John Law was by any standards a quite remarkable man. At the apogee of his power in 1720, he was the richest private citizen in Europe and controller-general of finance in France, responsible not merely for the country’s income and expenditure but for its commerce, navigation, agriculture and industry.
He created and presided over one of the earliest and greatest of all stock market boom-and-busts, that of the ‘Mississippi Company’, and inspired another, the South Sea Bubble. And he pioneered ideas about banking, monetary policy and financial markets that were revolutionary in his own time, and retain their importance three centuries later.
Yet Law was not French, not a noble, not an intellectual. On the contrary: he was a Scot, the largely self-educated son of an Edinburgh goldsmith, and a brilliant gambler.