The Hidden History of the Economy

From "tulip mania" to Colombian cocaine, these stories pull back the veil on how global economic forces really affect humans around the world.

The Hidden History of the Economy

At a moment when inflation is wreaking havoc on people across the world, we’re taking a closer look at those often misunderstood, always powerful forces that somehow determine a nation’s prosperity (or lack thereof). How have countries bolstered, or plundered, each other’s finances? What industries, legal and illegal, have had an outsize impact on our world? And how does the economy affect ordinary people’s lives? Read on to explore these questions with us.

1630s: “Tulip Mania” — a madcap period of the Dutch Golden Age, when investors pushed tulip prices to unthinkable highs — has long been an entertaining historical lesson on the dangers of investment bubbles… but how much of the absurd story is actually true?

Read at Smithsonian Magazine: There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever

1700s: It wasn’t just southern plantation owners who relied on forced labor to build wealth – even Wall Street had its own slave market.

Read at BBC News: The Hidden Links Between Slavery and Wall Street

1800s – 1900s: Haitian revolutionaries fought an excruciating battle for freedom from the French. Then the French exacted a doubly excruciating price.

Read at the New York Times: Haiti’s Lost Billions

2016: In rural Wyoming, a young workforce has no choice but to hitch their livelihoods to the most controversial and capricious market in the U.S. – fossil fuels.

Read at Narratively: Training the Next Generation of American Oil Workers… For Jobs That Don’t Exist

2017: The illicit substance is one of the most infamous contributors to the Colombian economy, but behind the theatrical reputation are real families just getting by.

Read at Narratively: I Spent a Week in the Colombian Jungle Harvesting Cocaine

2022: For as long as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been used to measure a country’s economic output, unpaid domestic work has been excluded from the calculations. Would factoring it in change how society values childcare?

Read at Fortune: Should unpaid labor like childcare be part of the GDP?


Want to read more stories about stories left untold? Sign up for our Hidden History Newsletter. Every month we send out a curated list of stories covering one newsworthy topic. You can check out all of our hidden history collections here!