David Graeber's 2011 book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, seeks to overturn hundreds of years of economic theory, specifically the idea that people have a natural inclination to trade with each other and that the concept of money developed spontaneously to overcome the inefficiencies of a bartering system. The US-born social activist uses his training as an anthropologist to trace the histories of money and of debt and reaches the conclusion that money was in fact created by the state as a means of exploiting the poor.
First published at a time of huge economic turmoil around the world, Debt has been warmly received by activists looking for an intellectual foundation for alternatives to capitalism. As an activist himself, Graeber believes people can do better than relating to each other simply by measuring and enforcing debt. He says, "A debt is just the perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence."
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