Book review: " Debt. The first 5,000 years" by David Graeber

Here is a book that challenges conventional thinking about money, barter and debt. Economists say money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems and to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem is that there is not a shred of evidence to support this version of history.

Graeber, an anthropologist, argues that since the beginning of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods — long before the invention of coins or cash. Over time, virtual credit money was replaced by gold and silver coins, and the system began to decline. Interest rates spiked, the indebted became slaves. The system perpetuated with violent consequences with only rare intervention of kings and churches to prevent the system spiralling out of control. Debt has defined human history, including the recent GFC, and will continue to do so.

Here are a couple of provocative excerpts. “Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs”.

“What is a debt? A debt is just a perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by maths and violence”

Highly recommended.