Think Our Little Recession Was Bad? Check Out The Dark Ages

Monte Python

Bryan Ward-Perkins presents a fascinating snapshot of history in the FT, describing what happened in Britain after Rome was sacked in 410 AD.

Some highlights:

  • Money disappeared
  • Towns and villages disappeared
  • Manufacturing collapsed
  • The economy did not reach its pre-crash size for 600+ years

So maybe Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner were actually right about what would have happened If they hadn’t bailed out AIG!

Bryan Ward-Perkins: As we face an uncertain and worrying New Year, we can at least console ourselves with the fact that we are not living 1,600 years ago, and about to begin the year 410. In this year Rome was sacked, and the empire gave up trying to defend Britain. While this marks the glorious beginnings of “English history”, as Anglo-Saxon barbarians began their inexorable conquest of lowland Britain, it was also the start of a recession that puts all recent crises in the shade.

The economic indicators for fifth-century Britain are scanty, and derive exclusively from archaeology, but they are consistent and extremely bleak. Under the Roman empire, the province had benefited from the use of a sophisticated coinage in three metals – gold, silver and copper – lubricating the economy with a guaranteed and abundant medium of exchange. In the first decade of the fifth century new coins ceased to reach Britain from the imperial mints on the continent, and while some attempts were made to produce local substitutes, these efforts were soon abandoned. For about 300 years, from around AD 420, Britain’s economy functioned without coin.

Core manufacturing declined in a similar way.

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