#WeHateMath Book Review: Debt – The First 5000 Years

“Surely one has to pay one’s debts.”

The reason it’s so powerful is that it’s not actually an economic statement: it’s a moral statement. After all, isn’t paying one’s debts what morality is supposed to be all about? Giving people what is due them. Accepting one’s responsibilities. Fulfilling one’s obligations to others, just as one would expect them to fulfill their obligations to you. What could be a more obvious example of shirking one’s responsibilities than reneging on a promise, or refusing to pay a debt?”

Excerpt From: David Graeber. “Debt.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/3z6RA.l

I was first put on to this book when I heard an interview with the author on the Majority Report podcast. David Graeber is an anthropologist who teaches at the London School of Economics and has a unique perspective on the intersection between economics, politics, religion, war and human nature. As the quote above suggests, this book was born out of a desire to answer a deceptively simple question: How does morality enter into what should be an objective business transaction?

At over 500 pages (including copious footnotes), this is not what you might call a breezy summer read. However, it’s very engaging and Graeber writes in a style that is friendly while still maintaining an academic rigor. He does an excellent job explaining how the very concept of ‘debt’ has hooked itself into some primordial part of our collective souls.

You’ll never look at your mortgage statement in the same way again.

 

References

Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The first 5000 years. New York: Melville Publishing.

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