52 Historical Quotes of James Buchan

” A century ago, petroleum – what we call oil – was just an obscure commodity; today it is almost as vital to human existence as water. “
” For 50 years, nuclear power stations have produced three products which only a lunatic could want: bomb-explosive plutonium, lethal radioactive waste and electricity so dear it has to be heavily subsidised. They leave to future generations the task, and most of the cost, of making safe sites that have been polluted half-way to eternity. “
” Financial crises are like fireworks: they illuminate the sky even as they go pop. “
” At the heart of banking is a suicidal strategy. Banks take money from the public or each other on call, skim it for their own reward and then lock the rest up in volatile, insecure and illiquid loans that at times they cannot redeem without public aid. “
” The world survived the fall of the Roman empire and will no doubt outlast our own so much more splendid civilisation. “
” By pouring money and goods into devastated regions, foreign aid workers sometimes compound the disruption and debauch the survivors. “
” Cause and effect, the riddle of all history, is a particular devil in financial history; and never more so than today, where entire classes of security are collapsing not on public exchanges and stock-tickers but because there are no markets to establish prices this side of nothing. “
” Up until the Depression, recession had a moral character: it was supposed to purge the body economic of the greed and excess that attends a business expansion. “
” Were there peace and justice in the Middle East, the Arabs would no more need their tinhorn dictators than they would their corpulent princes. “
” An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support. “
” The prevailing ideology of the modern west – which is political economy – is in the doghouse. Having failed to notice atmospheric pollution, the economists then frightened themselves with the sort of financial crisis they said they had abolished. “
” One of the consequences of the Iranian revolution has been an explosion of history. A country once known only from British consular reports and intrepid travelogues is now awash with historical documents, letters, diaries, grainy video, weblogs and secret police files of questionable authenticity. “
” Economists, like royal children, are not punished for their errors. “
” There are signs that the age of petroleum has passed its zenith. Adjusted for inflation, a barrel of crude oil now sells for three times its long-run average. The large western oil companies, which cartellised the industry for much of the 20th century, are now selling more oil than they find, and are thus in the throes of liquidation. “
” Viewed from a distance, or through the eye of the All-Knowing CEO of the Universe, the crash of 2008 followed the usual pattern. A long-lived boom driven by cheap credit, going back as far as 1982 (though subject to interruptions in the mid-1980s and 1990s, and in 2001), came to grief because of a rise in the cost of borrowing money. “
” To make a love story, you need a couple of young people, but to reflect on the nature of love, you’re better off with old ones. That is a fact of life and literature – and of the novel ever since it fell in love with love in the 18th century. “
” For all their current prestige, Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers are still regarded in all but the most desperate districts of Gaza or Peshawar as romantics with little chance of more than symbolic victories, however bloody and brutal. That gives both the Middle East and the West a small and distant hope of security. “
” Suicidal violence is not the exclusive property of the Muslim world. Suicide bombings were a tactic of nationalist struggles in 19th-century Europe and Russia, the far east during the second world war and the Vietnam war, and in modern Sri Lanka. “
” Bulls don’t read. Bears read financial history. As markets fall to bits, the bears dust off the Dutch tulip mania of 1637, the Banque Royale of 1719-20, the railway speculation of the 1840s, the great crash of 1929. “
” All UK nuclear power stations should be shut down without delay. “
” Governments of rich countries spend some $6bn of tax money a year on disaster relief and development aid overseas, while each new earthquake, famine or tidal wave can attract 1,000 aid organisations, from the United Nations Children’s Fund and Oxfam to the ‘Jesus Brigades’ of the American south and other charitable adventurers. “
” Because bankers measure their self-worth in money, and pay themselves a lot of it, they think they’re fine fellows and don’t need to explain themselves. “
” The dividing line between wish and need was never clear. “
” In modern society, where most people live in cities, and where both needs and wishes are absolved through the same remote agency – money – the distinction between wishes and needs has altogether vanished. “
” Where consumption is both conspicuous and competitive, humanity will never run out of new wishes. All the while, industry creates new desires that are marketed, in the great fashion paradox, as both novelty and need. “
” The great disadvantage of getting older is to be obliged to relive the salient economic events of one’s youth, with nothing learned and nothing forgotten. “
” Soaring prices for crude oil, falling production surpluses, wild speculation in commodities, a rush into the precious metals, turmoil in the Middle East, assertive oil producers: it is 1973-74 all over again, and at dictation speed. “
” Life without oil, in fact, would be so different that it is frightening to contemplate. We are addicted, and it is no comfortable addiction. “
” The year 2008 was a reminder to those who had forgotten that there is such a thing as history and that the cycle of famine and feast in commerce, first identified in antiquity and well understood in the Middle Ages, was not suddenly abolished in modern times. “
” Rarely in modern times has there been such a revolution in commercial sentiment as occurred in 2008, or such a display in government and business of panic and helplessness. “
” Profits in business always depend on the rate of interest: the higher the interest, the higher the rate of profit required. “
” Any new financial order for the world must tackle the three chief challenges of our age. “
” Losing your capital is like losing your trousers. It is a real humiliation, and one not to be soon repeated. “
” My belief, for what it is worth, is that city dwellers cannot understand the world. Insulated from reality by complex and expert systems of provision and police, baffled by fashion and spectacle, city dwellers can distinguish neither the sources of their existence nor the consequences. “
” The use of refined petroleum as fuel, which began in the 1850s, freed hundreds of millions of people from the toil of centuries, gave hundreds of millions more a life of ease and plenty, and, by allowing great cities to feed themselves from every corner of the world, multiplied the population of the earth fivefold. “
” The aircraft that blew up the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington conveyed several messages to the world, of which one of the least remarked is this: the Muslims of the world are suffering. “
” Ever since the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, the Muslim world has been in slow decline relative to the west. With Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and the creeping British annexation of Muslim India, that decline took on a malign aspect. “
” The west has a great deal to answer for in the Middle East, from Britain’s belated empire-building after the First World War to the US and British policy that condemns modern Iraq to the material and social squalor of a half-century ago. “
” It is time to end the western policy of malign neglect. It is in the interest of the whole world to help tackle the actual grievances in Palestine, Kashmir, and in central and southern Iraq, and to help the region out of its economic backwardness. “
” If good history is dispassionate history, it must naturally wait until the passions of the period subside. “
” Europe and North America, we are told, are less dependent on energy-intensive heavy industry than in the 1960s and 1970s. It seems we squeeze more GDP out of a barrel of oil than in those benighted days. “
” What holds an Arab leader in power is a mixture of violence and prestige. Both President Assad and King Hussein were felt to have defended Arab interests against the world. That, in the end, is more important than what they wear on their head. “
” Almost all novels are improved by cutting from the top. On their first pages, authors parade those favourite effects which disgust the impartial reader. “
” Last chances in the Middle East have been two a dirham since the 1950s. Each year the enmities are more profound, the despots more bloodthirsty and clownish, the violence more extreme, and the conditions of ordinary existence more ghastly. “
” The theory of permanent Muslim-Christian enmity, though it flourishes in the caves of Tora Bora and parts of the American academy, was long ago exploded by the historians. “
” In rising financial markets, the world is forever new. The bull or optimist has no eyes for past or present, but only for the future, where streams of revenue play in his imagination. “
” In falling markets, there is nothing that has not happened before. The bear or pessimist sees only the past, which imprisons the wretched financial soul in eternal circles of boom and bust and boom again. “
” Nature is not simply a technical or economical resource, and human beings are not mere numbers. To suggest that one can somehow align all the squabbling institutions of science, environmental management, government and diplomacy in an alliance of convenience to regulate the global climate seems to me optimistic. “
” The truth is, of course, that history is not completed in modern commerce any more than philosophy is perfected in political economy. In other words, there is nothing timeless or God-given about filling stations and penicillin and plastic bags. “
” Is there any purpose to translating poetry? A poem does not contain information of importance, like a signpost or a warning notice. “
” Whatever else it was, Adolf Hitler’s short-lived regime was also a colossal industrial process by which the wealth and productive power of much of Europe was wrenched from its normal purposes and converted into a machine for killing. “
” One of the admirable features of British novelists is that they have no scruple about setting their stories in foreign settings with wholly foreign personnel. “