The Politics

 c. 330 BC

It would be well to collect the scattered stories of the ways in which individuals have succeeded in amassing a fortune, for all this is useful to persons who value the art of making money. There is the anecdote of Thales the Milesian and his financial device, which involves a principle of universal application but is attributed to him on account of his reputation for wisdom. He was reproached for his poverty, which was supposed to show that philosophy was of no use. According to the story, he knew by his skill in the stars while it was yet winter that there would be a great harvest of olives in the coming year, so, having a little capital, he gave earnest money for the use of all the olive presses in Chios and Miletus, which he hired at a low price because no one bid against him. When the harvest time came and many wanted them all at once and of a sudden, he let them out at any rate which he pleased and made a quantity of money. Thus he showed the world that philosophers can easily be rich if they like, but that their ambition is of another sort. He is supposed to have given a striking proof of his wisdom, but, as I was saying, his device for getting money is of universal application, and is nothing but the creation of a monopoly. It is an art often practiced by cities when they are in want of money; they make a monopoly of provisions.

Henry Noel-Fearn

The Money Market


During the Peninsular War, the government was pressed for money; Nathan Rothschild, having faith in the ultimate success of the British arms, often supplied it. He purchased bills at a large discount and made them over to the government at par, and then furnished the money for redeeming them. This proved a splendid speculation. By employing a staff of agents abroad to collect all intelligence of a warlike nature, which was conveyed to him by carrier pigeons, he was supplied with the news of victories and defeats long before they were known in Downing Street. By means like these, the wealthy Hebrew brought almost daily large sums into his coffers. When Napoleon returned from Elba in 1815, Rothschild’s anxiety knew no bounds. Prior to Waterloo, he was in a fever of excitement. He went himself to the battlefield to watch the progress. When he beheld the French in full retreat, he saw that Waterloo was won for England, and wealth almost immeasurable for himself. He galloped off. Next morning he was opposite the coast of England, the sea moaning as though it were sounding a requiem for the thousands of the dead. He tempted a fisherman by an offer of £80 to carry him across, where he landed in safety, and having procured the swiftest horses to convey him to London, he artfully but most heartlessly contributed by his hypocritical forebodings to increase the gloom that hung over Threadneedle Street. The fall in the funds was tremendous. Rothschild’s known agents were all eager to sell, while his secret agents bought while there was a bit of scrip in the market. This panic continued until the truth came out, and then the funds rose faster than they had previously gone down. This strategic but most unjustifiable speculation enriched the house of Rothschild by a million sterling.

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