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David Graeber

The habit of money at interest also originates in Sumer — it remained
unknown, for example, in Egypt. Interest rates, fixed at 20 percent,
remained stable for 2 thousand years. (This was not a sign of government
control of the market: at this stage, institutions like this were what
made markets possible.) This however, led to some serious social
problems. In years with bad harvests especially, peasants would start
becoming hopelessly indebted to the rich, and would have to surrender
their farms and, ultimately, family members, in debt bondage. Gradually,
this condition seems to have come to a social crisis — not so much
leading to popular uprisings, but to common people abandoning the cities
and settling territory entirely and becoming semi-nomadic ‘bandits’ and
raiders. It soon became traditional for each new ruler to wipe the
slate clean, cancel all debts, and declare a general amnesty or
‘freedom’, so that all bonded labourers could return to their families.
(It is significant here that the first word for ‘freedom’ known in any
human language, the Sumerian amarga, literally means ‘return to
mother.’) Biblical prophets instituted a similar custom, the Jubilee,
whereby after seven years all debts were similarly cancelled. This is
the direct ancestor of the New Testament notion of ‘redemption’. As
economist Michael Hudson has pointed out, it seems one of the
misfortunes of world history that the institution of lending money at
interest disseminated out of Mesopotamia without, for the most part,
being accompanied by its original checks and balances.

http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/David_Graeber__Debt__The_First_Five_Thousand_Years.html

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