This financial and political system is the operating system on which the world runs; the Dutch introduced version 1.0 in about 1620; the British introduced 2.0 in about 1700; the Americans upgraded to version 3.0 in 1945, and as an operating system, it works pretty well—most of the time. The 300 years of liberal, global capitalism have seen an extraordinary explosion in knowledge and human affluence. Not everybody shares in these benefits, and there are environmental and social costs to the rapid progress. Still, not many of us would like to turn the clock back to 1610.
But the system has bugs—among them, a tendency to crash. Ever since the great Dutch tulip bubble of 1637, the economic system has been prey to roller-coaster-style booms and busts. From the South Sea bubble of 1720 to the subprime loan bubble of our own time, the financial system leads people into irrational behavior and fever dreams of wealth and of eternally rising prices for stocks, houses—and tulips. These episodes never end well, and as time passes and the financial system grows more complex, more global and more interdependent, the cost of these periodic crashes gets worse.