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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 35 mentions

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What is a debt, anyway? A debt is just the preservation of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence. If freedom, real freedom, is the ability to make friends, then it is also, necessarily, the ability to make real promises. What sorts of promises might be genuinely free men and women make to one another? ( )
  AthenaStefania | Aug 7, 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. ( )
  oldflame | Jun 10, 2014 |
The most informative book I've read in the last few years. It's a very wide-ranging look at the way debt historically interplays with society(and government), and spend large portions of time debunking popular myths about markets, debt, and politics. His idea of a credit cycle could have been better drawn together or phrased as an idea, however. Even though he spoke of may individual pieces of his theory, they were never really drawn together to form an easier to grasp whole, which I feel was very needed for a book with such a large scope. ( )
1 vote Urbandale | Jun 8, 2014 |
Essential reading. Inadequate editing. ( )
  TAU67SEu | Feb 6, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Graeberprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gardner, GroverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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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