CLOSE

9 Bizarre Moments in Economic History

In the last 2,000 years, commodity shortages, financial speculation, wars, famines, and outright manias have created some pretty strange economic behavior throughout the world. Here are nine examples.

1. Cake or Death?

In order to stop rising inflation and devaluation of the currency in third century Rome, Emperor Diocletian instituted fixed prices on most consumer goods. Anyone selling goods at prices higher than those of the emperor was put to death; this led to hoarding of goods. A law was then passed that forbade the hoarding of goods. Penalty? Death. So people just closed their businesses, then another law was passed. You guessed it: shut down your business or fail to follow in your father's business? Death. It's amazing the Roman Empire lasted as long as it did.

2. Gonna Barter Like It's B.C. 99

When the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century, so did the Roman financial system. Part of the collapse was the disappearance of Roman coinage. Nowhere was this more evident than in England, where, according to archeological evidence, money basically disappeared, driving the British isles straight back to a barter economy. Coinage only came back centuries later when the English were forced to pay protection money (Danegeld) to the Vikings to stop the constant pillaging.

3. 99.9% Pure

In 15th century Germany, grain shortages "“ acceptable "“ frequently led to beer shortages "“ unacceptable. In response, brewers in towns like Munich and Regensburg used seeds, spices, and rushes to flavor their beers. Showing an uncomfortable foreshadowing of future events, German authorities instituted purity laws stating that only water, barley, and hops could be used in the brewing of beer. The rule, or Reinheitsgebot, is still on the books today.

4. Nothing But the Best for France

While the Sun King, Louis XIV, and his building of Versailles typically get all the credit for bankrupting France in the seventeenth century, his Minister of Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert deserves some kudos as well. Colbert's tax schemes, deficit spending, and manic obsession with the production of luxury goods "“ to the detriment, or outright exclusion of ordinary consumer goods "“ emptied the French treasuries, drove the peasantry to starvation, and laid the foundation for the bloodiest revolution of the age. But, let's face it: who wouldn't trade the fate of an entire nation for a really, really well made tapestry?

5. Adjustable Rate Mortgage, Archduke Ferdinand?

In the 1860s, the rulers of the newly-formed Austro-Hungarian Empire encouraged their bankers to be more free with their lending standards. Their goal was to encourage growth in the empire. The result (this is going to sound eerily familiar) was over-speculation in building, massive default on borrowed funds, and economic collapse throughout Central Europe. The worldwide depression reached all the way to the United States and triggered the Panic of 1873. On the bright side, many of the most beautiful buildings in Europe come from this period of "irrational exuberance."

6. Mississippi Burning

John Law, a Scottish banker and businessman, took control of a French enterprise called the Mississippi Company in 1717. In just a few years, he turned the company into the main economic force behind the French colonies throughout the world. The share price for the company went from about 500 livres in 1719 to 10,000 livres in 1720. Just one year later though, in a rather Enron-like turnaround, the stock price collapsed, Law fled France, and the French government (as the primary shareholder) was forced to cancel a significant portion of its debt obligations leaving lenders throughout the world ruined. Economists refer to the episode as the "Mississippi Bubble."

7. The Mason-Dixon Bottom Line

Many have read about the effects of hyperinflation on the German Weimar Republic. From 1920-1923, prices in Germany increased as much as 3.25 million percent. People burned their old currency for warmth, since it was less costly than buying wood. But, few know that the same type of hyperinflation, albeit to a lesser extent, affected the Confederate States of America. From 1861 to 1864, the commodity price index rose as high as 10% a month. By the end of the Civil War, the cost of living in dear old Dixie was 92% higher than before the war.

8. Prayer Pays

In 1943, due to shortage of raw materials like paper and leather, and an increase in wartime piety, there was an actual Bible shortage in the United States.

9. Tokyo Falling

Japan had one of the most meteoric economic rises of the twentieth century. By the late "˜80s, property values had risen so high that all the land in Japan was worth four times the value of all the property in the United States. The real estate value of Tokyo alone was valued at more than that of all America. By the end of the century, however, the Tokyo stock exchange was off 60 percent of its 1989 high, and property values had fallen as much as 80 percent. Some blame over-speculation, others blame Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
iStock
iStock

Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

arrow
Food
Former NECCO CEO Has a Plan to Save the Company

It’s been a month of ups and downs for fans of candy company NECCO and its iconic sugary Wafers. In March, The Boston Globe reported the company is in desperate need of a buyer and that CEO Michael McGee notified the state of Massachusetts that most of their employees—around 395 of them—would likely face layoffs if a suitor isn't found by May.

That news caused a bit of a panic among candy lovers, who stormed CandyStore.com to hoard packs and packs of NECCO Wafers, should the company go under. In the weeks since the news about NECCO’s uncertain fate hit, sales of the company's products went up by 82 percent, with the Wafers alone increasing by 150 percent.

Seeing the reaction and knowing there is still plenty of space in the market for the venerable NECCO Wafers, the company’s former CEO, Al Gulachenski, reached out to CandyStore.com to lay out his plan to save the brand—most notably the Wafers and Sweethearts products.

The most important part of the plan is the money he’ll need to raise. Gulachenski is set to raise $5 to $10 million privately, and he’s creating a GoFundMe campaign for $20 million more to get his plan into motion. Once the funding is secure, the company will move to a new factory in Massachusetts that allows them to retain key executives and as many other employees as they can.

“I can promise you that if you donate you will own a piece of NECCO as I will issue shares to everyone that contributes money,” Gulachenski wrote on the GoFundMe page. “This company has been in our back yard for 170 years and it's time we own it.”

Gulachenski also elaborated that, as of now, there is another buyer interested in NECCO, but that buyer “is planning to liquidate the company, fire all the employees and close the doors of NECCO forever!”

So far, Gulachenski has raised only $565 of the $20 million needed. “I know it seems like a long way to go but I do expect some institutions to jump on board and get us most of the way there,” Gulachenski wrote in a GoFundMe update. “It is also likely we can get most of the company if we get to half of our goal.”

There is still a bit of a sour taste for candy fans to swallow, even if NECCO does get saved. According to Gulachenski, the Wafers and the Sweethearts may be the only products that the reorganized NECCO continues with. This could leave lovers of the company's other candies, like Clark Bars and Sky Bars, out in the cold.

“The sugar component Necco Wafer and Sweetheart is certainly the most nostalgic and recognizable brand, more than the chocolate,” Gulachenski told The Boston Globe. “It’s all going to depend how they decide to sell the company and liquidate.”

While you can still order the Wafers in bulk from Candystore.com, the site itself even says it has no idea when or if shipments will stop coming, especially as NECCO's future remains uncertain.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios