Graeber: Why Austerity Reflects a Sham Morality

In an interview with David Johnson of Boston Review, anarchist/activist/anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years David Graeber makes a key point about the “morality” behind austerity movements that is destined to be missed by all influential economists, bankers, presidential candidates and media pundits, but which no one interested in ethics , politics, or economics should miss (my emphasis):

David Johnson: What inspired you to write the book?

David Graeber: It came out of the strange moral power that debt has over people. So many times you’re talking to people about the depredations of the International Monetary Fund in the third world, telling these horrible stories about the thousands of babies dying of preventable diseases because people aren’t allowed to maintain malaria-eradication campaigns or basic health services due to austerity measures and debt servicing, and people respond, “Well, yeah, but you can’t say they don’t owe the money. People have got to pay their debts, come on!” That common-sensical notion not only that it’s moral to pay one’s debt, but also that morality essentially is a matter of paying one’s debts can bring people to justify things that they would never think to justify in any other circumstance. For the most part, decent people tend not to think killing lots of babies is justifiable under any circumstances. But debt somehow changes all that. Why is that?

Let’s try to really pay attention to that question, because as citizens of the modern democratic-capitalist world, we are very well-educated to gloss over it. Continue reading

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