Last night I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by David Graeber at CIIS in San Francisco. Graeber, an american anthropologist teaching at Goldsmith’s University in London, has recently gained notoriety for being one of the initial organizers for Zuccoti park’s general assembly. He has been called “the anti-leader of Occupy Wall Street” by Bloomberg Business Week and is credited for coining the term “the 99%.”
Last night Dr. Graeber was giving a talk on his new book Debt: The First 5,000 Years. I’m including the book’s description here:
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.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
Dr. Graeber spoke to a fully packed house and it was nice to see a critical, intellectual atmosphere associated with the occupy protest to balance out the ongoing clashes between police and protestors in the Oakland encampment that erupted again over the weekend. At just under 2 1/2 hours the talk covered an enormous of amount of material. Here is the audio: