- By Bill Bonner
On Friday, we took a tour of the ruins of Ephesus. It was to the small Christian community here that St. Paul directed so many of his letters. And it was here too where Mary is said to have lived out her life after the crucifixion.
After visiting the 'House of Mary,' and marching up and down over the tumbled stones of the Roman-era city, we took the bus back to Kudasi (next to Ephesus on the coast of Turkey). There, our group of amateur archeologists and retired doctors was invited to sit down in the shade of a rug merchants' showroom.
"I know you have heard that rug merchants are thieves. And that is true. All my competitors are crooks. I am the only honest rug merchant in the city.
"But I am not going to sell you anything. I just want to show you how good Turkish carpets are made."
We were served glasses of the Turkish alcohol, raki, while the salesman continued.
"There are only three things that matter. The material. The number of knots per square inch. And whether you like it."
He unrolled one carpet after another, further explaining how each was made...and gradually working up to larger and more beautiful rugs. Finally, a stunning silk-on-silk rug, 9 x 12, was flung open on the ground as our crowd oohed and aahed in appreciation. The raki was taking effect.
"How much is that one," one of our fellow tourists wanted to know.
"Oh...I better give you another glass of raki before I tell you..."
He was a good salesman. Charming. Informative. Cheerful. And the rugs kept coming...one after another, like waves of infantry onto a beachhead, each one gaining more ground. People who had no intention of buying a rug when they arrived in his shop were soon raising the white flag, wondering which one would go best with their drapes and furniture back home.
We looked around the room. Who was going to pay for this presentation, we wondered? The rugs were beautiful. But they weren't cheap. And the shop owner had put his whole salesforce on the case. Someone had to pay. The nice couple from Houston, who were building a new house? The doctor and his wife from Pennsylvania? The Englishman...? The French woman?
Ephesus was just one of many of a whole archipelago of cities that were founded by Greek-speaking peoples in Mediterranean basin. Here, we give you a simplified history:
The islands and the mainland of what is today modern Greece were inhabited by non-Indo European peoples (such as the Minoans) until about the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Then came the Greeks...or proto-Greeks. These people developed their Mycenean culture and dominated the area until about 1,100 BC. No one knows what caused it, but then civilization went into decline. The population went down. People forgot now to read and write. Greek historians blamed an invasion of more barbaric Greeks, the Dorians. Modern historians have been unable to confirm or deny this charge. But 1,100 BC was a bad time for Mediterranean civilization. The Hittite and Egyptians also ran into trouble. The "Peoples of the Sea," whoever they were, were terrorizing everyone.
But after a "dark age" that lasted about 300 years, the Greeks get rolling again. Homer appears. The Phoenician alphabet is adopted. A few hundred years later Aristotle was instructing Alexander the Great.
If you would like to know more about the Greeks and Romans, you are invited to try a free service called ClassicalWisdomWeekly. Sign up and you'll get three free guides to the classical world...as well as a regular email. (In the interest of full disclosure, your editor had a hand is starting CWW and remains a supporter.)
But wait. What does this have to do with money? What has happened in the world of money while we've been following the footsteps of Ulysses?
Well, things seem to have gone okay without us. The Dow is back over 17,000.
Bloomberg noted that investors have suddenly gotten richer...thanks to central bank price-fixing:
And Ben Bernanke has a new book out with a title that must be the most bald-faced chutzpah we've ever seen: "The Courage to Act." That's what he's calling his market manipulation in reaction to the crisis of '08. Instead of letting the markets correct the debt problem, Mr. Bernanke broke out in a cold sweat, panicked and pumped in more credit. The result of this cowardice was that today the world faces an even bigger crisis.
(We ordered a copy of his book...and will refrain from further sarcasm and mockery until we've read it.)
Meanwhile, back in Turkey, we left Elizabeth and the other tourists in the carpet shop and walked around town. When we all got back together on the ship we asked:
"Well, did anyone buy a rug?"
"Yes, I did," said your editor's wife, "I bought two of them."
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Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.