Where Does Debt Come From?

Debt300dpiVia Naked Capitalism, a fascinating interview with economic anthropologist David Graeber about the history of debt over the last 5,000 years (and the oft-intertwined history of slavery):

Since antiquity the worst-case scenario that everyone felt would lead to total social breakdown was a major debt crisis; ordinary people would become so indebted to the top one or two percent of the population that they would start selling family members into slavery, or eventually, even themselves.

Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect creditors. They essentially declare (in defiance of all traditional economic logic) that no debtor should ever be allowed to default. Needless to say the result is catastrophic. We are experiencing something that to me, at least, looks exactly like what the ancients were most afraid of: a population of debtors skating at the edge of disaster.

And, I might add, if Aristotle were around today, I very much doubt he would think that the distinction between renting yourself or members of your family out to work and selling yourself or members of your family to work was more than a legal nicety. He’d probably conclude that most Americans were, for all intents and purposes, slaves.

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15 Comments on "Where Does Debt Come From?"

  1. Anonymous | Sep 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm |

    Saw him on Democracy Now today, great interview very interesting take on the history of economics.

  2. Jin The Ninja | Sep 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm |

    Saw him on Democracy Now today, great interview very interesting take on the history of economics.

  3. Agent Six | Sep 20, 2011 at 2:23 am |

    From the same place money comes from. 

  4. Agent Six | Sep 19, 2011 at 10:23 pm |

    From the same place money comes from. 

  5. I kind get the sense that the lack of much response to this article has to do with that fact it’s striking a very tender nerve, rather than any deficiency in the timeliness, topic, or treatment.

  6. I kind get the sense that the lack of much response to this article has to do with that fact it’s striking a very tender nerve, rather than any deficiency in the timeliness, topic, or treatment.

  7. Simply from being freaken born. Its obvious that its an ancient form of government behavior control, and the pardons do happen but only to further government and banking agendas not any common wealth as one is looked down upon for getting any breaks on their debt by peers. If people’s basics are taken care of, everything else that supplements  the emotional void created by  having to fight everyone for everything falls from its pedestal and become   wonderful novelties that can be shared and enjoyed in moderation, instead of commodities that must be obsessed and fought over to make sure you get yours over the next guy. It sickens me 

  8. Simply from being freaken born. Its obvious that its an ancient form of government behavior control, and the pardons do happen but only to further government and banking agendas not any common wealth as one is looked down upon for getting any breaks on their debt by peers. If people’s basics are taken care of, everything else that supplements  the emotional void created by  having to fight everyone for everything falls from its pedestal and become   wonderful novelties that can be shared and enjoyed in moderation, instead of commodities that must be obsessed and fought over to make sure you get yours over the next guy. It sickens me 

  9. Kind turns some of Adam Smith’s assumptions upside down.

  10. ATTENTION :
    Do yourself a favor and watch this documentary called “money as debt” ( here is the link for it on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVkFb26u9g8 ). To say the least this film is eye-opening. I liked it, you will to, but don’t bother watching the end because it sort of drifts away from pure economic analysis and becomes more about the author personal vision of Utopia. 

    What I also wanted to say is that I am amazed at how clueless people can be. How can we accept what is happening  ? How can we believe that it is even remotely normal for us to be paying billions to private banks ? I know we’ve been brought up to think that what is legal has to be righteous, but seriously, it’s time to wake up and smell the roses. Actually it’s past that time. 

  11. ATTENTION :
    Do yourself a favor and watch this documentary called “money as debt” ( here is the link for it on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVkFb26u9g8 ). To say the least this film is eye-opening. I liked it, you will to, but don’t bother watching the end because it sort of drifts away from pure economic analysis and becomes more about the author personal vision of Utopia. 

    What I also wanted to say is that I am amazed at how clueless people can be. How can we accept what is happening  ? How can we believe that it is even remotely normal for us to be paying billions to private banks ? I know we’ve been brought up to think that what is legal has to be righteous, but seriously, it’s time to wake up and smell the roses. Actually it’s past that time. 

  12. Common Man | Sep 21, 2011 at 2:19 am |

    Debt only exists in our imagination. The meek shall inherit the earth out of sheer number. The elites days are numbered, because there is no such thing as elite. These people are only great in their own minds. Off with their heads.

  13. Common Man | Sep 21, 2011 at 2:19 am |

    Debt only exists in our imagination. The meek shall inherit the earth out of sheer number. The elites days are numbered, because there is no such thing as elite. These people are only great in their own minds. Off with their heads.

  14. Common Man | Sep 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm |

    Debt only exists in our imagination. The meek shall inherit the earth out of sheer number. The elites days are numbered, because there is no such thing as elite. These people are only great in their own minds. Off with their heads.

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