Book Review: “Debt - The First 5,000 Years” by David Graeber

Book Review: “Debt - The First 5,000 Years” by David Graeber

Economics textbooks claim that money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. But this theory is not supported by evidence. On the contrary, David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that since the first agrarian empires 5,000 years ago, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Setting up in his stunning analysis an unconventional history of world economy, he shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history— in which we learn so many surprising facts, such as the information that Adam Smith had Latin translations of Al-Ghazali and Al-Tusi's works in his library, suggesting that the writings of the two Islamic thinkers may have been among his sources, for instance in his theory of the division of labour.

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