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Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
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Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

by David Graeber

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» See also 39 mentions

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An anthropologist's look at the history of world economics declares that the whole thing comes own to the handling of debt. Note that the book follows the thinking of French economists which tends to be different than what you usually read in America. I found the book very thought-provoking. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 13, 2016 |
I recently finish “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” by David Graeber. At 666 pages in my iBooks edition, it has a lot of pages, but it’s a very short book. And by short, I mean that it just barely skims the surface of this issue. And what issue would that be? The issues of money, culture, religion, government, war, slavery, politics, and debt. Going back a few millennia, it’s clear that these subjects are fundamentally linked, and talking about one without the others means you’ve stepped out of context.

The books so dense and fresh I have no idea where to begin, so I’ll just get going rather than try to pull things into coherence.

Economics isn’t a science. It’s a combination of anthropology and fiction. Economics was a recently invented term. We treat money like it operates under laws, like physics, when it’s actually a plastic social agreement.

Barter comes after money, not before. Gift economies come before money economies. Coinage appears only during wars. Governments form to create and manage currencies. Currencies are created to fund wars.

Social economies and material economies don’t mix well. The triangle slave trade of the 1800s is a tribute to that.

Small amounts of debt are debt; large amounts of debt are power and control - think “too big to fail.”

In their inception, church and state, and money and politics, were unified. This modern idea that each two pairs should be separate has thousands of years of cultural development in the way.

Interest, or usury, has been banned by many major religions [Islam, Christianity] for good reason. In the Middle Ages, one could not be both a merchant and a Christian, as the values were at odds.

Historically, debt and slavery has been imposed on people that would have otherwise been killed in war.

There’s a lot to be learned in the history of words. For example, to be free means to be grounded in community - contrary to modern usage. This origin comes from it’s usage in Greek times, when a slave would be emancipated and granted citizenship.

Looking back over history, it’s rare to find genocide unlinked from debt. For example, why did the Spanish decimate the Mayans? Because they were in debt to the Chinese.

Poverty is a creation of money. In it’s early days, money was used for special things and managing social relationships [such as marriages]. Things such as food an housing were supplied by the community, except during extreme cases when somebody would be kicked out of a community [and most likely die shortly after].

Debt used to be temporary. For example - the Jewish “Jubilee,” or regular annulment of all debts.

Money has no essence. But if we tried to give it one, it would be religion.

The idea of debt isn’t indigenous, as it implies separation.

Money replaces, or more precisely, liquidates social capital and trust.

Although 5,000 years seems like a long way back, I’m sure that the story of debt is very interesting before then. We just don’t have access to the records. ( )
  willszal | Jan 3, 2016 |
Reading this gave me the greatest impulse to study anthropology. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
In his preamble the author asks how we got into a system where through debt the payment of national debt means more than the lives of thousands of people who die due to lack of investment in their health-care. his example is Madagascar and a malaria epidemic.

In his answers he debunks the myth making of barter as set out by Adam Smith and points out the continuing moral dilemma of money societies in our insistence of seeing lenders as evil and debtors as slaves.

This work is conversational - as are many e-books actually - and reads more like a lecture of discussion but its premise - that debt is inherently immoral in the way in which we give it supremacy over our lives - is far more persuasive than governments want it to be. ( )
  Daniel_Nanavati | Jul 19, 2015 |
outstanding ( )
  clarkland | Apr 29, 2015 |
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David Graeberprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gardner, GroverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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debt noun 1 a sum of money owed. 2 the state of owing money. 3 a feeling of gratitude for a favour or service. --Oxford English Dictionary
If you owe the bank a hundred thousand dollars, the bank owns you. If you owe the bank a hundred million dollars, you own the bank. --American Proverb
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Two years ago, by a series of strange coincidences, I found myself attending a garden party at Westminster Abbey.
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It's money that had made it possible for us to imagine ourselves in the way economists encourage us to do: as a collection of individuals and nations whose main business is swapping things.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter system--to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There's not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginning of the agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems--a system that far preceeded cash or organized barter. It is in this era, Graeber shows, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. With the passage of time, however, virtual credit money was replaced by gold and silver coins--and the system as a whole began to decline. Interest rates spiked and the indebted became slaves. And the system perpetuated itself with tremendously violent consequences, with only the rare intervention of kings and churches keeping the system from spiraling out of control. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history--as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.… (more)

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