Debt peons, unite!

Author David Graeber talks about capitalism, solidarity, and the war on the imagination

|
(49)
David Graeber: "Some members of the ruling class actually talk to me and even ask for my advice."
PHOTO BY ADAM PEERS

rebecca@sfbg.com

David Graeber is renowned among occupiers and idealists as an intellectual founder, or anti-leader as it were, of the Occupy Wall Street encampment that sprung up in Zucotti Park in the fall of 2011. He's an organizer, an anarchist, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Goldsmiths University of London, a former instructor at Yale, and the author of several books, including Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a tome tracing the concept of debt back to the roots of Western civilization.

His latest book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (Spiegel & Grau, 2013), chronicles the rise of Occupy, a leaderless economic justice movement Graeber unapologetically characterizes as a success. In honor of International Workers Day, May 1, the Bay Guardian caught up with him over coffee to talk about economic pressures facing today's workers, particularly the young and marginalized.

Turns out, it's not a pretty picture out there — but at least Graeber, who has a propensity to collapse into giggles between full throttle ruminations on the absurdity of global economic policy, has a sense of humor about it.

Below are some excerpts.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Looking at the Occupy movement, the mainstream narrative seems to be that it was a short-lived, failed experiment and now it's over. But in your book, you ask the question 'why did it work?'

David Graeber: Let's put it this way. When was the last time that the issue of social class was put at the center of American politics? Probably the 1930s. Social movements have been desperately trying to do this for 50, 60, 70 years and gotten nowhere. We managed to do it in three months. Um, that's pretty impressive. ... And I'm pretty sure that if it weren't for us, we'd have a President Romney right now. That whole 47 percent thing? It would not have resonated had it not been for the 99 percent thing.

SFBG: Why do you think the idea of wealth inequality, of all issues, resonated so much?

DG: I think because there's a basic change in the way capitalism works in America. It's been going for some time, but it just became unmistakably apparent after 2008. People talk about the "financialization" of capitalism, and it sounds very abstract. Casino capitalism, speculation, they're playing these games, they're making money appear out of thin air, which is not entirely untrue. ... It's based on getting everybody into debt. The profits of Wall Street are — they now say a very small percentage is actually based on commerce — it's now based on finance. But what does 'based on finance' actually mean? It means they go into your bank account and take your money.

Comments

Interviewee David Graeber says he resides in UK most of the time and that austerity, understood, Neoliberalism, forces “Whitehall” to “prioritize the political advantage.” This, in contrast to the US Congress, which prioritizes the “economic advantage.”

Economics, relational arts and not pure science, are social tools that prescribe methods to achieve orderly investment, productivity, trade, staffing, maintenance and distribution in a complex human systems comprised of a particular political capital. Since globalized neoliberalism falls outside the pale of “a political capital” not only is it not 'an economic ideology” it is an aberration mentored by the late Friedrich Hayak (then called classical liberalism) and Milton Friedman (neoliberalism). The human world should hope that this monster self-destructs soon or becomes able to abort it.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 01, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

Gobbledygook much?

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2013 @ 7:37 pm

while post modernism is a good way to look at the world?

Posted by Matlock on May. 06, 2013 @ 11:22 pm

Wow, did Graeber pay you to make that comment ? He points out how ridiculous the "only alternatives" arguments are, so you offer us neo-liberalism and post modernism as the only alternatives.

Posted by kyoung on May. 07, 2013 @ 10:12 am

@Matlock: I only intend to admonish others of what I believe is the destructive nature of neoliberal capitalism that began as a callous social experiment and venture in the 1980s destroying the lives of many in developing countries (Brazil, Paraguay, Poland etc.) that were types of social democracies. Infiltration, subversion, (I know this word is suspect in our 21st Century, but it is relevant), co-optation, economic shocks, expropriation of land resources via 1) government realignment, 2) privatization and 3) deregulation, to over-simplify, yielded financial bounty to rent-seeking capitalists at the expense of mass devastation to others. A more recent example might be the corn ethanol trade-offs in Guatemala that cause hardship to many who rely on corn as a daily staple as ethanol is grown on valuable land and exported for profits and growth expectations—not development ad infinitum.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 08, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

Occupy had it's 15 minutes of fame, and then fizzled out as soon as winter arrived.

No stamina, today's revolutionaries.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2013 @ 6:05 am

troll barrier

this is simply a troll barrier

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into petty, mean spirited, irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 6:08 am

Really I think most people want to make money, enough to live on, retire and not to worry about being homeless. We have a drive to work, we have a drive to get better not everyone wants to be on welfare, food stamps or live in substandard housing.

We aren't producing jobs that are really honest work, you can't even afford a home in the bay area, starting a business here is a joke. The property taxes won't kill you, it is what you pay for and then pay taxes on the sale price. 1.3 million dollars for a 900 square foot home, the only people that can afford that are the educated class.

I am for national healthcare, for SSI, for food programs, senior programs, for helping people out, job training, taxes breaks to bring work, real WORK. Not what the Repubs are pushing, for open space, clean air and water. The stock market, the smart middle class investors, the working poor to get ahead in life. Rewards for honest work, good citizens, good family units, even if the family unit is a same sex couple with no kids.

Posted by Garrett on May. 07, 2013 @ 11:13 am

because every home for sale gets quickly sold, and each vacant rental gets filled.

What you are really saying is that YOU cannot afford the average Bay Area home and, while that might be true, that is your problem and not ours.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2013 @ 11:43 am

The problem is systemic and promoted by those who are of a similar mind-set that your comment suggests. Countries are built by those deceived by it and there are many of us who are the "unsung heroes," such as Garrett.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 08, 2013 @ 9:04 am

The simple fact is that lots of people can afford SF homes. If that were not the case, many of them would be vacant and probably no more would be being built. Neither of those are true, ergo, SF homes are affordable. Just not be you.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2013 @ 10:06 am

1. "Lots of people can afford SF homes,"
2. Guest can afford an SF home,
3. Guest is "lots of people."

My best attempt at "refutation." I'm not a rhetorician, but this is a syllogism.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 08, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

Hardly any, right?

So obviously they are affordable, because people afford them.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

There are many vacancies, but most are not affordable. I think it relevant to note that the stats are provided by the industry and industry speculators, meaning that the industry can manipulate the numbers as they choose.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 08, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

It's typically reckoned to be about 1%. Can you show otherwise? Or are you just blowing hot air?

Every home around where i live is clearly occupied. Meaning that lots of people can afford SF, even if you cannot.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

Looking out your window into your upper middle class neighborhood is a ridiculous method for determining vacancies.

Here's an article I found in less than 60 seconds in a web search, which shows that there are an outrageous 30,000 home vacancies in San Francisco; this according to the U.S. Census.

http://blog.sfgate.com/ontheblock/2011/03/30/why-so-many-vacant-homes-in...

It is unacceptable that speculators are holding tens of thousands of units off the market in order to drive up housing prices by artificially limiting supply, and thereby pricing hundreds of thousands of middle and lower class San Franciscans out of an affordable place to live.

It is unacceptable that only 'lots of people' can afford a home in San Francisco. Everyone, should be able to afford their own home.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 6:26 am

responding to it for fear of being discovered.

Many of the homes held vacant in SF are because of rent control. Owners would rather leave a home empty than risk tangling with tenants who may never leave and who may prove impossible to evict.

So it is progressive policies that lead to vacant homes.

There is no evidence that anyone leaves a place vacant for years just to enjoy the price inflation. More likel they just parcel the place up as TIC's and sell them.

Vacancy rate is extremely low in Sf nonetheless. Places like Houston have vacancy rates of 10% to 20%. Not here, not a chance.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 7:00 am

troll barrier

this is simply a troll barrier

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into nonsensical, petty, mean spirited, irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 7:28 am

In a city with at least 300,000 homes, that is about 3% - perfectly acceptable.

Perhaps a more significant figure is the estimated 40,000 illegal units in SF that are used as a home. If all illegal units were demolished and every currently vacant unit was filled, the housing situation would be much worse.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 8:37 am

this is simply a troll barrier

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into petty, mean spirited, irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 9:12 am

The census number seems much too high. There are certainly no vacant residential buildings near me (94114) although there are a few commercial units.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 9:32 am

which are created under the current schema.

So many professions are based on scamming value from others or the environment; getting away with theft as opposed to actually creating value.

Examples of this are in much of the insurance industry, securities traders, advertising, energy sectors. Most of this "work" represents a net cost to human society and rates below that of telephone psychics in its import.

Humanity needs to figure out how to have a functional planned economy because the current situation has us spiraling down the drain.

The dramatic upsurge in the suicide rate among baby boomers in this country is a testament to how disfunctional our economy is. Even this reported rate is far below the true rate since most cases are not included in the statistics, but it's currently at 3 in 10,000 for boomer men each year and exceeds deaths from car accidents for the population at large for the first time ever.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-u...

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 08, 2013 @ 10:21 am

Either adopt and accept it, or become doomed to irrelevance.

And luckily for the rest of us, these new jobs pay better.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Enjoy your wealth while you can. An unexpected game-changer is forthcoming.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 08, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

And if you could foretell the future, you'd be rich, and you're not.

Any savvy market participant can make money out of down markets, so why fear them?

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

Markets are manipulated and insider trading is (intended). One would realize more profit by playing a one-hand game of Blackjack than risking a lifetime of wages in Wall Street's ponzi.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 08, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

Evidently you do not, and so deem it a lottery, when in fact it is laregly predictable, but only by a few.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

@Guest: You underestimate the complexity of human contingencies on which that casino, Wall Street operates. I hope your glibness does not cause you ruin.

Posted by Awayneramsey on May. 09, 2013 @ 9:16 am

Seems you merely fear them, because you do not.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2013 @ 9:53 am

troll barrier

this is simply a troll barrier

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into petty, mean spirited, irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 6:30 am

and I enjoyed reading it.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 6:56 am

Please substantiate this claim.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2013 @ 9:55 am

Useful info. Fortunate me I discovered your site unintentionally, and I_m shocked why this coincidence did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

Posted by essaycollege.net on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 7:05 am

That article is so interesting and makes a very nice image in my mind. Thank you for sharing this info with us!

Posted by http://paramountessays.com/ on Jun. 15, 2013 @ 9:40 am
wow

Thanks for this !!!

Posted by http://payforessay.net/ on Jun. 16, 2013 @ 9:50 pm

Outstanding material! I have been previously looking for something such as this for some time now. With thanks!

Posted by http://samedayessay.com/ on Jun. 18, 2013 @ 11:28 am

Thanks to share your experience with us, so you can re-examine their own personal bias and thinking habits. Great stuff, toogood to be true!

Posted by essaysale.net on Jun. 25, 2013 @ 3:35 am

keep up the nice work

Posted by termpaperwriter.org on Jul. 02, 2013 @ 8:56 am

Everyone should just get elgg and build their own social site at home. It isn't that hard. Then no more security or privacy problems. Your server your site. That is what the internet was supposed to be anyway. When it was originally invented. Long before Gore fouled it up.

Posted by writer help on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 6:46 am

I think that every person has the power to choose his destiny, so that if he wants better life he can have it. The negative processes described in the book cannot be stopped. But they can be neglected by not participating in the movement. That is the way out.

Posted by http://wedoessays.com/ on Sep. 10, 2013 @ 2:21 am

The debt has always been an important issue to solve. Starting from the beginning of ages it has always been actual.

Posted by samedayessay.me on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 3:24 am

The debt has always been an important issue to solve. Starting from the beginning of ages it has always been actual.

Posted by http://bestessaysonly.com/ on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 3:26 am

That is very kind of you to write this share for us, thanks a lot

Posted by wedoessays.com on Sep. 27, 2013 @ 6:55 am

I thoroughly enjoy your blog posts and I consciously put into practice your concepts as they allow us to..

Posted by master-essays on Sep. 30, 2013 @ 12:55 am

Wonderful video! I adore volcanos, impresses. explosion stunning. Thank you. Made happy

Posted by essay writer on Oct. 30, 2013 @ 10:37 am

Nice to very useful info for me. online-essay-writer.org Because i'm new in blogging and i'm need good tutorial like your post

Posted by Andrea on Nov. 30, 2013 @ 2:51 am

Wonderful video! I adore volcanos, impresses. explosion stunning. Thank you. Made happy

Posted by Hamari web on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 8:36 am

Biochemically it is characterized by loss of regulation in ion homeostasis, random digestion of DNA & ultimately postlytic of DNA fragmentation. Physiologically, necrosis affects groups of contiguous cells, phagocytosis by macrophages and significant inflammatory immune response.

Posted by dfdfffdfdf on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 4:02 am

That article is so interesting and makes a very nice image in my mind. Thank you for sharing this info with us!

Posted by q mobile prices in pakistan on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 5:14 am