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Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

Tekijä: David Graeber

Muut tekijät: Katso muut tekijät -osio.

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"Before there was money, there was debt. 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 for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods - that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like guilt, sin, and redemption) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it"--Publisher's description.… (lisätietoja)
  1. 40
    Pääoma 2000-luvulla (tekijä: Thomas Piketty) (waitingtoderail)
  2. 10
    The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve (tekijä: G. Edward Griffin) (fulner)
    fulner: Is debt a necessity that has helped advance civilization, or a conspiracy to keep the poor man down, the truth may lie somewhere between
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La prima cosa da sapere su questo libro è che il suo autore, David Graeber, è un anarchico e che Debito è decisamente figlio di una visione anarchica del mondo e della storia. Quindi, se per voi le persone anarchiche sono quelle che spaccano le vetrine con un passamontagna in testa durante le manifestazioni, vi consiglio caldamente queste tre puntate (una, due e tre) del podcast di Riccardo Del Ferro dedicate appunto all’anarchia oggi.

Quindi, Debito ci offre un punto di vista al quale non siamo abituatə (immagino che non moltə tra voi abbiano dimestichezza con l’anarchismo, vista la brutta fama che sembra avere) e che non ha come scopo quello di convincere chi legge della sua veridicità, ma solo di farci dire: «Sai che? Non l’avevo mai pensata in questo modo...». Questo è uno dei motivi per i quali ho amato questo libro: non so se sono d’accordo con Graeber, ma mi ha procurato un certo sommovimento neuronale e questo mi piace assai.

Un altro motivo di apprezzamento per Debito è stata la sua ampia visione dei fenomeni umani: essendo Graeber un antropologo, il suo punto di vista è più globale che occidentale, un’altra cosa alla quale non siamo abituatə da queste parti. Non troverete l’idea che l’Occidente sia superiore ad altre parti del mondo (anzi… manco per niente).

E ancora, Graeber non fa ruotare tutto intorno al maschio. Sembra una stranezza, ma a me non vengono in mente molti autori di saggi che abbiano citato il femminismo come un’autorevole corrente di pensiero che potrebbe portare ottime soluzioni ai problemi che affliggono il pianeta (oltre al fatto che è stato in grado di spiegare molti eventi storici).

Infine, ho apprezzato il fatto che fosse un buon libro di divulgazione, molto scorrevole e niente affatto pesante, nonostante il tema non proprio alla mano: per il modo in cui affronta temi che pensiamo di conoscere bene o che diamo per scontato essere in una certa maniera finirete per divorarlo. ( )
  lasiepedimore | Jan 11, 2024 |
I was reading it for a month. It went tought, but I persisted, unearthing every now an then a nugget or two of incomparable wisdom. I'm an athropologist, so I may be biased, but...if you're short of time, read first pages on refutation of the barter idyll, and then fast forward on to the last chapter, conclusion and the afterword. Your world will never be the same again. No kiddin'. ( )
  Den85 | Jan 3, 2024 |
An excellent, highly readable history of debt, our conceptions of it and how it has affected our entire political life. Has a LOT of stories and anecdotes and stuff from various times in history. Skimpy on some details but that's inevitable when you're doing such a wide ranging history and he always says enough to illustrate his point. I disagree with some of the stuff he says from a Marxist perspective but it's not totally shit - it's just I think he does the typical anarchist thing of ascribing changes to an amorphous "state." Ultimately though I thoroughly enjoyed it. A radical book that does a great job of challenging our preconceived notions of economics and what's "natural", pointing the way towards radical change and providing a fascinating historical primer along the way. ( )
  tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
The author, an anthropologist, teaches a very large amount about the origins of money and the history of debt. It is eye-opening, partly because he also teaches a lot of history of peoples from many other times. He is stunningly knowledgeable about many areas. I was absorbed by this book and will read others of his. ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
A bizarre mix of provocative evidence, absurd statements, wild speculations and exaggerated conclusions!

The first few chapters are dedicated to arguing that money originated as a unit of accounting for debts, and not as a valuable commodity acting as a unit of exchange to facilitate barter of goods, until in chapter 4 we are suddenly told that, after all, it's "obvious" that money is both these things!

Indeed, why would Sumerian accountants have used the silver shekel as a unit of account equivalent to a bushel of barley, if a silver shekel could not be exchanged for a bushel of barley? It must have been so, if for no other reason than that, if a silver shekel was worth one bushel of barley in the granary books, and worth half a bushel in the marketplace, a merchant could sell half a bushel in the market for a single shekel that would be credited to him as worth a whole bushel for tax purposes!

Villagers living cheek by jowl at the origin of money could indeed record who owed whom what; Graeber denies that this accounting of debt constituted barter though. Yet what did the baker originally expect to receive from the brewer in payment of his debt, if not beer, a useful commodity, or at least a beer-token or beer-credit? Surely the point of an IOU is that one owes a certain value, and this value would originally have to be stipulated as an amount of some useful thing, ideally in the most universally useful and easily circulated thing (in prisons, cigarettes; potentially, labour).

What seems to have seduced Graeber into obsessing over money's role as a unit of accounting for debt, rather than as a commodity for facilitating bartering, is simply the issue of time. As he writes, money started in Sumer as an accounting of debt to suppliers "to be settled at harvest time in barley or anything [debtors] might have at hand": so debt was really just a record of valuable commodities owed for payment at a later time! Debt was after all then just barter with a time-lag.

Of course trade between people who did not expect to have a continuous relationship would also naturally have to be settled by items of value to each of them; in circumstances without states or banks this must have been a commodity item: something desirable in itself like gold or cowrie shells, which are ornamental, durable and portable even at relatively high values. With the advent of states, and taxation being required in the form of certain stipulated things, the most natural form of tax was of course at first useful commodities like food delivered to the royal granary, or else commodity money exchangeable for other commodities.

Once states and banks could be relied on to honour them, credit notes could circulate as claims on gold and silver either sitting in banks or as promises to deliver them to the bearer. Later on, paper and electronic money could be detached from conversion into real commodities and continue to function throughout their assigned value as legal tender for paying taxes. But people will actually accept them to a greater or lesser degree (i.e. deflate or inflate their value) according to the more real value of goods and services in circulation: the value of money remains tied to the value of commodities. If the quantity of money available rises faster than the quantity of useful goods, then the price of goods rises and each banknote or electronic credit is worth less in real terms. We still therefore value money according to the amount of commodities it can claim, which is why (as Mike Beggs points out in his review) governments may no longer tie currency to gold, but they tie it instead by means of inflation-targetting to a basket of consumer goods: the value of money in terms of useful goods must be preserved at a reasonably stable level. If banks or the state or shops lost confidence in the ability of money to purchase a stable amount of goods, and demanded cigarettes instead, everybody would revert to commodity money. Which all goes to argue that money must be tied to commodities in order to function as a unit of accounting for debts: it must be a means of facilitating barter to have value for settling debts.

Graeber begins the book wondering why money debts should be paid. The reason surely is that borrowing money is an agreement to exchange values just like any other transaction: give me £1,000 today in exchange for £1,100 next month. One is supposed to keep one's promise to pay, and failure to do so is provided for in the agreed rules of the contract, or in the laws governing debt. Like any other transaction, in a fair society borrowing might be hedged around with rules that protect against exploitation and excessive suffering of defaulters; hence why we have regulations about how and when creditors must or may not be paid back. There is no "sacred principle" that debts must be paid, as Graeber writes: he apparently has not heard of insolvency law, in which creditors will be paid back as much money as can reasonably be generated, without the bankruptees having to enter debt-peonage or sell their children. I don't think we necessarily needed the history of debt this book attempts to give us, in order to answer questions of the ethics of debt-forgiveness. ( )
  fji65hj7 | May 14, 2023 |
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Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
debt
noun 1 a sum of money owed. 2 the state of owing money. 3 a feeling of gratitude for a favour or service.
--Oxford English Dictionary
If you owe the bank a hundred thousand dollars, the bank owns you. If you owe the bank a hundred million dollars, you own the bank. --American Proverb
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It's money that had made it possible for us to imagine ourselves in the way economists encourage us to do: as a collection of individuals and nations whose main business is swapping things.
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"Before there was money, there was debt. 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 for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods - that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like guilt, sin, and redemption) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it"--Publisher's description.

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