For me, perhaps the most interesting part of The Ascent of Money was the Afterword, in which he lays out the fundamental features shared by any industry and a truly “evolutionary” system:
(1) Genes in the form of certain business practices that can be passed on to successive generations
(2) The potential for spontaneous mutation (i.e. innovation)
(3) Competition for scarce resources, leading to a survival of the fittest scenario
(4) A mechanism for natural selection (i.e. how the market allocates resources based on over- or under-performance)
(5) The potential for speciation, leading to new “species” of financial institutions
(6) The ever-present threat of extinction, as species die out altogether
If you’d rather not dig through (a best-selling) 350 pages of financial history, you can also watch a four-hour video series over at PBS. Or buy a DVD for $24.99… These days, Niall Ferguson is just about everywhere.