Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

Well worth the 400 pages. Graeber humanizes the history of debt, bringing anthropological insight to our understanding of the history of money.

Unfortunately, his multiple objectives – to overturn the common story of the origins of money, to critique capitalism as a system, and to give a comprehensive history of debt, among others – pull the book in different directions. They’re all interesting, but prevent the book from gelling into a coherent whole.

Three things I learned:

  1. The interest for credit cards in the US used to be capped at 7% (!).
  2. There were large periods of human history where things were bought on personal credit, not with coins. Only strangers used currency.
  3. We can distinguish between capitalism, or the belief that money should always make money (interest), and free markets, or the belief that people should be free to start and run their own businesses. Being in favor of free-markets does not automatically make you a capitalist.