So after a week of feeling sorry for myself, because of some stupid chest infection that has rendered me incapable of being active, I have paid two visits to my Doctor and subsequently paid for two prescriptions. The cost hit my pocket, the antibiotics and steroids for my asthma hit my chest. At last, they seem to be working, thank goodness!
I can’t remember the last time (it must be years, probably when I used to smoke) I felt so unhealthy. There is only so much television you can watch. So, my recent return to reading history, after an absence of about nine years such is the time passed since finishing my degree, has been a welcome distraction. I studied history, not economics, so I ask forgiveness in advance if I get the economy part wrong!
The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (first published by Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1938), at the very off, made me consider how grateful I am to modern medicine – goodness knows what they would have given me for it back then, if anything. Equally, I wonder how widespread asthma would have been in those days, with lands and environment unencumbered by traffic fumes.
How things have changed, in medicine and transport? It really is a different world. Modern Europe, the Europe we know today, geographically too is only loosely recognisable. Religion was paramount to changes in power, princes caught between pressures from the Empire above and fiefdoms below, as the Catholic Church and Protestant Church fought out for influence (and the big side order of Calvinist and Lutheran protestant churches in conflict with one another) across Europe. While conflict today still exists in religion, our modern world is not anywhere near as greatly influenced as it once was, on Catholic and Protestant terms.
However, some things never change. Regardless of time, economies the world over are influenced by leaders, politics, religion, banking and of course trade and markets. Technology has opened up trade routes that 16th and 17th Century Europe could not even conceive to dream about. In this sense, our world is so much smaller, opportunities so much wider.
What is most intriguing, if I turn back some pages, was how closely the latter part of the 16th Century comes to mirroring current economic circumstance. For this, I will quote directly:
“The conditions which had produced Germany‘s greatness were ceasing to exist. Her culture had rested on the towns: but the towns were declining. The uncertainty of transport in a politically disturbed country and the decline of Italian commerce had disastrously affected German trade. Besides which, her currency was wholly unreliable; there was no effective central authority to control the issues…Meanwhile German credit declined and dangerous speculation led to the collapse of one great banking-house after another.” (p37)
It goes on to list banks of the time which went into liquidation, of proportions perhaps equivalent to the Lehman Brothers liquidation of our very recent times, and the widespread number of countries, fiefdoms, and powerful families it came to affect, without mention of those at the bottom of these tall and massively complicated social and political hierarchies.
It would be a ridiculous notion and many steps too far to suggest another thirty year war could be in the offing within the next few decades. Though recent unrest among a public more informed than those of the 16th and 17th Century (though I am not claiming with an increased wisdom), that is beginning to emerge across Europe and now-a-days the wider world, is a clear indication of how important the economy, and economies, are in affecting the our daily lives.
If there is one constant in the world, if there is something that history has taught us, it is that regardless of religion, political leanings or political rule or leadership, our lives are more often than not subject to the economic position of our country. There are few that can escape an ecomony’s clutches!