Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Debt: The First 5,000 YearsBefore There Was Money, There Was Debt Every Economics Textbook Says The Same Thing Money Was Invented To Replace Onerous And Complicated Barter Systems 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 ItHere Anthropologist David Graeber Presents A Stunning Reversal Of Conventional Wisdom He Shows That For Than , 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 Debt The First , 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

David Rolfe Graeber is an American anthropologist and anarchist.On June 15, 2007, Graeber accepted the offer of a lectureship in the anthropology department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he currently holds the title of Reader in Social Anthropology.He was an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University, although Yale controversially declined to rehire him, and his te

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  • Hardcover
  • 534 pages
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years
  • David Graeber
  • English
  • 10 September 2019
  • 9781933633862

10 thoughts on “Debt: The First 5,000 Years

  1. says:

    I would call this an interesting but dangerous book As opposed to other books in which every moment was a learning and enlightening enjoyment this book was exhaustingly tense because I found it to be a very confusing mix of dangerous but plausible ideas written in a smart way, and interesting historical or world data So, I ll start the review with the negative things, and then move onto the positive ones the author seems to have a clear agenda, of attacking capitalism free market ideas, and to this end he s willing to use what I would call disloyal weapons I m happy to hear of opposing ideas when they are argued logically and without resorting to trickery, but the author uses a large amount of mixed and confusing philosophical debate to confuse, and imposes language with moral undertones to push his arguments for example in his attempt to vilify clear quantization of values as we do through currency he calls the non monetary solution human economy the other one must be inhuman, right Similarly he perverts the concept of familiar church friends sharing which I haven t heard any free market capitalist people deny on the contrary they seem to often have healthier family social relationships while their opponents like Marx have broken families, suicidal children and other tragedies , aaa, where was I yes, he perverts these positive relationships by calling them comunistic , thereby bringing their positive aura onto a social political system that has caused millions of deaths and huge suffering I find such trickery disloyal from the title and description I had assumed the book would be largely filled with historical data, but mostly i had to endure philosophical bla bla bla and a particularly non objective style of exposition i call this a dangerous book because I know there are a lot of people out there with soft logic abilities, and less historical knowledge or analytic abilities, and they might be tricked by the book, so i would recommend the book only if you ve read at least another 5 historical and economics books with a analytic lean, be it from the ruthless logic of Rothbard Mises or the historical facts of people such as Sowell I liken the authors style and method to Marx because like him his goal is to attack capitalism did you know that not capitalists but Marx coined the term with the purpose of attack , and they are both very smart people with high entertainment value intelectual writing and both spend a lot of time attacking something while then being unsurprisingly blank at proposing anything better in a consequent matter so that others can poke holes at their position too, instead they are positionless and thus can t be attacked themselves Also the author seems very tricky in his attacks does he mean to attack the system whereby people save first and then use those savings does he propose that debt spending is better does he think that nothing can should be quantized and we should all remain in a primitive society style yes, he searches a lot in history and present for obscure examples of tribes to argue his points, but doesn t seem to notice that maybe there s a reason those were left behind Instead he seems to define capitalism as everything he can cherry pick through history and present day that is bad, which of course makes it very easy to argue against them.There are howerever good things in the book too while IMHO setting up straw many arguments and guilty parties he does seem to see some big problems, he sees how the system today will probably go through a historically recurrent reset of debt and maybe complexity he dares to talk about subjects such as the American empire, the support it gets from countries with troops stationed in their territories, and such things while with some biases he does bring forth very interesting historical data about debt credit based system in the past if you have the right historical and economics background, particularly if you are versed in hard money ways of thinking it may provide some interesting alternative points of view which should improve your perspective as to possibilities of not just where we have been but where we might be goingOverall I d say it was a useful addition to my mental library, but one filled with many logical, moral and ideological traps, which is why I wouldn t advise it to many people as I find the author to be brilliantly smart and subtle, and some of his propositions are expressed in such ways that few people will be able to uncover them, let alone respond and fight them.

  2. says:

    Fantastic book To quote the words of Arundhati Roy The trouble is that once you see it, you can t unsee it And once you ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out There s no innocence Either way, you re accountable Thanks for helping me see clearly the true contours of the life we live I guess I m accountable now.

  3. says:

    I ve returned to this book five years later, and now I m struggling to find what I enjoyed so much in it the first time around I m even struggling to articulate what exactly Graeber s point is This is a sprawling, wide set book that seems almost incoherent, first setting up the strawman of intro economics textbooks discussing barter economics but barter wasn t so common The early economic history was and is still interesting, and now I m tempted to go read up on the early Mesopotamian period and debt tablets.But after that just seems to be a vicious invective against the stories told in economics 101 textbooks as if all of physics dealt with frictionless objects in a vacuum Now it s just this event is bad , event had debt involved , therefore debt bad Then stories about currency devaluation, then human economies, then everything all over the map It all sounds interesting and I remember digging out books from the bibliography, but it s not so connected to a main point If you re interested in books about the negative effects of consumer debt there are better books for that For economic history, there are better books for that I suspect its appeal for other readers and to myself as of five years ago was the specter of debt at the bottom of the recession, and the concluding idea of a debt holiday was tempting I m not against debt relief at all either I d prefer it to be continuous and systemic, not just a one time event.

  4. says:

    Back to the Future of CreditDespite its title this book is really a deconstruction of the idea of money The economist s idea is that credit loans, cash advances etc arises in a well developed monetary or cash on the barrel head society which in turn had been an improvement on the previous system of barter Not so says Graeber and rather convincingly credit, or precisely the ledger of who owes what to whom, is the most primitive form of commerce which is only supplemented by either barter or immediate monetary exchange when social conditions deteriorate sufficiently to make credit arrangements impossible Wars, revolutions, and various social upheavals are what cause the demand for cash, that is, the immediate settlement of commercial transactions Cash only becomes king when there is no trust, either between parties to a transaction or in the stability of the social environment Credit in a very practical sense is the fundamental invention and promoter of civilisation Graeber s thesis is in fact confirmed by recent technological developments like Bitcoin Bitcoin is in its simplest terms merely an unfalsifiable ledger of who has rights in the community and how much, essentially what members of the community are worth to each other The Bitcoin ledger differs from bank accounts because among other things it cannot be interfered with either by criminals or governments In other words the ledger can be trusted even when its members have no personal knowledge of each other The social system is its own guarantor If only Immanuel Kant not to mention Leibniz were alive to see it He spent his life trying to find a way to guarantee the integrity of life s accounts, in every sense of the word Double entry bookkeeping was a start but not enough to warrant complete trust With modern technology it looks as if we might be able to create enough trust to return to the most efficient commercial system possible pure credit Without the need for banks or their regulators Or for that matter, their scams and frauds Fascinating, provocative and stimulating If you have an interest in uncovering the myths of economics and how those myths become part of what you then see in the world, this is a must read An AddendumThis article appeared in my feed today It is yet further support for Graeber s position and the superiority of an unmediated credit economy

  5. says:

    I think of Goodreads stars as the following 1, shouldn t have been published 2, terrible 3, pretty good 4, really good 5, everyone should read this because it s eye opening, incredibly skillful, and or beautiful Debt is a five star book.Graeber s history encompasses not just history, but anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, political science, economics, religious studies, and finance as he details the history and definition of debt The conclusions he draws are especially if you ve ever taken an economics class, or, like me, gotten a degree in the subject shocking and overwhelming It s not an easy book to read the subject is complex and the writing is much challenging than the average pop sci book this is not Freakonomics As well, the sheer sweep of the book and the author s tendency to jump from subject to subject and theory to theory make this a bad book to read on an airplane, around children, or in small bites before bed But if you can stick it out well, your first reaction might be like mine to want to start reading it over again.Some of the questions Graeber answers in Debt include What was the original meaning of the word freedom Why were the Middle Ages of Europe just after the Black Plague one of the best times to be a worker, and what surprising reason brought that period to an end When and why might paying cash for a meal have marked you as a government official or a criminal Debt will change the way you see the world I hope you read it although I can t lend you my copy I m rereading it.

  6. says:

    Okay that s much better Thanks for all the reviews

  7. says:

    As a sociologist, I ve been despairing of late at the paucity of imagination and theoretical innovation in social science research Academics, perhaps because of the need to publish quickly and garner grant money, seem content to only add statistical validation to already established conclusions Or, a la David Harvey, to regurgitate Marx with minor variation, with a focus solely on the neoliberal period, and in US Eurocentric fashion Debt The First 5,000 Years redeems the social sciences Not easily reduced to a brief summary, the book asks the questions How has humanity from the ancient cities of Mesopotamia to the current day conceived of the idea of debt How has the construction of debt been inextricably bound to economic, religious, political, and historical realities And, finally, it asks a provocative philosophical question Given the history of the social construction of debt, how do we in the current moment respond to our own alleged indebtedness To answer these questions, Graeber embarks on the massive project of giving us a history of debt as a both a moral and economic concept, documenting in relentless and glorious detail how that concept changed through major periods of time Ancient, Axial, Middle Ages, Early capitalist and current period and amongst different societies Islam vs Christianity, etc In doing so, he shows conventional economic truisms for what they are utter falsehoods Exciting insights are also given into how people have resisted paying debts throughout history, this is not a passive story meant provoke sympathy The last chapter on the current period 1970 s present felt a little rushed and given the gravity and depth of the previous chapters, I think it could have used of a drawing together of all of the many fascinating points made in the book Graeber doesn t offer any concrete suggestions neither did Marx, so this can be easily forgiven other than a Jubilee, but I hope that he does lend his imaginative and analytic powers to praxis in the future The read provides one not only with a new extraordinary depth of knowledge, but also stimulates new questions and hopefully will inspire other researches to continue following Graeber s lead Lastly, it makes one think humanistically about what our true debts area book everyone should explore numerous times.

  8. says:

    As it turns out, we don t all have to pay our debts Only some of us do David Graeber, Debt The First 5,000 YearsA fascinating exploration of debt, money, barter, and the credit systems used by man for thousands of years Sure it has biases and like Capital in the Twenty First Century is a bit too idealistic, but still wow an amazing read While most economic books are still battling over the binary capitalism socialism model, Graeber quietly flips both boats or if not flips, rocks both boats HARD I mean really, when was the last time my wife let me read to her about social and economic transactions Answer Never She has NEVER, EVER before let me read to her about money or debt or interest rates or the buying and selling of goods This was an early rule in our marriage It was practically a sacred cow, a promise made with a flesh debt We even broke bread sticks over it I still have my stale tally We kept our bargain, till this book, till last night THAT is how good it is Anyway, go ahead read it in bed Read it to your wife in bed If you are really equals she will tell you after a few minutes whether she is in your debt, or you are in hers And, that s OK We are all debtors anyway.___________________

  9. says:

    I haven t finished reading yet, and I will try to write a substantive review of this book once I ve had time to wrap my head around the contents, but until such time has come, I would simply propose to consider this book the new answer to Douglas Adams s Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything If you ve ever wondered whether there is a connection between to name just a few things simple social obligations, the invention of money, slavery, taxation, coinage, the disappearance of honor societies, the possibility of extended wars, the rise and fall of the West Roman empire, the relative stability of the Chinese empires, the emergence of the great world religions, and the current financial crisis, you might be interested in reading Debt For , see e.g., this shorter or this longer interview with the author.

  10. says:

    This might be the most important book you read this decade Graeber asks what the phrase You have to pay your debts really means, and his answer involves a looping historical, anthropological, linguistic, and philosophical inquiry into the nature of currency, coinage, and capitalism.As Graeber notes, the standard economic story of the development of coinage that bartering diverse goods potatoes for shoes for sheep for shovels was so inconvenient that people developed cash to be efficient, has no evidence of support Rather, indigenous societies tend to work on principles of mutual solidarity within the group Everybody is bound together in a complex web of minor debts and obligations, the cancellation of which is the same as the end of the relationship Currency in these human economies is used to arrange marriages and compensate for murders Their purpose is not that human beings can be bought, but precisely to point out how unique each human life is.On top of this primordial communism, Graeber recognizes two harmful phenomenon Debt peonage, caused by ever escalating interest on loans, reduces free citizens to slaves, prompting rebelling and escape from urban agricultural centers Coinage, precious metal currency, is wealth stripped of all its context, anonymous money for strangers of little trust Together, they lead to what Graeber describes as the military slavery coinage complex , the use of force to seize human beings, rip them away from their homes, set them to working mines and plantations, and turn them into coins to pay the army to continue the war Combine the two, and you get the most rapacious form of modern capitalism debt laden soldiers trying to reduce everything around them to hard currency as fast as they can.The philosophical and linguistic sections are if anything, better than the history and the anthropology Almost all of our modern philosophies originate in questions about what money measures, what the universe is made of, and the paradox of ethical action and self interest Graeber s arguments are complex than what I ve presented here I m sure that there are other interpretations to the history he has chosen But he s asking The Big Questions, and one that cuts at the heart of our current crisis of faith.

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