A review of Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber.
I found out about this book while reading Marginal Revolution. Tyler Cowen's short comment is the best summation:
Do you seek an overly verbose, sometimes fascinating synthesis of economic anthropology, early 20th century credit theories of money, and the history of debt? The book overinterprets early historical evidence and falls apart as it approaches contemporary times, still it has a vitality which many other tracts lack.
The first few chapters function as Graeber's prolegomenon to the history starting out with some critique of the unquestioned assumption that debt is somehow a sacred obligation. It is followed by a satisfying refutation of the barter myth of the origin of currency. This of course enraged doctrinaire Austrians who believe that Mises' regression theorem, which presupposes a barter economy and insists that money must have originally been a commodity, is necessarily true. They subsequently bashed the book in reviews on Amazon.
When I was young, 15 or 17, I made several attempts to read
the Economist Magazine in the school library. It
was nihilist, left-wing agit-prop. My self-image was as a
reasonable center-right person and I was put off, not least
because the magazines cynicism seemed so similar to the
teenage angst that I was actively rejecting.
That would be be around 1976. Now that I am nearly fifty I
know that the Economist magazine is a right wing part of the
establishment. The sophisticated reader can discern subtle
nuances, separating pro-market from pro-business, separating
those for whom "free markets" is a cloak and those for whom
it is a creed. Nevertheless one is left to wonder: how did my
young self get it so wrong?
Detailed justification of my teenage views inside, based on
September 12th-18th 2009 print edition of the Economist.
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