Those seeking some light summer reading, look away now.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber takes an ambitious title, but its scope is even bigger - rethinking the concepts of credit and money.
The book was released last year, but for those finding it difficult to fully banish the euro-zone's debt crisis from the beach, the book is worth reading.
Graeber's starting point is that the notions of a barter economy as the natural state of affairs in humanity are bunk. Contrary to the claims of numerous economics textbooks, humanity did not start trading 12 chickens for eight donkeys, and inventing coinage afterwards as a convenient means of tidying things up.
Instead, Graeber argues, debt not only came first, but is in fact intrinsically bound up in human psychology. The book takes a heavy dose of social anthropology as its cornerstone, with the first half spent dwelling on the habits and ways of tribes that have had little contact with modern finance - yet still display many of its tenets, even if they have yet to fathom the mysteries of credit default swaps.
The most fascinating chapter deals on how the United States dominates both the financial system and world geopolitics through the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency of choice. As Iran is discovering while a western embargo on its oil and financial sectors goes into force, access to finance from the US is linked with military power.
And the counter-intuitive argument that the sovereign debt market functions as a means of exacting "tribute" for the US and Europe may not be watertight, but it adds a useful dimension to the euro-zone spat between Germany and its neighbours.
The book really shines as it opens up world history through the prism of debt, offering alternative perspectives to subjects as diverse as the Holy Grail and slavery.
The trouble is that it takes half the length of the book to get there. It's a sophisticated argument that Graeber makes, and it does require some spelling out. But a little less ivory tower anthropology and more recourse to the grubby facts of history would have gone a long way.
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