Reblogged from azspot
In the end, Graber suggests, debt– and economic theorists– blind us to how human societies really operate. There are at least three types of human economy, which he calls communism, exchange, and hierarchy. ‘Communism’ is the helpful, altruistic systems that underlie all human society– it’s how families work, and entire villages in many cultures, and even how corporations work internally. Hierarchical exchanges are largely exactions by the rich and powerful, and their salient feature is precedent: a particular tax or tribute, once levied, becomes customary, which is one reason you should be wary of offering a gift to the king. (On the other hand, it’s rare that an elite simply does nothing but take; usually it needs to attract supporters by giving things away.)
To Graeber, economists go terribly wrong in ignoring or underestimating the non-exchange portions of the world. The whole attitude of looking at the world in terms of rational, egoistic calculation is a vast misapplication of what was originally a very narrow part of the economy– associated with debt, war, and slavery.
All of this is fascinating and eye-opening, and can be used to deepen (and darken) your view of history, or your conworld.
At the same time… well, for Graeber history is full of villains, and he’s often so busy flinging mud at them that he loses track of who’s worse and who we should be rooting for. E.g. he talks about the rise of coinage as something of a disaster, destroying the credit economy and ultimately turning the Roman citizens into slaves. Yet he’s already shown that debt slavery functioned with its full horribleness in pre-coinage societies, and turned the Mesopotamians into slaves. Later he provocatively suggest that the Dark Ages weren’t so dark, as the Europeans ended slavery, resisted usury, and ended the militarism of the Roman Empire. But the Middle Ages, as he well knows, replaced slavery with serfdom, and threw out the political and technological advances of the ancients.