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Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Book Discussion)

How did the concreteness of the Age of the Capitalist Empires emerge from the abstract world of the Middle Ages? Did the relative importance of credit and bullion (money in the form of precious metals) shape the character of each historical era?  What is our earliest knowledge of credit systems?  We will explore these questions with the help of David Graeber's thoughtful, sweeping anthropologically-informed history Debt: The First 5,000 Years.  If reading Graeber's 534 page tome is too much (or too little) for you, his article "Debt: The first five thousand years" covers the gist of the argument in only 8 pages.


Before there was money, there was debt.

Topics to be discussed include:

  • Graber's big thesis is that history is characterized by periods in which credit predominates our economic life and other periods in which bullion (or precious metals) dominate. Do you agree? How would you characterize the big picture of debt, credit, bullion, and economics throughout global history?
  • Human Economies (which Graeber defines as those in which "what is considered really important about human beings is in fact that they are each a unique nexus of relations with others") vs. Market Economies. Do you agree with Graeber's argument that markets require government intervention?
  • Adam Smith and the Islamic foundations of free markets and "the invisible hand"
  • The origin of corporations in anti-profit, anti-merchant Christendom
  • The development of institutionalized finance capitalism in Buddhist temples
  • How do the relationships between debt, money, capital, corporations, markets and trade change throughout history?
  • The book ends with a chapter on "The Beginning of Something Yet to be Determined" and so we will take that as a jumping off point to explore the factors affecting the current debt crises and trends.

This is the third of three sessions on this subject. The first session on Graeber's book on Debt was held on April 6th. The second session on Graeber's book on Debt was held on April 14th

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