Webinar with Richard Vague, author of A Brief History of Doom, May 17, 2020

The Webinar with Richard Vague on credit expansion and land speculation is now viewable on the You Tube channel of the Council of Georgist Organizations, at

On Sunday, May 17 at 1 PM EST, I interviewed Richard Vague, author of A Brief History of Doom: Two Hundred Years of Financial Crises.  Dan Sullivan, President of the Council of Georgist Organizations,  moderated and took audience questions.

When I first heard Vague lecture a year ago, I realized that he had simultaneously filled in a gap in Henry George’s economic model, and torpedoed the conventional Keynesian model of the business cycle. See my review.

Henry George knew that land* speculation contributed to the boom and bust cycle, but he couldn’t figure out quite how. He tossed out a hypothesis about a pyramid and then dropped it. Here’s what George couldn’t know, and what Vague recognized as a banker:

In a boom, typically set off by a hot innovation like mortgage securitization before the 2008 crash, bankers engage in ever more reckless lending with land as the underlying collateral. The lending drives up land values, or the value of the stock held by landowning companies, convincing the bankers they’re onto a good thing. It becomes a vicious circle of lending driving values and values driving lending–until bad loans start to fail. At that point the banks panic and shut off credit to all their customers, including those who had no part in the bubble. That’s what causes a recession or depression. In twenty years or so, a new crop of bankers does it again.

George knew that taxing land values could tame the cycle, but not quite how. In fact stiff enough land taxes, or even simple property taxes, can keep values from rising in response to over-lending by bankers. That cuts short the vicious circle.

*By land, George meant all natural resources. Today that includes broadcast spectrum and geosynchronous orbits. The internet depends on land-occupying, power-consuming cables, towers and server farms. Therefore the dot-com bubble of the 1990s was just as much a land bubble as the mortgage bubble of the 2000s.

Richard Vague


Richard Vague is the author of A Brief History of Doom and The Next Economic Disaster. He is currently the Acting Secretary of Banking and Securities of the State of Pennsylvania. His writings focus on how the expansion and contraction of credit fuel boom/bust cycles and create crises.

He was co-­founder and CEO of two credit card companies – First USA, which grew to be the largest Visa issuer in the industry and which was sold to Bank One in 1997, and Juniper Financial, the fastest growing credit card in its era, which was sold to Barclays PLC in 2004. He has an inside perspective on structural problems that desabilize economies.

Videos: The Debt We Don’t Talk About (15:04); “The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It” on C-Span Book TV (10:00)


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