These days, with all the pundits preaching doom and the impending collapse of society into some kind of Mad Max style wasteland, it's easy for us to imagine that the economy is as unhealthy as it's ever been.
But any historian would give you a hard backhanded smack for even saying that out loud. History is full of economic idiocy, and here are five economic collapses that make 2010 feel like the Renaissance.
Every Christmas, there's some "hot toy" that has parents standing in line in the wee hours of the morning, getting in fistfights, and paying 10 times retail on eBay--all for something the kid will get bored with a week later. But of course it's not about the kid, it's about the hunt.
The second most dangerous game.
The toy becomes valuable to them only because it is valuable to other people. It's a self-sustaining cycle of irrational stupidity.
But that phenomenon isn't new. In fact, a consumer craze (over flowers, of all things) created the very first recorded economic bubble, almost 400 years ago.
In the 1600s the tulip was still pretty new to the Netherlands, and they quickly became a Beanie Baby-style "must-have" item among people who had too much money to spend.
Tulips! I can't fucking believe it!
Now, as with most plants, tulips have a very specific growing season, so they weren't available to buy year round. But the Dutch wanted assurances right the hell now that they would own a tulip by year's end, so suppliers set up a futures market, which basically meant that in the off-season people could buy tulip IOUs to be exchanged for real tulips when said tulips actually grew.
Fun fact: A "Dutch tulip" is also a very fancy way to roll a joint.
And then people started playing the market and inflating the prices and, well, it was just a matter of time until things got really, really stupid.
What Went Wrong?
At the peak of trading in the early months of 1637, the futures market had gotten so out of hand that even a single tulip bulb had become ridiculously valuable. While no one really agrees just how insane the prices became, it's understood that some bulbs were trading for at least 10 times the annual wage of a skilled craftsman. That's 10 years' salary for one, solitary flower that just goes into the garden and sits there.
Get a job!
Eventually a whole lot of people stopped and said, "What the fuck are we doing?" and the bubble burst, the price of tulips falling back down to sane levels. The downside is that a whole bunch of people had locked themselves into tulip contracts during the height of the craze, and were therefore committed to handing over the family fortune for something that was worth about a buck fifty.
Financial ruin never smelled so sweet.