Monday, February 20, 2012

Debtor Love Is No Love At All

I'm reading a fascinating interview in The Boston Review with David Graeber, activist, anthropologist, and author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, about the history and trap of debt, about how money is largely a way What the book does as a reading exercise is enliven one’s imagination to the multitude of possibilities there are in how we can think about debt.

One reason to spread the canvas so broadly—the same thing that drew me to anthropology—is that you fight the idea that all these questions are settled, that there’s really only one way to run the economy, the political system, society. What you see when you look at history, if you look anthropologically across the world, even at any one time, is a dazzling infinite variety of social possibilities. Which you would never have dreamed possible until you see them. It makes it much more difficult to make the argument that nothing except what we’ve got is possible.

One of the primary arguments that Graeber makes is that throughout history, the financing system has largely been rigged toward the lender. Even prior to money, there was lending and even then the lenders had the upper-hand. It follows that coin/paper currency was used as a way to broaden and strengthen the debtors' margins of profit.

This fits in with what we've been thinking here: That we need to rely less on paper and globalized currency and more on localized systems of organic economies. Not so much that currency is evil, but that a strict reliance upon it leaves most of the world indebted and imprisoned to the monied few. And this isn't how nature works nor how we act naturally. Currency-based economics actually colors and poisons our relationships.

Most interactions with people that you trust, people that you love, or people that just need to cooperate with on an immediate basis, take the form of “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” It doesn’t matter if you’re working for the government, working for a corporation, or working in your family; if you need to fix the toilet because it’s leaking and you say “Hand me the wrench,” the other guy doesn’t say “What do I get for that?” It’s not an exchange; people act according to their abilities to chip in.

That's how we tend to operate amongst people we live with and amongst. We've had many friends and relatives stay with us at their time of need, and many have had me during my times of need. Not because I'm awesome, but that's how we do people we're close to. There is no record of debts or wrongs.

Which only further convinces me of the need for a local-based organic, sustainable economy. Before we talk more about this later this week, I'll leave you with this.

[O]ne of the more dramatic consistencies I’ve noticed in the history of debt: debts between equals are not the same as debts between people who are not equals.

Debts between either poor people or rich people, that they have with each other, can be renegotiated or forgiven. People can be extraordinarily generous, understanding, forgiving when dealing with others like themselves. But debts between social classes, between the rich and the poor, suddenly become a matter of absolute morality.

Yeah, see, equals.

h/t to Slacktivist for the interview find.


  1. Marla Abe11:31 AM

    I like where you are heading!

    1. Thank you, Marla. Me too. :) It's been a long-time coming.


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