DEBT: The First 5,000 Years

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Anthropologist David Graeber, reader in social anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, talks about his new  book, DEBT: The First 5,000 Years, and proposes a radical debt forgiveness scheme


David Graeber

Comments [9]

Julio Huato from Brooklyn, NY

What would life be like if we demanded that politicians (e.g. Obama) fulfilled their campaign promises, explicit and also implicit? That would be the end of civilization as we know it.

Sep. 07 2011 09:17 PM
Giuseppe from Manhattan

Debt has also been inversely related to freedom.
In ancient times, failure to repay could lead to enslavement, in more recent centuries,
to debtor's prisons.
Reformers, from the 6th century BC Solon to the establishment of bankruptcy law in the US addressed and rescinded this form of debt-punishment.

Jul. 20 2011 01:20 AM
Craig from Manhattan

As I listened to this I couldn't help but think of "Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique." In addition to madness being invented to deal with those who cannot or will not work debt is invented to keep the workers working with the threat of the narrenschiff or debtors' prison a constant reminder.

Jul. 19 2011 11:50 AM
Adam from NJ

I am an attorney in NJ representing homeowners in foreclosure. It is amazing how often banks refuse to negotiate modifications or even return checks when debt holders attempt to pay. The banks say you either pay the entire balance outstanding, or nothing. This attitude grinds the market to a halt and prevents the economic cycle from moving...

Jul. 19 2011 11:44 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Paper money IS debt! Paper money is an IOU. It represents a claim against the government, which at one time was backed by rare and precious metals. That eventually went away, and the dollar today is only backed by an empty promise. Same with most other paper currencies.

Jul. 19 2011 11:41 AM
Laura from UWS

In ancient history was debt forgiveness also used preferentially to help certain classes of people?

Jul. 19 2011 11:39 AM

I like the idea of David Graeber's book (haven't read it... yet).

But try this on:

"Medicine: The First 5,000 Years"

Anybody think we should be taking guidance from medicine as practiced in medieval Europe?

What reason do we have to believe that economic practices two or three thousand years ago would be applicable today? How do we know that the understanding of what it was to be "in debt" matches at all with the notion today? At the very least, a case must be made for a parallel before any prescriptive claim can be based on ancient practice.

Still, very interesting. Sounds better than Niall Ferguson's essentially right-wing hatchet job on history.

Jul. 19 2011 11:37 AM
John from NYC

Is this guest a complete fool, or does he just want to destroy all moral character?

In our affluent culture, we do not need to get over our heads in debt, unless it is a means of government "giving" people things they cannot afford to buy votes.

Jul. 19 2011 11:35 AM
sp from nyc

Isn't he describing bankruptcy? This hardly seems revolutionary or provacative.

Jul. 19 2011 11:33 AM

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