Are we slaves to debt? David Graeber on the history of spending more than we have

Almost forty years ago, on August 15, 1971 President Nixon took America off the gold standard, declaring, “We must protect the position of the American dollar as a pillar of monetary stability around the world” — which meant, among other things, that there were really no longer boundaries on the amount of money that could be printed.This began what anthropologist and author David Graeber says is the latest pendulum swing away from an economy based on hard currency to one based on virtual money, or credit, which can lead to debt spinning out of control — everyone’s favorite topic this summer.

Graeber’s new book, “Debt: The First 5,000 years,” traces the origins of owing all the way back to Mesopotamia, and explores how debt and morality became intertwined, among other intriguing details.  Need to Know’s Alison Stewart spoke with Graeber to help explain why being consumed by debt is nothing new.

 
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Comments

  • davidlkendall

    During this interview, Graeber says that people from the ancient world would view most of us (in the modern world) as ‘almost literally slaves’, with ‘most of the wealth held by the top one percent. Graeber goes on to suggest that there is very little difference between human slavery and human rental.
    “The working poor?”, Alison interjects, apparently trying to exclude herself and other ‘middle class Americans’ from Graeber’s troubling analysis.
    No, Alison. That’s not what he said. In fact, your selected quote from Graeber’s book says that “one must go into debt to achieve a life that goes in any way beyond sheer survival.”
    Does the fact that Alison Stewart actually enjoys her job and her ‘middle class’ status somehow exclude her from being a ‘wage slave’ or a ‘human rental’? After all, there were plenty of black slaves in the Antebellum South who were treated very well, who considered themselves quite privileged, and who were understandably opposed the abolishment of slavery.
    Is this Alison Stewart’s position regarding the terms and conditions of American life in the 21st century? With her qualifying comment about “the working poor”, Alison Stewart seems highly motivated to segregate the privileged from the not-so-privileged members amongst 99-percent of the human population who comprise ‘the working class’.
    But this is precisely the sort of ‘segregation’ that must be transcended in the formation of a new economy — a debt-free economy that facilitates the potential, not the privilege, of individuals.

  • davidlkendall

    During this interview, Graeber says that people from the ancient world would view most of us (in the modern world) as ‘almost literally slaves’, with ‘most of the wealth held by the top one percent. Graeber goes on to suggest that there is very little difference between human slavery and human rental.
    “The working poor?”, Alison interjects, apparently trying to exclude herself and other ‘middle class Americans’ from Graeber’s troubling analysis.
    No, Alison. That’s not what he said. In fact, your selected quote from Graeber’s book says that “one must go into debt to achieve a life that goes in any way beyond sheer survival.”
    Does the fact that Alison Stewart actually enjoys her job and her ‘middle class’ status somehow exclude her from being a ‘wage slave’ or a ‘human rental’? After all, there were plenty of black slaves in the Antebellum South who were treated very well, who considered themselves quite privileged, and who were understandably opposed the abolishment of slavery.
    Is this Alison Stewart’s position regarding the terms and conditions of American life in the 21st century? With her qualifying comment about “the working poor”, Alison Stewart seems highly motivated to segregate the privileged from the not-so-privileged members amongst 99-percent of the human population who comprise ‘the working class’.
    But this is precisely the sort of ‘segregation’ that must be transcended in the formation of a new economy — a debt-free economy that facilitates the potential, not the privilege, of individuals.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.scott.3363 Brent Scott

    I am reading Graeber’s book and study
    the origins of banking, money, and debt along with alternative
    conceptional with the intent of the thriving of humanity as a whole
    and stewardship of our planet.

    I’m wondering if you’d say more about:
    “But this is precisely the sort of ‘segregation’ that must be
    transcended in the formation of a new economy — a debt-free economy
    that facilitates the potential, not the privilege, of individuals. “

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.scott.3363 Brent Scott

    I am reading Graber’s book and study
    the origins of banking, money, and debt along with alternative
    conceptional with the intent of the thriving of humanity as a whole
    and stewardship of our planet.

    I’m wondering if you’d say more about:
    “But this is precisely the sort of ‘segregation’ that must be
    transcended in the formation of a new economy — a debt-free economy
    that facilitates the potential, not the privilege, of individuals. “