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Quote of the Day: February 27, 2012

You Can't Have a Modern Industrial Economy If You Have to Stage a Wife-Swapping Party Everytime You Want to Buy a Blanket...

Mark Thoma Sends Us to Daniel Davies:

Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber: It’s also notable that actually over the years, debt (by which I mean, the commercial and mercantile kind of debt) has worked noticeably better than most of the alternatives. The dzamalag ceremonies described in the book… certainly have some attractive qualities, but although Graeber wins the battle against the “Myth of Barter” here I think he loses the war – really, although the discussion of socially embedded exchange is incredibly interesting and illuminating, I think anyone who reads the passage above is going to end up sympathising with the people in the economics department who say that you really can’t organise a modern industrial society on the basis of organising a wife-swapping party every time you want to buy a blanket. Perhaps the fact from the book that will end up resisting the longest against the onslaughts of late nights and Scotch whisky on my ability to recall, is that more or less every urban society in the world has ended up inventing an equivalent phrase to “Please”, and “Thank you”, terms which have the social function of asserting between parties to a commercial transaction that the transaction itself does not embed them in any deeper social relation….

[T]the debt contract is basically a tool of industrial organisation that escaped from the laboratory and ran wild. But I think [Graeber] understimates the extent to which there have always been domesticating influences on the concept, and the extent to which the debt relation has always been, correctly, the subject of revision and reappraisal, with the basic underlying question being that of economics rather than anthropology – “How do we best organise the decision making process with regard to production, consumption, and exchange?”…

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