Gave me a real epiphany when it explained how subsistence-farming peasants had no incentive to increase productivity because they had no way to realiably store or invest a surplus into productivity enhancements - any material asset they had could be taken away too easily. Instead they would invest a surplus into social capital by "banqueting the neighbours", which could save their lives in case of a bad harvest.
And this is exactly what we see in places like Africa today and tend to belittle: people have little incentive to save and invest because there is a strong expectation that they'll share any "riches" with their friends, family and neighbours.
But this is entirely rational when you live in a society not far removed from subsistence farming, threatened by civil wars and with relatively weak civic institutions: social capital is simply more reliable than material capital.
"Banking" is continuous back to 1472: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banca_Monte_dei_Paschi_di_Sien... but recognisable systems of credit existed in Roman times.
See also Amartya Sen's eye-opening Nobel-winning work on famines in the modern era; he explains these mostly in terms of social capital. They don't tend to happen in situations where the country as a whole is short of food, but in situations where a particular sector of the society is unable to make a claim (economic/political) on it.
Heck, I worry about that in our society as well. The generations after the Baby Boomers have not saved terribly much, and as they begin to age and retire the social pressure to support them will get higher and higher (which is good: one doesn't want folks to be indigent). But ultimately that is likely to mean legalised raids on the retirement accounts of those who did spend.
Why save today if it will just be confiscated in a couple of decades? Might as well spend today and enjoy whatever one buys. Or buy portable wealth …
Assuming Ford was remembering history as taught to him in 1870-1880, it may well have been a New World variation on Alfreds and Edwards and Ælfweards and Æthelstans. Even if he were keeping up on outside reading, the earliest non-exclusively elite history I can think of at the moment wasn't written until the 1920s.
Edit: it looks grim. Ford had a point. among the collection in https://digital.library.pitt.edu/collection/19th-century-sch...
the only one which makes claims to cover anything further back than "American History" (all few centuries of it at that point) is the 1857 https://digital.library.pitt.edu/islandora/object/pitt%3A00z... which contains the remarkable claim that "It seems far more probable that the first settlers of America were from Egypt." Eat your heart out, Giorgio!
Part 1: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24517792
Part 2: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24591216
Part 3: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24668125
Part 4a: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24726793
I wish it was easier to read though.