Authors@Google: David Graeber, DEBT: The First 5000 Years

DEBT: The First 5000 Years While the “national debt” has been the concern du jour of many economists, commentators and politicians, little attention is ever paid to the historical significance of debt. For thousands of years, the struggle between rich and poor has largely taken the form of conflicts between creditors and debtors—of arguments about the rights and wrongs of interest payments, debt peonage, amnesty, repossession, restitution, the sequestering of sheep, the seizing of vineyards, and the selling of debtors’ children into slavery. By the same token, for the past five thousand years, popular insurrections have begun the same way: with the ritual destruction of debt records—tablets, papyri, ledgers; whatever form they might have taken in any particular time and place. Enter anthropologist David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (July, ISBN 978-1-933633-86-2), which uses these struggles to show that the history of debt is also a history of morality and culture. In the throes of the recent economic crisis, with the very defining institutions of capitalism crumbling, surveys showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans felt that the country’s banks should not be rescued—whatever the economic consequences—but that ordinary citizens stuck with bad mortgages should be bailed out. The notion of morality as a matter of paying one’s debts runs deeper in the United States than in almost any other country. Beginning with a sharp critique of economics (which since

22 thoughts on “Authors@Google: David Graeber, DEBT: The First 5000 Years

  1. UzerNameIrrelevant

    Everyone should really take time to read his Books. I don’t think there’s a profession more qualified to talk about the meaning of money then a Anthropolgist. If you don’t think so you certainly don’t know Anthropology, therefore you don’t even know what money means.

  2. mclrk

    David: The priest introduced you to the lawyer so that you could bang her; he was living vicariously through you.

  3. Dominic Bernard

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  4. Andrew Dudzik

    Again, you’re confusing personal and national debts, which are very different. Anyway, your point that debt can lead to slavery is basically correct (though it’s solved by debt amnesty if you’re paying even the slightest bit of attention to the argument), but misses the point: coinage-based economies almost always *begin* with slavery. Who do you think Rome had digging up the gold and silver in the first place? I’d rather be a potential slave than an actual one, thank you very much.

  5. dlmaniac

    The ultimate problem of debt is that it gives the issuers a privilege over other users. When issuers need money they just create debt for themselves. When you need it you have to work for it. Such privilege inevitably allows the issuers to cheat and over-issue the debt to ruin the economy and eventually this debt-based money. That is the root cause of so many collapses that had happened throughout history whenever debt was used as money, sth Graeber fails to grasp.

  6. Andrew Dudzik

    You are confusing debt between nations and debt within nations. Yes, a country in terrible debt to others with no hope of a reasonable default is in trouble, regardless of their money system. So what? You make it sound as though third world countries have decided, through policy, to be in debt–but usually these debts have been imposed from the outside. Don’t confuse political factors with economic ones; you’re not going to fix banana republics by fixing their money.

  7. dlmaniac

    Graeber’s belief in that metals were associated with war, violence and break down was simply wrong. It’s when you use debt as money and run it out of control you are heading for big melt down as I have pointed in the case of banana republics. The fact that debt can be issued without control kills its chance of being a credible money. Any society using debt as money is inevitably dragged down b/c of it.

  8. donach9

    What do you think he believes? What do you think his claim is? Cos what you say doesn’t seem to relate to what DG says.

  9. donach9

    Finally watched the vid to see if your arguments have any relevance (only read the book before) & as I thought you completely misunderstand what DG is saying. He doesn’t offer advice on whether to invest in $ or gold. He’s looks @ the history of exchange & debt & the ideas (eg debts must be repaid at any cost) that go with it. It’s not explicit in the video but he would analyse the 3rd world countries as similar to conquered imperial nations with debt used as a tool to extract wealth/resources.

  10. dlmaniac

    I can easily point out these banana republics running on debt money as counter examples to what Graeber believes. These third world nations are in perennial debt holes. Every 10-20 years they run into a currency crisis that ruin lives. If Graeber’s debt theory works then then why do these nations melt down financially so often? The fact is against his claim.

  11. donach9

    As both credit & metal have been money through history, 1 will take over from the other at different points. This doesn’t show that one is inherently better than the other. Looking at the whole history of exchange, credit has been the dominant form of money more often than metal. As DG’s book shows metal money came about to facilitate imperial expansion: to pay the soldiers to take the territory & keep the slaves in order, the slaves needed to work the mines to get the metal to pay the soldiers.

  12. donach9

    No point arguing about the stability of currencies. The £, $ & certainly the euro may not exist in 50 years time, but that’s misses the point. DG shows that money has been credit or metallic at different times in history. When it’s been predominantly metallic is associated with war, violence & a breakdown of social relations, relatively healthy functional societies with strong social relations other than the mathematical money one tend to use more virtual money. This is a tendency not a law.

  13. dlmaniac

    You do realize when you print that paper to cover the debt and thus dilute all existing papers your paper currency is considered a fraud by the receivers, do you not? That’s why historically each and every paper currency was printed to crash and eventually rejected. EACH and EVERYONE of them. And every time the debt paper crashed, G&S came back to clean the mess up.

    Debt paper is a fraud and ready to collapse again in the coming years. Go ahead to embrace it at your own risk.

  14. donach9

    You do realise by saying “debt eventually lost to G&S” you concede the point that debt is a form of money, otherwise it couldn’t be in competition with what you see as ‘real’ money. Money is anything someone will accept as payment and has taken many forms throughout history, starting with someone’s agreement to give something equivalent back later.

  15. donach9

    “debt eventually lost to G&S” really? So that’s why when I went on holiday I had to get all that gold before leaving, played havoc with my baggage allowance, I’ll tell you. And having to carry round all that gold and slice it up when I go to the shops!?! Sorry I was under the impression I lived in a world where the majority of the money supply in industrialised countries has either been promises of (debt) g&s or fiat money for centuries.

  16. dlmaniac

    Exchanging means trading your goods for sth valuable back so when someone pays money for your goods the money better be valuable.

    This is why gold & silver became money. They are precious, recognizable and durable. If you sell goods you’d prefer to be paid in G&S to someone else’ debt, b/c you know you can spend the metals to buy from others. Debt OTOH provides less confidence as it’s a promise that could default. So in this merit-based free market competition, debt eventually lost to G&S. See?

  17. donach9

    Although I disagree with @dimaniac his comments aren’t spam; can whoever is flagging it as spam please stop?

  18. donach9

    That’s your preference (to exchange the paper for metal) and at certain points in history it would be a good choice & at others a bad one. But credit systems preceded coins. Money is many things but 1 of the most important & I’d say the 1st, was as a means of exchange/unit of account and quite clearly lots of societies have NOT used precious metals for that. DG’s thesis that money was debt & credit before it was metallic has the benefit of being historically accurate, unlike your talk of barter.

  19. dlmaniac

    I don’t like banker notes but I’m forced to take it as payment so what I do is exchanging the paper junk for gold & silver to dodge inevitable crash. You know BOE notes are a scam the minute they print it to buy bonds. Throughout the history the collapse of every paper currency starts when government counterfeits it to cover their debt. Pound will crash like 60’s and 70’s, and yet you are still stuck in cluelessness.


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