“Debt: the First 5000 Years” (and a free lunch)

June 13, 2012

It’s always a pleasure to read a book that says: “You know that thing that everyone believes? Well… you know what… it’s not true.”

Such a book is David Graeber’s “Debt: the first 5000 Years”.

It should be read by anyone interested in the current (lamentable) state of things.

A world history of debt, money, barter and economic systems, it’s packed full of interesting facts, and is a disturbing but ultimately uplifting read. Graeber comprehensively debunks assumptions about economics, in particular the notion of a “free” market that somehow exists outside history. It’s also a humane book, that puts people first.

If like me you’re getting fed up with commentators saying “the current system is the only game in town” and “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” you should read it. The last time I heard some pundit spouting “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” out of the radio I was in the kitchen making Sunday lunch for my family. As I didn’t charge them for the labour involved in making it, this was a free lunch.

Graeber puts it better:

Who was the first man to look at a house full of objects and to immediately assess them only in terms of what he could trade them in for in the market likely to have been? Surely, he can only have been a thief.

N.B. I should “give credit” (after reading the book I feel much more ambiguous about using the phrase) to Diane Coyle, through whose excellent blog I was alerted to it.

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