David Graeber 2011. Debt. The first 5,000 years New York: Melville House Publishing. 534 pp.

An anthropologist’s view of the origin of money and financial systems. Since it is written by an anthopologist, rather than an economist, it is evidence-based. Economist’s opinions are generally of the form that money was invented to maker barter easier, what Graeber calls the Barter Myth. Graeber maintains that debt preceded money by hundreds or thousands of years, as the archaelogical record in Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, China all demonstrate*. Debt and money are just mathematical formalisations of relative values (“3 nails = 1 beer”). Barter almost certainly came much later, and often emerges after the breakdown of financial systems.

It is notable that all the earliest writing systems in the archaelogical record are tallies. They record numbers and quantities of grain, livestock, people, weapons. It is these documents of debt that evolved into money.

update: 2015-12-012 *(and maybe Mycenean Greece? see the story of Linear B.) —