There were some really fascinating story lines introduced in Chapters 10 and 11 of Graeber’s, Debt. Americans tend to be both Eurocentric and myopic when it comes to history of any sort, but in particular, I believe capitalism is viewed as emerging from European thinkers, honed by the spirit of American entrepreneurship, but largely a construct of American dynamics. I found Graeber’s placement of capitalism within a broader cultural context and historical timeline to be exceptionally insightful.There are so many things to take away from these chapters, it’s hard to focus on one or two for the purposes of this post. Citing medieval Persian thinkers, Ghazali and Tusi, as the progenitors of Adam Smith’s argument for the “invisible hand” of the market is extraordinary. Tracing the exploitation of the “New World” to China’s demand for metal-based currency, another mind blower! The path of “usury” throughout history—exploitative, forbidden, circumvented, rationalized, institutionalized and normalized—is a wonderful perceptive trip Graeber takes us on to illustrate the social construction (and political manipulation) of economic systems. He also lays the ground for exploring neoliberalism in these chapters as he hints at the American equation of capitalism = democracy.
Perhaps what resonated most deeply for me in these chapters is the idea of morality in markets. As a local food system scholar, there is consensus that liberating ourselves from the destructive impacts of unsustainable agriculture and our globally exploitative, corporate-controlled dominant food system resides in the social---it rests, in large part, on cultivating relationships of trust in the context of place. From what Graeber tell us, the language we now use to describe the future food economy is one that medieval Islamic scholars would have recognized as their own: the market as a manifestation of mutual aid, profit-sharing, markets as being about cooperation not competition, the role and value of social capital and of nurturing networks of trust, the value of place. As they say, there is nothing ever truly new under the sun!