Debt: The First 5,000 Years – David Graeber

Debt was recommended to me by a good friend, but as there was a queue for it at the library its taken months to get to me in the reservation system. The author, Graeber is one of the intellectuals behind the Occupy movement and an academic anthropologist.

His premise is that money did not evolve out of a barter system but out of a debt system as a means of measuring debt. In addition he looks at the harm that debt across power imbalances can cause and how throughout history governments have controlled this. Its clear from the introductory chapter that he is firmly against prosecuting an unfair or unjust debt.

Throughout the book however he makes it clear that debt is also part of how societies have been bound together throughout history, how small debts hold small communities together and that even some bigger debts between unequals have formed a useful purpose. But he also looks at how debt was involved in facilitating slavery, in putting prices on the priceless and trapping people into actions that they may only be doing because they are desperate. One this I also found of note was how often the need for women drove these practises.

He also looks at solutions stretching into history, not only our conventional bankruptcy but also debt jubilees and restrictions on the length of time a debt can be followed up for.

Whilst I’m not sure that the most extreme examples he discusses are necessarily true, its an interesting viewpoint on our monetary, debt and power systems and certainly raises the question of where power truly lies.

3 thoughts on “Debt: The First 5,000 Years – David Graeber

    1. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts on it. Be warned though: its 400 pages of small text, I am a fast reader and had to make an effort to read it before the library wanted it back. The early history stuff alone makes it well-worth reading.

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