Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Review: Debt: The First 5,000 Years

What is money? Does it represent debt or stored value? And your answer to these questions carries a lot of implications.

In Debt, the First 5,000 Years, David Graeber follows in a long line of people that argue that money is debt/obligation, all economies are centrally planned in fact and so let's make the economy work for us.  

One reviewer's take follows:

"In advancing his thesis, Graeber introduces a number of anthropological and philosophical themes alongside a historical narrative of change. While the early chapters of the book engage with such subject areas as ‘Primordial debts’, ‘A brief treatise on the moralgrounds of economic relations’, and ‘Games with sex and death’, the latter half of the book is given over to a discussion of the changing role and nature of money and debt from the Axial Age (800 BCE to 600 CE) to the present day.

Three themes emerge as noteworthy for the economic historian: the myth of barter; the link between the introduction of coin as money and military activity; and long-run swings in the use of bullion versus credit money.
His conclusion is that the gradual extension of commercial or market exchange, primarily as a result of military imperialism, succeeded in reducing all moral obligations to a financial value, and in the process destroyed the ‘baseline communism’ that Graeber believes to have been the foundation of all social relations."

And this boils down to: 

"Only when we realize that paying one’s debts ‘is not the essence of morality’, but merely our current human arrangement, can we agree to change that arrangement for the benefit of us all."

Well, that's one take on the nature of money, and one you'll see asserted from time to time.

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