Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Partying Like It's 1869

Remember the Black Friday financial panic of 1869? No, of course you don't. Neither did I. Well, that was when a group of financial speculators with insider access took reckless risks based on the premise that the government would be there to back them up. People lost lots of money when the asset bubble they had artificially created popped.

You get the idea. And, yes, there have been lots of financial panics over time that are in some way or another similar to the one we recently experienced. But I bring this one up in particular because of another event that occurred in 1869: the completion in the U.S. of the First Transcontinental Railroad. I bet you do remember that. Why? Because, in the long run, the Transcontinental Railroad mattered, and the financial panic of 1869 didn't.

Another Transcontinental Railway is being completed today. It is wireless and global. Instead of connecting one half of a country to another, it is connecting one half of the world's population to another. Is this global revolution in mobile communications a bigger deal than the financial crisis of 2008-09? I dunno. Was Cornelius Vanderbilt a bigger deal than James Fisk?

While we're pondering these finer points of U.S. history, we can take a minute to say hello to the world's have-nots. We can now, you know. They have cellphones.

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