Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Some debts are formal and quantifiable, like the ones you take on in our modern world when you buy a house or a car. Some are not, like when you tell someone you owe them one or that you’re in their debt when they do you a favor. The latter kind came first. Before there was money, people did one another favors and built a kind of social credit based on their honor and their reputation. In close knit communities, most exchanges, even for things like eggs and milk, were based on people swapping favors. Everyone carried a social debt and everyone was a social creditor.
Despite popular myths about the origins of money, there never was an economy based on barter. Direct trades of one item for another were uncommon and only needed between people who did not trust one another. The very first economies were based on a kind of communistic cooperation. Competitive economics, the kind in which people selfishly seek gain or attempt to come out ahead in a deal, came later. In large part, it was necessitated by war.
As the title states, this book is a history of debt. But it’s also about money, wealth, poverty, capitalism, and people. But is all comes back to debt because it’s about what we owe to one another. It’s an informative and enlightening read.