David Warsh publishes Economic Principles HERE on a superior weekly insider reporting on US financial journalism to the
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annual $50 subscription - try a free trial-run).
David Warsh writes on, among other topics, the still running debate on the economy and the causes of the 2008-14 crisis:
at some point, I finally I realized who it was Martin* so persistently reminded
me. Not David Graeber, the prolix London
anthropologist whose book Debt: The First 5000 Years
helped inspire the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Like him, Martin attaches inordinate significance to a chicken-and-egg theory
of the primordial ancient origins of credit. The two are convinced that no
barter economy ever existed, that symbolic money, or at least ledger debt,
preceded trade. Whatever.”
paragraph is a small extract from David Marsh’s much longer piece in his
“Economic Principles” (22 February).
Lost Legacy readers will have seen my earlier pieces on David Graeber’s ideas
from the modern science of anthropology.
I had a brief attempt at an “exchange” of views with David graeber in 2011-12; brief
because “David” terminated the ‘his non discussion’ abruptly with my first letter
leading to an indignant assault on me for addressing him as “David”, though I
was only attempting to ‘cool it’ as we had not exchanged criticism of each
other’s views and I wished to avoid possible ‘agro’ with an influential speaker
in the “occupy movement”, of which actions I had no view at the time.
was David Graeber’s confident misrepresentations on Adam Smith that I was attempting to
criticise, but of which he said not a word in his assessment of Adam Smith’s
paragraph in “Wealth Of Nations” on “truck, barter, and exchange” in his “Debt
The First 5000 years”.
“David” considered it “impolite” for me to refer him informally as “David” in my letter
without me first being introduced, like in Victorian days of formal polite
rectitude (Jane Austin, et al). Surely, a somewhat “bourgeois” stance for a
self-proclaimed militant anarchist to be upset about! I have known many anarchists
“communist”, Left and Right, and Libertarian, and I never met one so antagonistic
on a personal level.
I tried to continue our non-discussion to no avail. Several of his colleagues
responded, with doses of troll-like vitriol. Maybe nowadays I live too sheltered a social life.
I am not easily upset by ad hominen debating styles and I carried on reviewing
David’s “Debt: the first 5000 years”, starting HERE
particular my reference to his critique of Smith’s sentence, and his
interpretations of the recent anthropological evidence which David Graeber drew
suggested he had misunderstood Smith’s 18th century expressions when set
against his own many multiple 20th century readings by anthropology scholars
(most of it accessible on the Internet from his ipad).
critique summarised Smith’s views as “200 Thousand Years of Exchange” in human
societies to account for distinctive inter-human behaviours over a period long
before David Graeber’s “5 Thousand Years of Debt”, roughly only from human
history since the invention of debt denominated coinage, ignoring c.195
thousand years before then. Yet crude examples of reciprocal co-operation among
animals occurred, and still occurs today (see Robin Dunbar. 2004. “Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language”,
Faber & Faber, paperback).
Smith’s statement in WN (1776), was made when anthropology was in its infancy with very
few studies, or what passed for such, much of it shrouded in travelers’ brief visits, imaginations, myths, and theology, the latter based on
the ideas of a tribe of Bronze Age nomads wandering around the deserts of Arabia from the 8th century BCE.
Smith submitted one idea that has been confirmed by modern anthropology, specifically
in his reference to “exchange”. He
was not referring exclusively to market bargaining.
Graeber, like many others in his field, read Smith’s “exchange” as “trade” in
markets between cognates and dismissed Smith as being absolutely wrong about
what happens according to surviving examples of cultures before pre-markets and the
invention of money from some 5,000 years ago.
also does not have time for “Truck” or “Barter” in surviving examples of what anthropologists study closely. Yet much of the behaviours they describe
and analyse are “exchange” behaviours which certainly are compatible with Smiths’
use of the term!
more closely at anthropology's fieldwork, and notice that much of it shows the
domination of cultural forms of behaviovur , such as reciprocity, gift giving,
inter- and intra-tribal exchange of obligations, mutual toleration, regular exchanges in material
and behavioural tributes to ‘superior’ families inter and intra in tribal peace-offerings and much
else, which are abundant examples of human exchange behaviours.
truck and barter, exclude a necessity for monetary involvement, and remain a wide-spread
exchange behaviour across all human societies now and throughout all of
history, including that misnamed long period known incorrectly as “pre-history”. Archaeologists demonstrate that fact at every 'dig' all over the world and they are still widespread today, albeit informally in our highly monetised economies, even among children, who do not have access to their parents money.
was a common word used in 18-19th centuries for where goods and
services were exchanged (in both directions), commonly in the form of reward in kind exchange for labour services. You
have probably heard the lines in the folk-song: “16 tons and what d’ya get,
day older and deeper in debt.
Peter don’t you call me ‘cos I can’t go,
owe my soul to the Company Store”.
wages in kind i.e., Trucking, was made illegal in the 1820 in the UK because of
rampant fraud by employers. Clearly it continues in parts of the world in the
form of slavery and was well known in feudal times.
long history of truck and barter testifies to their enduring existence in largely market economies. Have you never swapped comics with
a school friend? Or with adult friends and relatives bartering on special social
occasions (examples like baby-sitting circles, car pooling, and kid's parties)?
relevant for discussions with our anthropologist friends, can anybody
demonstrate that “trucking” in the forms of the exchange of mutual behaviours
by exchanging goods, private obligations and services, conforming with cultural habits, reciprocal loyalties, and obedience to tribal norms, exchange behaviours according cultural norms in return for
peaceful relations, and are these not commonly found in abundance in field studies reported in the literature?
Zola in his novel “Germinal” refers to the hatred of a local grocer for his use
of access to females in exchange for sex to “pay” in kind (they had no money for their grocery debts during a bitter strike of their men folk
against their employers. The wives rioted too against the hated grocer and castrated him. The army
intervened later and violently out down the men's violence.
on to exchange in the form of Barter – the direct exploited exchange of goods
for goods, such as when European visitors exchanged whisky for furs, etc., with
North American natives for decades.
bartered exchanges occurred in 18th century voyages to the Pacific as described by Captain Cook, Bligh, Vancouver and
others in their Logs, when for example, exchanging iron for breadfruit plants, (see Bligh’s "Log
of the Bounty" and my “Bligh the Man and his Mutinies”, 1987, Duckworth). A
reader described to me the unofficial bartered exchanges between some of the seamen
and Tahitian natives for sexual access to their wives as a “screw for a nail”, which introduced venereal disease to the island.
households barter for the exchange of all kinds of goods, even forming informal barter clubs to avoid cash transactions and build personal relationships.
barter is an exchange transaction with a long history before money was
invented. Evidence of exchange is abundantly available across vast distances between
human communities in such as the Stone age ax trade in Britain, minerals such as Obsidian across the Mediterranean Sea and across Europe, other minerals in North America where inter tribal violence was common and money was unknown.
was right when he used exchange terms known to his 18th Century readers, such as "Truck and Barter", and
Graeber is wrong when he emphatically dismisses Smith’s use of exchange claims and so are those of his colleagues who deny exchange as a fundamental human behaviour in all
societies in Smith’s now famous sentence in Wealth Of Nations. He also presents market exchanges
completely within the neo-classical economics paradigm, which he presents as the
same as Smith's even though his classical economics was different from modern economists in many respects. David Graeber ignores Adam Smith’s writings on the derivation of language by exchange
(see his “Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres”, 1762 and in his essay on the origin of human language, 1761, and as a supplement published in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, 3rd
I respectfully suggest that Professor David Graeber, Phd (Yale) get out more and read more widely in economics, especially in Adam Smith's Works, perhaps, and study a little closer the significance of his colleagues anthropology and field work.