BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
© 2011 David Graeber
First Melville House Printing: May 2011
Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Printed in the United States of America
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Debt : the first 5 ,000 years I David Graeber.
p . em.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-933633-86-2 (al k . paper)
Money-History. 3. Financial crises-History.
On The Experience of
The Myth of Barter
Cruelty and Redemption
A Brief Treatise on the Moral
Grounds of Economic Relations
Games with Sex and Death
Honor and Degradation , or,
On the Foundations of
Credit Versus Bullion,
And the Cycles of History
The Axial Age (800 BC-600 AD)
10 The Middle Ages (600 AD-1450 AD)
Age of the Great Capitalist
12 (1971-The Beginning of Something
Yet to Be Determined)
C ha pte r O n e
O N TH E EXPE R I E N C E O F MO RAL C O N F U S I O N
a sum of money owed.
state of owing money. 3 a feeling of
gratitude for a favour or service.
-Oxford English Dictionary
If you owe the bank a hundred thou
sand dollars, the bank owns you. If
you owe the bank a hundred million
dollars, you own the bank.
TWO YEARS AGO, by a series of strange coincidences, I found myself attending a garden party at Westminster Abbey. I was a bit uncom fortable. It's not that other guests weren't pleasant and amicable, and Father Graeme, who had organized the party, was nothing if not a gra cious and charming host. But I felt more than a little out of place. At one point, Father Graeme intervened, saying that there was someone by a nearby fountain whom I would certainly want to meet. She turned out to be a trim, well-appointed young woman who, he explained, was an attorney-"but more of the activist kind. She works for a founda tion that provides legal support for anti-poverty groups in London. You'll probably have a lot to talk about. "
We chatted. She told me about her job. I told her I had been involved for many years with the global justice movement-"anti globalization movement," as it was usually called in the media. She was curious: she'd of course read a lot about Seattle, Genoa, the tear gas and street battles, but . . . well, had we really accomplished any thing by all of that?
"Actually," I said, "I think it's kind of amazing how much we did manage to accomplish in those first couple of years. "
"Well, for example, we managed to almost completely destroy
As it happened, she didn't actually know what the IMF was, so I offered that the International Monetary Fund basically acted as the world's debt enforcers-"You might say, the high-finance equivalent of the guys who come to break your legs. " I launched into historical background, explaining how, during the '7os oil crisis, OPEC coun tries ended up pouring so much of their newfound riches into Western banks that the banks couldn't figure out where to invest the money; how Citibank and Chase therefore began sending agents around the world trying to convince Third World dictators and politicians to take out loans (at the time, this was called "go-go banking" ) ; how they started out at extremely low rates of interest that almost immediately skyrocketed to 20 percent or so due to tight U.S. money policies in the early '8os; how, during the '8os and '9os, this led to the Third...