I was immensely impressed by this book.
For as long as there has been such a thing as money, morality and debt have been intimately intertwined. We see this today in discussions about the debt crisis. Do mortgage debtors, credit card debtors, and student loan borrowers have a moral obligation to pay back their debts? Is it unethical for debtor nations to default on their loans?
Most folks, thinking themselves as honorable people, feel a strong moral obligation to “make good” on their debts, to honor their debts, to follow through on what looks very much like a promise to repay. We even speak of “redeeming” a promise, hinting again at the moral dimensions of debt repayment. Yet, paradoxically, we also tend to look askance at lenders, at those who enrich themselves by lending money at interest to others. Few moneylenders enjoy positive portrayals in literature. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have all gone so far as to prohibit lending money at interest. Neither the malingering debtor nor the creditor who hounds her have much claim to our moral approval.
This and many other paradoxes become transparent in David Graeber’s recent book, Debt: The First 5000 Years. It is a magisterial and deeply scholarly history of how debt – and money – came to be what it is today, and how human relations evolved around it.
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