Debt: The First 5,000 Years Paperback – Nov 27 2012
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Winner of the Bateson Book Prize awarded by the Society for Cultural Anthropology
“One of the year’s most influential books. Graeber situates the emergence of credit within the rise of class society, the destruction of societies based on ‘webs of mutual commitment’ and the constantly implied threat of physical violence that lies behind all social relations based on money.” —Paul Mason, The Guardian
“The book is more readable and entertaining than I can indicate... It is a meditation on debt, tribute, gifts, religion and the false history of money. Graeber is a scholarly researcher, an activist and a public intellectual. His field is the whole history of social and economic transactions.” —Peter Carey, The Observer
"An alternate history of the rise of money and markets, a sprawling, erudite, provocative work."
—Drake Bennett, Bloomberg Businessweek
"[A]n engaging book. Part anthropological history and part provocative political argument, it's a useful corrective to what passes for contemporary conversation about debt and the economy."
—Jesse Singal, Boston Globe
"Fresh... fascinating... Graeber’s book is not just thought-provoking, but also exceedingly timely."
—Gillian Tett, Financial Times (London)
—Giles Fraser, BBC Radio 4
"Terrific... In the best anthropological tradition, he helps us reset our everyday ideas by exploring history and other civilizations, then boomeranging back to render our own world strange, and more open to change."
—Raj Patel, The Globe and Mail
"An amazing debut – conversational, pugnacious, propulsive"
—Times Higher Education (UK)
"Graeber's book has forced me to completely reevaluate my position on human economics, its history, and its branches of thought. A Marxism without Graeber's anthropology is beginning to feel meaningless to me."
—Charles Mudede, The Stranger
"The world of borrowing needs a little demystification, and David Graeber's Debt is a good start."
—The L Magazine
"Controversial and thought-provoking, an excellent book."
"This timely and accessible book would appeal to any reader interested in the past and present culture surrounding debt, as well as broad-minded economists."
Praise for David Graeber
“I consider him the best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world.”
—Maurice Bloch, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics
"A brilliant, deeply original political thinker."
—Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell
“If anthropology consists of making the apparently wild thought of others logically compelling in their own cultural settings and intellectually revealing of the human condition, then David Graeber is the consummate anthropologist. Not only does he accomplish this profound feat, he redoubles it by the critical task—now more urgent than ever—of making the possibilities of other people’s worlds the basis for understanding our own.”
—Marshall Sahlins, Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
David Graeber teaches anthropology at the London School of Economics. He has written for Harper’s, The Nation, Mute, and The New Left Review. In 2006, he delivered the Malinowski Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics, an annual talk that honors “outstanding anthropologists who have fundamentally shaped the study of culture.” One of the original organizers of Occupy Wall Street, Graeber has been called an “anti-leader of the movement” by Bloomberg Businessweek. The Atlantic wrote that he “has come to represent the Occupy Wall Street message...expressing the group’s theory, and its founding principles, in a way that truly elucidated some of the things people have questioned about it.”
Top Customer Reviews
This is a very nice complement to any research on the "mechanics" of economy that, in the end, are quite drab readings, and usually offer an incomplete perspective since the basic nature of economy is in fact social(no I'm not a socialist!!) through human exchange. I highly recommend this reading to anyone curious of how our world works... Also read Zarlenga.
BTW, nothing particularely marxiste, communist (except the fact the we, as humans do share "common" riches... and no I'm not a communist for using the word common!), this is a perticular and interesting view and has been cited in a white paper by economists from the IMF (... damn commies!) ;)
Here are a few small points that have changed my way of thinking:
-Graeber begins by debunking the sacred Adam Smith, which he admits threatens the very foundation of economics, and that economics itself rests on the completely false foundations of Smith's unfounded and unprovable assumptions. The first clop up the side of the head is the destruction of the notion that money preceded markets and credit. He shows definitively and with total certainty that it was completely the other way around. Credit came first because there was no coinage. Markets and money, on the other hand, are side effects of governments. They cannot exist without institutional structures in place. And countries didn't appear until late in the human game. Ultimately, he says Smith was describing an ideal state, not anything that has ever existed anywhere.
-Next, Graeber swings a punch for honor. All debt seems to stem from honor. Medieval Ireland for example, was structured on a monetary system that valued the honor of various classes of people, and assigned hard goods to value them ' right in law. So honor was 'monetized' in hard goods. Coins had no place beside eggs and cows and slave girls. Too abstract. Too remote. Similar official valuations of honor to commodities occurred elsewhere in history too. Tellingly, the Greek word for honor is the same word for price. In other words, the very human condition of honor is possibly the single most important driver of economics. This is a delightfully radically different viewpoint.
-About the earliest evidence of the knowledge of structured debt that we have comes from 2402 BC. Money itself only appears around 600 BC, and most interestingly, it disappears again around 600 AD. Medieval societies existed without cash. Cash came back, obviously. But the question remains: is it cyclical? This gets short shrift, and only at the very end of the book.
-Money itself seems to have come into play all over the world at about the same time, and for about the same reason: to pay armies. Alexander the Great alone required half a ton of silver a day to keep his men his men. This of course became a vicious circle. More need of silver meant wider conquests, more mines, more slaves to work them, and larger armies to oversee the expanding empire. In very many ways, little has changed.
-For centuries, peasant uprisings have focused not on equality, not on an end to slavery, but the destruction of debt records. From medieval India to modern Chiapas, it is debt that causes violent dissatisfaction with life.
-Market economies and capitalist economies are not (necessarily) the same thing, or even compatible. Market economies seek to trade goods for money in order to obtain more goods. Capitalist economies use money to buy goods to make more money. Put that way, it's two different universes.
-and finally, 'Capitalism cannot really operate in a world where people believe it will be around forever.' I don't think I've seen a more highly charged statement in a rational context ' ever.
What a fine book!
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