graeber book forum: part 1
Department store clerks hate me. When I buy something, they try to sign me up for a credit card and I refuse. If they press, I get difficult. Press too much and I snap: “No! Credit cards are the work of the devil!!!” The clerks are speechless. For years, I thought I was alone in my religious hatred of debt … but there is another …
This semester’s book forum is dedicated to “Debt – the First 5,000 Years” by David Graeber. If you follow social theory, you may know Graeber as the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. He’s also an outstanding anthropologist, having written the highly lauded Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value. He’s also recently drawn attention as an inspiration and organization for many Occupy events.
Debt is Graeber’s latest book. I think it is to be taken seriously because it offers a number of claims that are very important to consider. This will post will lay them out:
1. Exchange is carried out in non-industrial societies in terms of a debt economy. Barter does not exist in most social situations.
2. Therefore, the classical economic explanation of the origins of money is wrong. This is not merely a mistake of intellectual history, it undermines much of the foundations of neo-classical economics.
3. In fact, debt comes first and then money is used to formalize debt. It is not the case that money precedes credit.
4. Debt is used as a mechanism of social control.
5. Societies have debt/credit cycles that lead to severe social economic crises, which often result in catastrophic resolutions.
As you can see, this book is ambitious. It is nothing less than an attempt to completely undermine the traditional view of credit and debt as normal and functional features of the market economy. Over the next few weeks, we’ll get into these arguments in some detail.