Lending to the Borrower from Hell: Debt, Taxes, and Default in the Age of Philip II

Princeton University Press
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Why do lenders time and again loan money to sovereign borrowers who promptly go bankrupt? When can this type of lending work? As the United States and many European nations struggle with mountains of debt, historical precedents can offer valuable insights. Lending to the Borrower from Hell looks at one famous case--the debts and defaults of Philip II of Spain. Ruling over one of the largest and most powerful empires in history, King Philip defaulted four times. Yet he never lost access to capital markets and could borrow again within a year or two of each default. Exploring the shrewd reasoning of the lenders who continued to offer money, Mauricio Drelichman and Hans-Joachim Voth analyze the lessons from this important historical example.

Using detailed new evidence collected from sixteenth-century archives, Drelichman and Voth examine the incentives and returns of lenders. They provide powerful evidence that in the right situations, lenders not only survive despite defaults--they thrive. Drelichman and Voth also demonstrate that debt markets cope well, despite massive fluctuations in expenditure and revenue, when lending functions like insurance. The authors unearth unique sixteenth-century loan contracts that offered highly effective risk sharing between the king and his lenders, with payment obligations reduced in bad times.

A fascinating story of finance and empire, Lending to the Borrower from Hell offers an intelligent model for keeping economies safe in times of sovereign debt crises and defaults.

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About the author

Mauricio Drelichman is associate professor in the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and a fellow in the Institutions, Organizations, and Growth program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Hans-Joachim Voth is ICREA Research Professor in the Economics Department at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, where he is also a member of the Centre for Research in International Economics. He is the author of Time and Work in England during the Industrial Revolution and coauthor of Prometheus Shackled.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jan 19, 2014
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Pages
328
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ISBN
9781400848430
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
History / Europe / Spain & Portugal
History / General
History / Modern / 16th Century
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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After 1688, Britain underwent a revolution in public finance, and the cost of borrowing declined sharply. Leading scholars have argued that easier credit for the government, made possible by better property-rights protection, lead to a rapid expansion of private credit. The Industrial Revolution, according to this view, is the result of the preceding revolution in public finance. In Prometheus Shackled, prominent economic historians Peter Temin and Hans-Joachim Voth examine this hypothesis using new, detailed archival data from 18th century banks. They conclude the opposite: the financial revolution led to an explosion of public debt, but it stifled private credit. This led to markedly slower growth in the English economy. Temin and Voth collected detailed data from several goldsmith banks: Child's, Gosling's, Freame and Gould, Hoare's, and Duncombe and Kent. The excellent records from Hoare's, founded by Sir Richard Hoare in 1672, offer particular insight. Numerous entrants into the banking business tried their hand at deposit-taking and lending in the early 17th century; few survived and fewer thrived. Hoare's and a small group of competitors did both. Temin and Voth chart the growth of the successful banks in the face of frequent wars and heavy-handed regulations. Their new data allows insights into the interaction between financial and economic development. Government regulations such as (a sharply lower) maximum interest rate caused severe misallocation of credit, and a misguided attempt to lighten the nation's debt burden led directly to the South Sea Bubble in 1720. Frequent wars caused banks to call in loans, resulting in a sharply slower economic growth rate. Based on detailed micro-data, the authors present conclusive evidence that wartime borrowing crowded out investment. Far from fostering economic development, England's financial revolution after 1688 did much to stifle it -- the Hanoverian "warfare state" was a key reason for slow growth during Britain's Industrial Revolution. Prometheus Shackled is a revealing new take on one of the most important periods of economic and financial development.
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After 1688, Britain underwent a revolution in public finance, and the cost of borrowing declined sharply. Leading scholars have argued that easier credit for the government, made possible by better property-rights protection, lead to a rapid expansion of private credit. The Industrial Revolution, according to this view, is the result of the preceding revolution in public finance. In Prometheus Shackled, prominent economic historians Peter Temin and Hans-Joachim Voth examine this hypothesis using new, detailed archival data from 18th century banks. They conclude the opposite: the financial revolution led to an explosion of public debt, but it stifled private credit. This led to markedly slower growth in the English economy. Temin and Voth collected detailed data from several goldsmith banks: Child's, Gosling's, Freame and Gould, Hoare's, and Duncombe and Kent. The excellent records from Hoare's, founded by Sir Richard Hoare in 1672, offer particular insight. Numerous entrants into the banking business tried their hand at deposit-taking and lending in the early 17th century; few survived and fewer thrived. Hoare's and a small group of competitors did both. Temin and Voth chart the growth of the successful banks in the face of frequent wars and heavy-handed regulations. Their new data allows insights into the interaction between financial and economic development. Government regulations such as (a sharply lower) maximum interest rate caused severe misallocation of credit, and a misguided attempt to lighten the nation's debt burden led directly to the South Sea Bubble in 1720. Frequent wars caused banks to call in loans, resulting in a sharply slower economic growth rate. Based on detailed micro-data, the authors present conclusive evidence that wartime borrowing crowded out investment. Far from fostering economic development, England's financial revolution after 1688 did much to stifle it -- the Hanoverian "warfare state" was a key reason for slow growth during Britain's Industrial Revolution. Prometheus Shackled is a revealing new take on one of the most important periods of economic and financial development.
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