January 18th 2013

Debt. The first 5000 years. David Graeber.

Wipe our Debt

Debt. The first 5000 years. David Graeber. 2012. ISBN 9781612191294. The author an economic anthropologist is a prolific academic writer. He was one of the architects of the Occupy Wall Street movement (penning the phrase we are the 99%).

I enjoy these types of thematic history books. Although his writing wanders ( and you will wonder where it is going) it is not enough to deter you from reading this very informative and well documented text ( the chapter notes are almost another book , fascinating).

He discusses honor, credit, slavery, religions  and sociological  history as it pertains to debt (which was developed to fund wars)  – building up to his core question – why should you honor your debts?  At times I wondered how he was getting to this, with a very strong argument against original pure barter theory, Adam Smith and economists in general.

He makes the case that bankers ( central anyway) are adept at making something out of nothing ( ie money or large debts).  This appears to be the basis of his rationale against bailing out the large Wall Street bankers if you do not forgive those who have mortgages under water, or sovereign states like Haiti who will never get out from under the debt load.

His thinking would likely have big forgiveness of many nation states debts  ( Greece etc), and he has the historical records to show why it was done in the past.  He also shows how  the whole world pays tribute to the US wrto their currency and  foretells a long view of China where they may be on their way to unseat the US dollar as the world reserve currency.

I did tend to agree with him that capitalism ( and greed)  requires a  belief that its time is limited, thus one has to grab what you can as quickly as you can.  He believes that capitalism is foundering and since it requires growth (and lots of permanent have nots to function) its flaws will eventually sink it.  He is not optimistic that the World can ever be a place where all are able to enjoy its fruits.

I recommend this book as a good thought and discussion provoker. Not for the light reader.

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