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Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

by David Graeber

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outstanding ( )
  clarkland | Apr 29, 2015 |
I first became aware of this book when the author was interviewed by Sam Seder on the Majority Report podcast (www.majority.fm).

This is a very dense book that requires the reader to be engaged for every word of every sentence. It is essentially a history of the human society as viewed through the lens of economics. Not theoretical economics, but the actual economics practiced by societies throughout history. By understanding the meaning and role of debt throughout history, the author is able to provide the context that explains the economic issues we are experiencing today and will likely experience in the future.

If you are not interested in history or understanding the reasons for the economic conditions we live in now and are likely to see in the future, don't bother with this book. However, I highly recommend it for anyone else.

( )
  grandpahobo | Mar 22, 2015 |
This is such a dense and encompassing work that all I have been able to do is sample it. Nonetheless, every page holds something interesting. Quite refreshing. I must try to finish it, but the library wants it back. ( )
  2wonderY | Nov 19, 2014 |
Graeber, an anthropologist, takes a long, hard look at the history and meaning of debt, credit, money, and markets. It's a complex history, and a violent one; Graeber sees war and conquest as one of the driving engines behind the world's economic evolution. He also focuses a lot on the many ways in which debts, throughout history, have been paid off in human lives, from an African tribe where a man who wants to marry is expected to trade another woman for his prospective wife, to the surprising number of cultures where a debtor's family members might be sold or seized to repay or secure a debt, to the imprisonment or even execution of debtors.

I think some of the connections Graeber draws are a bit tenuous, and I honestly don't know quite what to think about most of the broader points he's making. But it's provocative in a good way, it's full of a lot of interesting and frequently surprising bits of history and anthropology, and it certainly provides some new perspectives on subjects that most of us take entirely too much for granted. If nothing else, Graeber makes it clearly, blindingly obvious that the simplistic models economists use about the origins of the marketplace have very little to do with real human culture and human behavior, even if they have perhaps shaped both of those things since. ( )
1 vote bragan | Jun 20, 2014 |
Graeber has an irritating tendency to say things like "As anyone who has taken Anthropology 101 would know..." instead of just stating facts, but otherwise this is a very interesting book on capitalism and alternatives to capitalism. He does an okay job of not being Eurocentric and even occasionally talks about feminism and racism. Overall I'd recommend it for anybody to read with some background in western philosophical tradition, since these days debt is a topic we are all familiar with. ( )
  collingsruth | Jun 10, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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.
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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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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