Debt: The First 5000 Years - David Graeber

Debt: The First 5000 Years - David Graeber

Book Notes

Money and credit, but interesting and thought provoking.


One sentence summary: An ambitious attempt at revisiting our understanding of money and credit, almost guaranteed to make you think.

David Graeber is divisive. The kind of author who creates both mega-fans and mega-critics from the same piece of work. We think that's a signal of a book worth reading.

2 key ideas:

  1. Past 'money' was a system of trust and mutual obligation, or, it was credit. Actual, physical money was introduced to re-establish social relationships when debts could not be repaid (such as marriage or death).
  2. Debt and violence are inextricably linked.

3 quotes from the book:

  • “In this sense, the value of a unit of currency is not the measure of the value of an object, but the measure of one’s trust in other human beings.”
  • “For me, this is exactly what's so pernicious about the morality of debt: the way that financial imperatives constantly try to reduce us all, despite ourselves, to the equivalent of pillagers, eyeing the world simply for what can be turned into money -- and then tell us that it's only those who are willing to see the world as pillagers who deserve access to the resources required to pursue anything in life other than money.”
  • “Politics, after all, is the art of persuasion; the political is that dimension of social life in which tings really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, on can never acknowledge this: it may be true that, if I could convince everyone in the world that I was the King of France, I would in fact become the King of France; but it would never work if I were to admit that this was the only basis of my claim. In this sense, politics is very similar to magic -- one reason both politics and magic tend, just about everywhere, to be surrounded by a certain halo of fraud.”