Tally Sticks

“One of the most important forms of currency in England in Henry’s time were notched ‘tally sticks’ used to record debts. Tally sticks were quite explicitly IOUs: both parties to a transaction would take a hazelwood twig, notch it to indicate the amount owed, and then split it in half. The creditor would keep one half, called ‘the stock’ (hence the origin of the term ‘stock holder’) and the debtor kept the other, called ‘the stub’ (hence the origin of the term ‘ticket stub.’) Tax assessors used such twigs to calculate amounts owed by local sherriffs. Often, though, rather than wait for the taxes to come due, Henry’s exchequer would often sell the tallies at a discount, and they would circulate, as tokens of debt owed to the government, to anyone willing to trade for them.”

Pg 48

The fundamental misconception of economics

“For there to even be a discipline called ‘economics,’ a discipline that concerns itself first and foremost with how individuals seek the most advantageous arrangement for the exchange of shoes for potatoes, or cloth for spears, it must assume that the exchange of such goods need have nothing to do with war, passion, adventure, mystery, sex, or death.”

“Economics assumes a division between different spheres of human behavior that, among people like the Gunwinngu and the Nambikwara, simply does not exist. These divisions in turn are made possible by very specific institutional arrangements– the existence of lawyers, prisons, and police– to ensure that even people who don’t like each other very much, who have no interest in developing any kind of ongoing relationship, but are simply intersted in getting their hands on as much of the others’ possessions as possible, will nonetheless refrain from the most obvious expedient (theft).”

pg 32-33

Myth of Barter

“Just about every economics textbook employed today sets out the problem the same way. Historically, they note, we know that there was a time when there was no money. What must it have been like? Well, let us imagine an economy something like today’s, except with no money. That would have been decidedly inconvenient! Surely people must have invented money for the sake of efficiency.

The story of money for economists always begins with a fantasy world of barter. The problem is where to locate this fantasy in time and space”

Bitcoin- I mean, CDOs

“Even a lot of academics fell for it. I well remember going to conferences in 2006 and 2007 where trendy social theorists presented papers arguing that these new forms of securitization, linked to new information technologies, heralded a looming transformation in the very ature of power, time, possibility– reality itself. I remember thinking: ‘Suckers!’ And so they were.”

What does it mean when we reduce our moral obligations to debts?

“A debt is the obligation to pay a certain sum of money. As a result, a debt, unlike any other form of obligation, can be precisely quantified. This allows debts to become simple, cold, and impersonal– which, in turn, allows them to be transferrable. … if one owes forty thousand dollars at 12 percent interest, it doesn’t really matter who the creditor is; neither does either of the two parties have to think much about what the other party needs, wants, is capable of doing– as they certainly would if what was owed was a favor, or respect, or gratitude. One does not need to calculate the human effects; one need only calculate principal, balances, penalties, and rates of interest.”

pg 13

The King’s Language

“After all, to argue with the king, one has to use the king’s language, whether or not the initial premises make sense.”

pg 8

Cancel the debts and redistribute the land

“As the great classicist Moses Finley often liked to say, in the ancient world, all revolutionary movements had a single program: ‘Cancel the debts and redistribute the land.'”

Pg 8

Graeber on the IMF

“The International Monetary Fund basically acted as the world’s debt enforcers– ‘You might say, the high-finance equivalent of the guys who come to break your legs.’ I launched into historical background, explaining how, during the ’70s oil crisis, OPEC countries ended up pouring so much of their newfound riches into Western banks that the banks couldn’t figure out where to invest the money; how Citibank and Chase therefore began sending agent around the world trying to convince Third World dictators and politicians to take out loans (at the time, this was called ‘go-go banking’); how they started out at extremely low rates of interest that almost immediately skyrocketed to 20 percent or so due to tight U.S. money policies in the early ’80s; how, during the ’80s and ’90s, this led to the Third World deb crisis; how the IMF then stepped in to insist that, in order to obtain refinancing, poor countries would be obliged to abandon price supports on basic foodstuffs, or even policies of keeping strategic food reserves, and abandon free health care and free education; how all of this had led to the collapse of all the most basic supports for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth. I spoke of poverty, of the looting of public resources, the collapse of societies, endemic violence, malnutrition, hopelessness, and broken lives.”

pg 2