Back in 3000 BC, Mesopotamians in the city of Ur developed very sophisticated financial markets, comparable to those of today, using grams of silver as denominations. They had to create their whole system from scratch. The first problem they faced was that they had no way to put down their contracts for basic money lending, so they started by inventing writing. That's not even "starting from the ground up" -- that's having to invent the ground first.
The next issue was to figure out accounting, which they did with a system of thick clay picture disks representing the commodities in question. (Aw man, we could have had a Pog-based economy? Way to botch it, guys who invented paper money.) The disks were sealed inside clay containers called bullae, on which the accountants scribbled their number and type. Over time, the bullae became official financial contracts -- predecessors to things like government bonds and stocks.
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And some other bullaeshit, too.
Eventually, the system became even more sophisticated, and early bankers started creating mutual funds in which big capitalists, governments, and ordinary citizens alike could all invest. The financial district started to expand, and settled down into a moneylenders' street not entirely unlike modern Wall Street.
Also not entirely unlike Wall Street, it all went to hell on a regular basis. The government tried to regulate these markets, but seems to have been largely unsuccessful, due to the bankers' vastly superior knowledge of economics. When the government imposed a maximum interest rate of 20 percent, they forgot to specify a time period, so the financiers invented an early form of payday loans, gleefully forcing loan-takers into a vicious cycle.
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"Ur bunch of assholes."
Nobody was immune from debt; even the king of Ur owed the bankers money. This proved to be an oversight on their part. In 1788 BC, the king finally thought, "Waaait a minute ... I can do whatever I want!" and decreed that all loans in the city were null and void. Ur's once-thriving financial sector was all but wiped out, and millennia later, one list-based comedy site finally saw the potential upside to a monarchy. Come back, England! These student loans are killing us.
Turns out we're all just a bunch of unoriginal jerks. For more evidence, just check out 30 'Modern' Things That Are Way Older Than You Think and 20 Annoying 'Modern' Trends That Are Older Than You Think.
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