Debt: The First 5,000 Years

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by David Graeber

Melville House Publishing

2011, 2012

SKU: 9781612191294

 

Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it.

Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that 5,000 years ago, during the beginning of the agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems. It is in this era, Graeber shows, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.

With the passage of time, however, virtual credit money was replaced by gold and silver coins—and the system as a whole began to decline. Interest rates spiked and the indebted became slaves. And the system perpetuated itself with tremendously violent consequences, with only the rare intervention of kings and churches keeping the system from spiraling out of control. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.

 

DAVID GRAEBER teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the author of Direct Action: An Ethnography, Towards an Anthropological Theory of ValueLost People, and Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire. He has written for Harper’sThe NationMute, and The New Left Review.