Monday, December 26, 2011

The guiding principle of Graeber's sweeping global history is that debt must not remain the exclusive property of economic historians, and moreover, that anthropologists are better equipped to take on the issue. The foundational myth on which economics rests, and which Graeber relishes debunking, is the "touchingly utopian" idea that money emerged directly out of primitive barter systems and had only to do with interest-maximizing exchange. Arguing against this from an anthropological perspective, Graeber claims that debt is the basis of society, and as such is inherently ineliminable. He illustrates this point through the example of debt to one's parents: to seek to cancel that debt would be impossible. Graeber describes a system of gift-giving in traditional societies that takes place over time, and involves gifts of slightly more or less value than the ones that preceded them, thus ensuring that everyone is always slightly in debt or in credit to everyone else. This sort of debt, he says, is nothing less than the continual creation of society. It is not so much that we owe something to society, but that society "just is our debts."

Justin E H Smith on Debt, by David Graeber, at Bookforum, the rest here (courtesy Wood s Lot)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Helen DeWitt's blog, my old friend. We met in 2007 and I've been following ever since. I'm glad you're still here, even if it's been months since I checked in. Tried and true. Merrily sighing.