David Graeber, author of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” in conversation with Jonathan Conning, Associate Professor of Economics at Hunter College at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
About the book:
Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter system-to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that 5,000 years ago, during the beginning of the agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems. It is in this era, Graeber shows, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.
With the passage of time, however, virtual credit money was replaced by gold and silver coins-and the system as a whole began to decline. Interest rates spiked and the indebted became slaves. And the system perpetuated itself with tremendously violent consequences, with only the rare intervention of kings and churches keeping the system from spiraling out of control. “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
About the speakers:
David Graeber is an anthropologist and activist based in New York, and London, where he holds the position of Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of six books, including Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, Lost People: Magic and History in Central Madagascar, Direct Action: An Ethnography, and most recently, Debt: The First Five Thousand Years, alongside popular and political writings that have appeared in venues like Harpers, The Baffler, and The Nation. He is currently working on two books: one on bureaucracy, the other about his involvement in the formation of Occupy Wall Street.
Jonathan Conning joined the economics department in the fall of 2002. His research and teaching interests include Development Economics, applied microeconomic theory and financial contracting, as well as trade and modern political economy. His research has explored the structure and operation of rural financial markets, microfinance and social investment, as well as topics in agrarian production organization, property rights, economic history, and impact evaluation.