5000 Years of Debt

As I noted last Friday, my posts on Friday are for weekend reading. This week I am highly recommending David Graeber‘s Debt – Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years.[1]

No time for a review but the publisher’s overview does present a very good idea about the issues covered in the book:

Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom: he shows that before there was money, there was debt. For more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.

Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it

All the key themes I wish to explore on this blog, specifically over money and debt, are presented with anthropological evidence in support. You may or may not agree with his overarching model of virtual versus physical money eras and I too am undecided about that. Regardless the evidence over the origins and evolution of money and debt is very still very relevant.

[1] There is also an earlier edition freely available online, although I am not sure as to whether this is with the permission of the author or publisher – I will let you decide and search for that.

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1 thought on “5000 Years of Debt”

  1. You should definitely check out some of David Graeber’s others book, his first book “Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams”is less accessible that this one, but has many thing that should interest a heterodox economist and other social theorists, it is also available online:

    https://monoskop.org/images/3/36/Graeber_David_Toward_an_Anthropological_Theory_of_Value.pdf

    One of his best books is “Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire”: https://www.amazon.com/Possibilities-Essays-Hierarchy-Rebellion-Desire/dp/1904859666

    The author (Graeber) (maybe due to his politics) by the way says he doesn’t care about redistributing his books.

    Like

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