As an invited lecturer for the Oxford Centre for the Global History of Capitalism Project, Dr. Tiemann has written a teaching note Case Study, in conjunction with Dr. Oenone Kubie, that he will be teaching at Oxford in October, 2020. This Case Study covers much of the history that Dr. Tiemann has been studying around the period of the American Gold Rush, which catalyzed the transformation of California into an economic power by the end of the 19th century. In particular, the note takes a look at William A. Leidesdorff, who arrived in the area in the early 1840s and built a successful business as a steamboat operator, hotel owner and merchant, despite a dire lack of cash, coins, checks, banks, or banking services. This case study is made available by Oxford under a Creative Commons Copyright.
Can an injection of liquidity — even a temporary one — into an economy where money is tight produce a meaningful improvement in economic conditions? This is the question that Dr. Tiemann addresses using an economic fable and analysis involving the economic stimulus being offered by the Congress in response to the dislocations caused by the coronavirus.
When policymakers analyze banking crises, they often search for diagnostic clues in the specific environment in which they occurred. This paper analyzes the 1855 failures of the largest banks in Gold Rush San Francisco, arguing that the antecedents of those failures — excessive leverage, interlocking ownership, inadequate segregation of assets, and concentration of risk in non- banking enterprises — were independent of the monetary and economic regime in place at the time. Those antecedents exposed Gold Rush bankers to external risks originating in events in which they had no involvement, and over which they had no control. The external events that felled the largest banks in San Francisco emerged from the Crimean War.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
“The Charge of the Light Brigade”, 1854
Click the image to download “Contagion” by Dr. Tiemann