For instance, the Great Depression was, as you probably heard in school, the worst downturn the world had ever seen. The collapse of 2008 was almost as bad. In both cases, they were something only the modern, global economy could have dreamed up. Just like the planet had never known the concept of a "world war" before the 20th century, nobody had seen a worldwide economic catastrophe caused by a bunch of banking fuck-ups until the modern era.
But If You Go Back In Time ...
Let us introduce you to the Florentine banking collapse of the 14th century, which led to mass famine across Europe comparable to or exceeding the most well-known financial crises of the modern era. You think it was bad for you when you got laid off in the wake of the 2008 collapse? Be thankful you weren't alive in 1345.
Wellcome Library/Wiki Commons
"I'm here to deliver your severance package, which involves me severing your package."
The major banks in Europe at the time were those owned and run by the Florentine noble families of Peruzzi and Bardi, and the financial crisis they created started in an eerily similar fashion to so many of our better-known modern crises, with bad loans and under-regulation. Those bad loans were doled out to the city-state of Florence, the kingdom of Naples, and King Edward III of England, mostly to finance wars -- some of which were goaded on by the banks themselves to further the interests of their commodity speculation business. The Peruzzi and Bardi banks also knowingly gave out what were essentially subprime loans to farmers and merchants so they could repo all the valuable land they were quite literally sitting on.
By 1340, Edward III, the kingdom of Naples, and the city of Florence found themselves essentially owned by the two banks, as most or all of their income was now going to the servicing of their debts. Unsurprisingly, they eventually defaulted instead of somehow conjuring money from nowhere (wasn't this the age of wizards? Where's Merlin when you need him?), resulting in the collapse of the Bardi and Peruzzi banks.
They tried the old "Our raven's in the air; it must be late or something" trick for a while, but eventually it fell through.
The crisis drove enough farmers to bankruptcy that it led to a famine throughout Europe, and millions began to starve. Then, as though it had just been waiting for Europe to be at its weakest, the Plague struck and wiped out millions of impoverished people. If nothing else, that at least helped people take their minds off their late fees.
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For more things that aren't new, check out 30 'Modern' Things That Are Way Older Than You Think and 20 Annoying 'Modern' Trends That Are Older Than You Think.