"I am Not Master of Events" The Speculation of John Law and Lord Londonderry in the Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles Larry Neal

Yale Series in Economic and Financial History
Publication date:
03 Feb 2012
224 pages: 235 x 156 x 20mm
10 black-&-white illustrations


Two of the greatest financial fiascos of all time took place at the same time and were instigated by two acquaintances, both considered financial geniuses while their fortunes lasted. The Mississippi Bubble was a scheme to refinance French public debt by converting it into public shares in a company to exploit the resources of the Mississippi River (then owned by France), on which John Law at first made a vast fortune and gained sway over French finances.

The South Sea Bubble, launched by Britain to refinance its public debt in turn, was a challenge to both John Law and Thomas Pitt, Jr., Lord Londonderry, his main partner in England. Both men used the complex options and other forms of derivatives available in the stock exchanges of London, Paris, and Amsterdam to try to recoup their respective fortunes.

This book tells the story of these two financial schemes from the letters and accounts of two leading personalities. Larry Neal, a distinguished economic historian, highlights the rationality of each person and also finds that the primitive exchanges of the day, though informal and completely unregulated, actually performed reasonably well.

Larry Neal is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and visiting professor at the London School of Economics.