Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber

25 Feb

In his magisterial Debt: The First 5000 Years David Graeber mentions numerous debt jubilees in the ancient world, always with the qualification that it is individual debt that is forgiven, not commercial debt. This is a review the examines that point.

So it is noticeable that the concept of “too big to fail” has grown up hand in hand with the concept of the debt relation for the entire traceable history of debt. Although the parallel track of debt as obligation, religion and morality has certainly been there, and is described expertly in the book, from day one it has been recognised among merchants and men of commerce that the point of the debt relation is to serve the organisation and arrangement of commercial need.

To my mind, this fact rather colours one of the central theses of Debt – the idea that debt has from its origins been entwined with slavery, military tribute and imperialism. I’d advance the suggestion that of course the first people to start codifying the debt relation were the first emperors and rulers; they were the first people who ever came across the problem of organising a productive economy larger than a small village or subsistence farming community. The fact that debt has its origins in the creation of tax-collecting, military societies seems to me to be equivalent to the fact that NASA invented Teflon – they had to do it, in order to solve the problems put in front of them.

via Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber.

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