>Plus ca change


Do you know when the first recorded credit crunch happened? No, bear with me. This is going somewhere.

Cicero referred to the first known credit crunch in a speech he gave to the Senate in 66BC. Cicero was supporting the suggestion of sending Pompey against Mithridates VI, King of Pontus. He reminded the senators on the interdependence of economies in a globalised world. In 88BC, Mithridates invaded the Roman Province of Asia (now Turkey). The invasion caused a financial crisis in Asia, leading to the collapse of credit in Rome itself.

“Defend the republic from this danger and believe me when I tell you – what you see for yourselves – that this system of monies, which operates at Rome in the Forum, is bound up in, and is linked with, those Asian monies; the loss of one inevitably undermines the other and causes its collapse.”

As Philip Kay pointed out in a lecture at Oxford University: “Substitute US sub-prime for ‘the Asian monies’ and the UK banking system for ‘the system of monies which operates in the Roman Forum’ and it could have been written about the current credit crisis,”

The lesson is that there is nothing new under the sun and that the important things never change.

To put it another way: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.

We might set our stories in fantastic worlds but human beings do not change. Fundamental human motivation hasn’t altered in any significant way since we burst out of Africa. That means that the whole of human history is available to be plundered for plots, characters and political organisation. How could we ever run out of ideas?