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Debt: The First 5,000 Years

David Graeber talks about his book

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There's a lot more than meets the eye here

Debt is a pretty easy concept, right?

You owe somebody something, you pay it back. Simple. It's a moral imperative.

Or is it?

For example, how exactly do you pay your parents back? (Even if they were lousy parent.)

Eighteen years (more or less) of room and board, child care, medical care, one-on-one language instruction etc. etc.

If the market values associated with these things were ever itemized they would be astronomical. Some may actually pay it in one form or another, but very, very few do. Yet life goes on, doesn't it?

Another example:

A debt is a debt...unless you're a Wall Street banker and you have the US government in your pocket.

In that case, a debt, far from being a moral imperative, is a national policy issue in which you - the banker - conveniently don't have to pay in order to "save the nation." No shame whats so ever.

The flip side of the coin:

You're a member of the working poor. Barely able to maintain with two people working full time jobs. A catastrophe strikes and it becomes literally impossible for you to pay your bills.

How does the company hired to collect a given bill view you?

As a moral leper of course. Beneath contempt. You may even view yourself that way.

As we can see, far from being fixed in stone, the concept of debt is flexible and it is more a reflection of how the parties involved in the transaction view each other than dollars and cents.

It's like the law.

Does a traffic cop ticket the mayor for double parking?

Not likely.

Does he ticket you - and boot your car if you in arrears with other tickets?

You betcha.