. In adulthood, he became by turns a dandy, gambler, murderer, entrepreneur (“projector” in the parlance of his day), economist, central banker and finance minister. At the height of what he called his “System,” Law was the richest and most powerful man in Europe. His Mississippi Company incorporated all of France’s overseas trading companies – one of which claimed title to half the landmass of what is now the United States, along with monopolies for tax collection, tobacco, and coinage.

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