Debt Book Summary - Debt Book explained in key points

Debt summary

David Graeber

The First 5,000 Years

4.4 (59 ratings)
16 mins

Brief summary

Debt by David Graeber explores the origins and impact of debt, revealing how credit systems have evolved and how they perpetuate inequality. It challenges the view that debt is a moral failing and suggests alternative ways of thinking about money.

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    Debt
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    Systems of debt and credit have existed since the beginning of recorded human history.

    Economic history textbooks tell us that the earliest human exchanges were based on a bartering system. Money was invented only to facilitate bartering; later, the idea of credit was introduced.

    However, there’s no actual evidence that bartering preceded money. In most modern, pre-industrial societies, bartering is only done among strangers.

    The Pukhtun of northern Pakistan, for example, are famous for their hospitality, but use a form of barter called adal-badal for those to whom they have no social obligations.

    This is somewhat intuitive. When a family member or close friend asks you for something, do you start scheming about how you can benefit from the transaction? Certainly not; but classical economics would have it otherwise.

    Economic theory actually has it backwards. Anthropology teaches us that people were using virtual money – credit – far before the inventions of coinage or bartering.

    Virtual money was already in use in ancient Mesopotamia, around 3500 BCE. The silver shekel functioned as the single, universal system of accounting, but most of the silver that underpinned this early monetary system was closely guarded in temple and palace treasuries.

    Society also maintained an exchange rate between shekels and barley, the staple crop. Debts and taxes were usually charged in shekels, but paid in barley.

    Despite anthropological evidence, the barter myth persists as it is central to the discipline of economics. It goes hand in hand with the assumption that all individuals are interested in maximizing profit, and that an individual is able to assign an abstract value to anything.

    In reality, this tendency to see the world in terms of exchange value is not natural, but a product of a specific historical process.

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    What is Debt about?

    Many of us assume that money – or capitalism in general – is a fundamental part of human society. In Debt (2011), author David Graeber presents an anthropological examination of money that challenges common assumptions, asserting that money and the concept of debt are actually products of specific historical circumstances.

    Debt Review

    Debt (2011) by David Graeber is a thought-provoking exploration of the history and implications of debt in our societies. Here's why this book is definitely worth a read:

    • It presents a fresh perspective on the concept of debt, challenging conventional assumptions and shedding light on the social and political dimensions.
    • Graeber's meticulous research and analysis make this book a treasure trove of fascinating insights, connecting historical events and economic systems in an engaging way.
    • With its accessible and conversational style, the book manages to transform what could be a dry subject into a captivating exploration of human interactions and societal structures.

    Best quote from Debt

    If we have become a debt society, it is because the legacy of war, conquest and slavery has never completely gone away.

    —David Graeber
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    Who should read Debt?

    • Anyone interested in anthropology or history
    • Anyone interested in economics
    • Anyone interested in money as a social concept

    About the Author

    David Graeber was an anthropologist and anarchist activist. A prominent organizer in the social movement Occupy Wall Street, Graeber’s work and writings on anthropology, anarchism, and social justice earned him many accolades. 

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    Debt FAQs 

    What is the main message of Debt?

    The main message of Debt is that debt has played a significant role in shaping human history and society.

    How long does it take to read Debt?

    The reading time for Debt varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is Debt a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Debt is a thought-provoking book that offers a unique perspective on the role of debt in our lives. Definitely worth a read.

    Who is the author of Debt?

    David Graeber is the author of Debt.

    What to read after Debt?

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