Friday, 19 April 2013

Debt: The First 5000 Years

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Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Cover of the 2010 edition
Author(s)David Graeber
PublisherMelville House
Publication date2011
OCLC Number426794447
Debt: The First 5000 Years is a book by anthropologist David Graeber published in 2011. Graeber analyzes the function of debt in human history. He traces the history of debt from ancient civilizations to our modern-day economic crises, arguing that debt has often driven revolutions and social and political changes. The book has been connected to movements like Occupy Wall Street.[1][2][3] The book won the inaugural Bread and Roses Award for radical literature,[4] and the 2012 Bateson Award of the American Society for Cultural Anthropology.



[edit] Synopsis

Graeber lays out the historical development of the idea of debt, starting from the first recorded debt systems that existed in the Sumer civilization around 3500 BC. In this early form of borrowing and lending, farmers would often become so mired in debt that their children would be forced into debt peonage, though they were periodically released by kings who canceled all debts and granted them amnesty under what later came to be known, in ancient Israel, as the Law of Jubilee. Throughout antiquity, the author identifies many different systems of credit and later monetary exchange, drawing evidence for his argument from historical and also ethnographical records, that the traditional explanation for the origins of monetary economies from primitive bartering system, as laid out by Adam Smith, doesn't find empirical support. One feature first observed in this period, though - that of popular indebtedness leading to unrest, insurrections and revolts - will accompany the narrative of the whole book as it deals with the origins of the state, money, interest, taxation and slavery.
The author supports that originally credit systems developed as means of account much before the advent of coinage around 600 BC, and can still be seen operating in non-monetary economies. The idea of barter, on the other hand, seems only to apply for limited exchanges between different societies that held no frequent contact and often were in a context of ritualized warfare, rendering its conceptualization among economists as a myth. As an alternative explanation for the creation of economic life, the author suggests that it originally related to social currencies, closely related to non-market quotidian interactions among a community and based on the "everyday communism" that is based on mutual expectations and responsibilities among individuals. This type of economy is, then, contrasted with the moral foundations of exchange, based on formal equality and reciprocity (but not necessarily leading to market relations) and hierarchy, based on clear inequalities that tend to crystallize in customs and castes.
With the advent of the great Axial Age civilizations, the nexus between coinage and the calculability of economic values was concomitant with the disrupt of what Graeber calls "human economies," as found among the Iroquois, Celts, Inuit, Tiv, Nuer and the Malagasy people of Madagascar among other groups which, according to Graeber, held a radically different conception of debt and social relations, based on the radical incalculability of human life and the constant creation and recreation of social bonds through gifts, marriages and general sociability. The author postulates the growth of a "military-coinage-slave complex" around this time, through which mercenary armies looted cities and human beings were cut from their social context to work as slaves in Greece, Rome and elsewhere in the Eurasian continent. The extreme violence of the period marked by the rise of great empires in China, India and the Mediterranean was, in this way, connected with the advent of large-scale slavery and the use of coins to pay soldiers, together with the obligation enforced by the State for its subjects to pay its taxes in currency. This was also the same time that the great religions spread out and the general questions of philosophical enquiry emerged on world history - many of those directly related, as in Plato's Republic, with the nature of debt and its relation to ethics.
When the great empires in Rome and India collapsed, the resulting creation of a checkerboard of small kingdoms and republics saw the gradual decline in standing armies and cities, as well as the settlement of the lower classes through various hierarchical caste systems, the retreat of gold and silver to the temples and the abolition of slavery. Although hard currency was no longer used in everyday life, its use as a unit of account and credit continued in medieval Europe, against popular claims among economists that the Middle Ages somehow saw the economy "revert to barter". In fact, it was during the Middle Ages that more sophisticated financial institutions like promissory notes and paper money (in China, where the empire managed to survive the collapse observed elsewhere), letters of credit and cheques (in the Islamic world) developed and spread. According to Graeber, it was the Islamic "western" tradition of free market and commerce outside of governmental intervention that inspired the original formulation of Adam Smith, whose writing seems to repeat ipsis litteris the words of Persian scholars like Al-Tusi and Al-Ghazali.
It took the emergence of the Atlantic slave trade and the massive amounts of gold and silver extracted from the Americas - most of which ended up in the far East, especially China - to see the reemergence of the bullion economy and large-scale military violence. All of which, according to Graeber, directly intertwined with the earlier expansion of the Italian mercantile city-states as centers of finance that defied the church ban on usury and led to the age of the great capitalist empires that endured and prospered for the next 500 years. As the new continent opened new possibilities for gain, it also created a new area for adventurous militarism backed by debts that required the economic exploitation of the Amerindian and, later, West African populations. As it did, cities again flourished in the European continent and capitalism advanced to encompass larger areas of the globe when European trade companies and military outposts disrupted local markets and pushed for colonial monopolies.
This age would have come to an end with the abandonment of the gold standard by the U.S. government in 1971 and a return to credit money, opening up uncertainties and possibilities yet unclear as the dollar stands as the world currency largely based in its capacity to multiply itself through debts and deficits as long as the United States maintains its status as the worlds only military power and client states are eager to pay seignorage for its government bonds. By comparing the evolution of debt in our times to other historical eras and different societies, the author suggests that modern debt crises are not the inevitable product of history and may be changed.[5]

[edit] Anti-capitalist critique

In addition to his anthropological narrative, Graeber also provides direct criticism of modern-day capitalism, questioning many traditionally accepted economic notions, especially: the free market, the historical myth of the concept of barter as the origin of trade, and the concept of money as an independent object of worth, rather than a social relation.[2]

[edit] References

  1. ^ Tett, Gillian (9 September 2011). "Debt: it’s back to the future". FT Magazine. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Gharavi, Maryam Monalisa (31 October 2011). "A History of Debt". Social Text. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  3. ^ Bennett, Drake (26 October 2011). "David Graeber, the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Alison Flood (6 March 20). "New prize for radical writing announces shortlist". Retrieved May 2, 2012. 
  5. ^ Meaney, Thomas (December 8, 2011). "Anarchist Anthropology". The New York Times Book Review. The New York Times Company. pp. BR47. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 

[edit] External links

Also, some interesting biodata on David Graeber which maybe of interest. RS
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

David Graeber
David Graeber.jpg
BornDavid Rolfe Graeber
(1961-02-12) February 12, 1961 (age 52)
ResidenceLondon, United Kingdom
CitizenshipUnited States
InstitutionsYale University
Goldsmiths, University of London
London School of Economics
Alma materState University of New York at Purchase
University of Chicago
InfluencesMarcel Mauss, Edmund Leach, Marshall Sahlins, Peter Kropotkin
InfluencedOccupy movement
David Rolfe Graeber (/ˈɡrbər/; born 12 February 1961) is an American anthropologist and anarchist who is a Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.[1] He was an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University, although Yale controversially declined to rehire him,[2] and his term there ended in June 2007. Graeber has been involved in social and political activism, including the protests against the World Economic Forum in New York City in 2002 and Occupy Wall Street.



[edit] Early life

Graeber's parents, who were in their forties when Graeber was born, were self-taught working-class Jewish intellectuals. Graeber's mother, Ruth Rubenstein, had been a garment worker, and played the lead role in the 1930s musical comedy revue Pins & Needles, staged by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.[3] Graeber's father Kenneth, who was affiliated with the Youth Communist League in college, though he quit well before the Hitler-Stalin pact, participated in the Spanish Revolution in Barcelona and fought in the Spanish Civil War.[4] He later worked as a plate stripper on offset printers. Graeber grew up in New York, in a cooperative apartment building described by Business Week magazine as "suffused with radical politics."[5] Graeber has been an anarchist since the age of 16, according to an interview he gave to The Village Voice in 2005.[6]
Graeber graduated from Phillips Academy Andover in 1978 and received his B.A. from the State University of New York at Purchase in 1984. He gained his Masters degree and Doctorate at the University of Chicago, where he won a Fulbright fellowship and completed his Ph.D. thesis on magic, slavery, and politics in Madagascar.[2]

[edit] Academic career

Graeber in January 2002
In 1998, two years after completing his PhD, Graeber joined Yale University as an assistant professor.[2] In May 2005, the Yale anthropology department decided not to renew Graeber's contract, preventing him from coming up for consideration for tenure as he would otherwise have been scheduled to do in 2008. Pointing to Graeber's highly regarded anthropological scholarship, his supporters (including fellow anthropologists, former students, and activists) accused the decision of being politically motivated. More than 4,500 people signed petitions supporting him, and well-known British anthropologist Maurice Bloch called for Yale to rescind its decision.[2] Bloch, who had been a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and the Collège de France, and world renowned scholar on Madagascar, made the following statement about Graeber in a letter to the university:
"His writings on anthropological theory are outstanding. I consider him the best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world."[7]
The Yale administration argued that Graeber's dismissal was in keeping with Yale's policy of granting tenure to few junior faculty and Yale gave no formal explanation for its actions. Graeber has suggested that his support of a student of his who was targeted for expulsion because of her membership in GESO, Yale's graduate student union, may have played a role in the university's decision.[8][2][9][10]
In December 2005, Graeber agreed to leave the university after a one-year paid sabbatical. That spring he taught two final classes: an introduction to cultural anthropology (attended by over 200 students) and a course entitled “Direct Action and Radical Social Theory” – the only explicitly radical-themed course at Yale he ever taught.
On 25 May 2006, Graeber was invited to give the Malinowski Lecture at the London School of Economics; his address was entitled "Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity".[11] The anthropology department at the university honors an anthropologist at a relatively early stage of their career to give the Malinowski Lecture each year, and only invite those who are considered to have made a significant contribution to anthropological theory. That same year, Graeber was asked to present the keynote address in the 100th anniversary Diamond Jubilee meetings of the Association of Social Anthropologists.[12] In April 2011 he presented the anthropology department's annual Distinguished Lecture at Berkeley,[13] and in May 2012 delivered the Second Annual Marilyn Strathern lecture at Cambridge.

From 2008 through Spring 2013, Mr. Graeber was a lecturer and a reader at Goldsmiths College. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, he has accepted a professorship at the London School of Economics in 2013[14].

[edit] Authorship

David Graeber is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology and Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. He has done extensive anthropological work in Madagascar, writing his doctoral thesis (The Disastrous Ordeal of 1987: Memory and Violence in Rural Madagascar) on the continuing social division between the descendants of nobles and the descendants of former slaves. A book based on his dissertation, Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar appeared from Indiana University Press in September 2007. A book of collected essays, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire was published by AK Press in November 2007 and Direct Action: An Ethnography appeared from the same press in August 2009, as well as a collection of essays co-edited with Stevphen Shukaitis called Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations//Collective Theorization (AK Press, May 2007). These were followed by a major historical monograph, Debt: The First 5000 Years (Melville House), which appeared in July 2011.[15] Speaking about Debt with the Brooklyn Rail, Graeber remarked:
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and what they did to countries in the Global South—which is, of course, exactly the same thing bankers are starting to do at home now—is just a modern version of this old story. That is, creditors and governments saying you’re having a financial crisis, you owe money, obviously you must pay your debts. There’s no question of forgiving debts. Therefore, people are going to have to stop eating so much. The money has to be extracted from the most vulnerable members of society. Lives are destroyed; millions of people die. People would never dream of supporting such a policy until you say, “Well, they have to pay their debts.”[16]
As of December 2011, Graeber is working on a book for Random House connecting "the story of the Occupy movement to an exploration of the past and future of direct action, participatory democracy, and political transformation", and another for Melville House combining three essays on bureaucracy (one of which he delivered as the Malinowski Lecture in 2006).[17] He is also working on an historical work on the origins of social inequality with the archeologist David Wengrow.
His book on the Occupy movement and related issues was released as The Democracy Project in 2013.

[edit] Activism

Graeber (left) at a rally for immigrant rights at Union Square, New York City in May 2007
In addition to his academic work, Graeber has a history of both direct and indirect involvement in political activism, including membership in the labor union Industrial Workers of the World, a role in protests against the World Economic Forum in New York City in 2002, support for the 2010 UK student protests,[18] and an early role in the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is co-founder of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence.[19] In November 2011, Rolling Stone magazine credited Graeber with giving the Occupy Wall Street movement its theme: "We are the 99 percent". Rolling Stone says Graeber helped create the first New York City General Assembly, with only 60 participants, on August 2.[20] He spent the next six weeks involved with the burgeoning movement, including facilitating general assemblies, attending working group meetings, and organizing legal and medical training and classes on nonviolent resistance. A few days after the encampment of Zuccotti Park began, he left New York for Austin, Texas.[5]
Graeber has argued that the Occupy Wall Street movement's lack of recognition of the legitimacy of either existing political institutions or the legal structure, its embrace of non-hierarchical consensus decision-making and of prefigurative politics make it a fundamentally anarchist project.[21] Comparing it to the Arab Spring, Graeber has claimed that Occupy Wall Street and other contemporary grassroots protests represent "the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire."[22] He is a member of the labor union Industrial Workers of the World and of the Interim Committee for the emerging International Organization for a Participatory Society.[23]

[edit] Publications

[edit] Books

As co-editor

[edit] Articles

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Graeber, David". Goldsmiths, University of London. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Arenson, Karen W. (December 28, 2005). "When Scholarship and Politics Collided at Yale". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths: Graeber, Ruth R.". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). April 20, 2006. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Kenneth Graeber". Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Spanish Civil War History and Education. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Bennett, Drake (26 October 2011). "David Graeber, the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street: Meet the anthropologist, activist, and anarchist who helped transform a hapless rally into a global protest movement". Business Week. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  6. ^ Mamatas, Nick (31 May 2005). "Take It From the Top: Speaking with anarchist professor David Graeber, canned from Yale". Village Voice. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Bloch, Maurice. "Letter from Maurice Bloch, London School of Economics". Solidarity with David Graeber. Archived from the original on October 27, 2009. Retrieved October 27, 2009. 
  8. ^ Frank, Joshua (May 13–15, 2005). "Without Cause: Yale Fires An Acclaimed Anarchist Scholar". Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  9. ^ Epstein, David (May 18, 2005). "Early Exit". Inside Higher Education. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  10. ^ Johansen, Bruce E (2007). Silenced!: academic freedom, scientific inquiry, and the First Amendment. New York: Praeger. pp. 110–112. ISBN 978-0-275-99686-4. 
  11. ^ Graeber, David (May 26, 2006). "Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity" (pdf). London School of Economics. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  12. ^ Graeber, David. "There Never Was a West: Democracy as a form of interstitial cosmopolitanism". Association of Social Anthropologists. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Anthropology Department Distinguished Lecture 2011: "Utopias of Debt"". Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  14. ^ Christopher Shea, A Radical Anthropologist Finds Himself in Academic 'Exile', Chronicle of Higher Education, April 15, 2013
  15. ^ Habash, Gabe (December 2, 2011). "Melville House Finds Hit for the 99%". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  16. ^ Woodman, Spencer (September 2011). "WORLD OF DEBT: DAVID GRAEBER with Spencer Woodman". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  17. ^ Witt, Emily (December 1, 2011). "Banks Got Bailed Out, David Graeber Sells Out? OWS Figurehead Goes Mainstream for New Book". The New York Observer. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  18. ^ Rayner, Gordon; Roberts, Laura (November 12, 2010). "Student tuition fee protests: security guards were powerless to act, then riot ringleaders". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  19. ^ Fries, Jacob H. (January 28, 2002). "Anarchy Has an Image Problem; In the Face of New York Police, Taste for Conflict Wavers". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved February 15, 2012. 
  20. ^ Sharlet, Jeff (10 November 2011). "Inside Occupy Wall Street: How a bunch of anarchists and radicals with nothing but sleeping bags launched a nationwide movement". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  21. ^ Graeber, David (November 30, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots". Al Jazeera. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  22. ^ Graeber, David (September 25, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street Protest". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  23. ^ "International Organization for a Participatory Society Interim Committee". Retrieved March 31, 2012. 

[edit] Further reading

  • Sutton, David (September 2004). "Anthropology's Value(s): A Review of David Graeber's Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value". Anthropological Theory 4 (3): 373–379. doi:10.1177/1463499604042818. 
  • Guyer, Jane I. (December 2009). "On 'possibility': A response to ‘How Is Anthropology Going?’". Anthropological Theory 9 (4): 355–370. doi:10.1177/1463499609358143. 

[edit] External links

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