Historical Expenditures

A recent topic of debate on the popular question and answer website Quora had to do with money spending in history. More specifically, one curious reader wanted to know what the biggest waste of money in the entirety of history happened to be. One user won best answer over the others, and it was discovered that the biggest waste of money in world history took place at the end of the 17th century in Scotland.

At the end of the 17th, century, Scotland was not in the best place. It was attempting to recover from warring with England, and was also faced with rebuilding after several famines knocked its population down to their knees. Things had calmed down by that point, but Scottish officials wanted to do something to move their economy along. They wanted to rebuild more quickly. As a result of this desire, they formed the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa in the Indies in an attempt to assert themselves as a European power.

Of course, they were going against already-established powers. Great European powers were already in existence and were not too keen on welcoming another power into their fold. Also, the East India Trading company had already formed and held almost all power over trading. They would not allow funds to get to the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa in the Indies. Therefore, Scottish officials asked for donations from their people. They attempted to stir up nationalism in their country for contributions equalling the equivalent of what would be 83 million dollars today. That amount of money was a large percentage of Scotland’s economy at the time, and it all went toward this new trading company.

So, Scotland sent five ships and over 1,000 colonists to the Gulf of Darien, which was Spanish territory. Spain was not at all happy about the idea of their waters being turned into the trading route of another country. Additionally, Scotland was repairing its relationship with England while beginning this venture. England was caught in a war in which they were allies with Spain. They could not afford to alienate Spain, and therefore had no inclination to assist Scotland in their trading. The colony, did, however, get set up in its predetermined location, but it soon fell apart, its people killed by famine and disease.

Back in Scotland itself lay a land that was down a large percentage of its economy. There was no way the country would survive on its own, so Scotland was officially integrated into the British empire.

In short, Scotland set out to stabilize its economy and economically recover from the political turmoil and famine that was just beginning to let up at the end of the 17th century. Instead of accomplishing their goal, they managed to spend so much of the money that made up their economy that their country had to be dissolved into another one.

I agree with the user who brought up this event on Quora. Scotland’s foolish attempts to form a trading company, no matter how well-meaning, were a waste of money that had the opposite effect from what they wanted. It was truly the largest waste of money in history.

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