The Ascent of Money


Duration: 6 x 48 minutes; shot on HD
Broadcast: Channel 4, November 2008; PBS 2009
Distribution: BBC Worldwide


The Series

In 2006 the measured economic output of the entire world was around 47 trillion dollars-that's 47 followed by 12 zeroes. The total value of companies quoted on the world's stock markets was 51 trillion dollars, 10 per cent larger. The total value of domestic and international bonds was 68 trillion dollars, 50 per cent larger. And the amount outstanding of the strange new financial life-form known as derivatives was 473 trillion dollars, more than 10 times larger.

The Ascent of Money has reached the point that Planet Finance is beginning to dwarf Planet Earth.

And Planet Finance seems to spin faster too. Every day two trillion dollars change hand on foreign exchange markets. Every month 7 trillion dollars change hands on global stock markets. Every minute of every hour of every day of every week, someone, somewhere is trading.

Until the summer of 2007 nothing seemed capable of stopping the rise and rise of global finance.

Then a mortgage crisis that started in mid western America seemed to be capable of causing a global meltdown. How could that be?

Watch the Ascent of Money and you will be taken on a epic tour of world finance. Niall demonstrates that behind every great historical phenomenon-empires and republics, wars and revolutions-there lies a financial secret. The evolution of credit and debt was as important as any technological innovation in the rise of civilization, from ancient Babylon to present-day Hong Kong.

Banks provided the material basis for the splendours of the Italian Renaissance, while the bond market was a deciding factor in wars from the Seven Years' War to the American Civil War, to name just two.

Stock markets financed the rise of both the Dutch and British Empires-just as the triumph of the United States in the twentieth century was inseparable from breakthroughs in mortgage finance and consumer credit.

Only with this historical perspective can you understand an essential truth about finance: the ascent of money may have been astonishing, but its upward path has never been smooth. For financial markets act as mirrors of the human psyche, exaggerating our swings from exuberance to gloom, from greed to fear.

As in his past history series Niall has traveled extensively to make these films, offering our viewers stunning visuals and narratives from China, Japan, South and North America and Europe.