David Graeber: “The democratic way of choosing officials, if you had to do it, was lottery.”

One way to thoroughly clean up the corrupt election process: sortition: Election by lottery. All eligible and willing candidates would put their names in the system and, like jury duty, would be selected at random to serve for a limited time. I hope the democracy matures to the point where this becomes not just a crackpot idea but standard practice. David Graeber of OWS fame defends the position in this article the blog Equality by Lot.

Equality by lot

David Graeber is an

American anthropologist, political activist and author. He is currently reader in social anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and was formerly an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University. David is a member of the labour union Industrial Workers of the World, and has played a role in events such as the 2002 New York protests against the World Economic Forum. His most recent book is Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

He is also described as

a man of many talents. A longtime activist, a professor of anthropology at the University of London, and a prolific author, David also helped found the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. He even coined the phrase “We are the 99%.”

Graeber is not impressed with the electoral system:

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Krugman Trashes Austerity’s Phony Morality Economics

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 24JAN08 - Jean-Claude Trich...

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 24JAN08 – Jean-Claude Trichet, President, European Central Bank, Frankfurt, captured during the session ‘Systemic Financial Risk’ at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apropos of a current theme of this blog, that the powerful Austrian school of economics that has supplanted Keynesianism as the go-to ideology of our government and, more and more, both political parties, is rooted in the same Nietzschean stew of pro-winner, anti-loser sentiment that appealed to the Nazis, Paul Krugman has a piece in the current New York Review of Books that devastates the “austerian” contention that Keynesianism feeds the Beast, while austerity corrects naughty economic behavior. His main support for his argument is the recent discovery of severe flaws in the methodology of two studies most often cited by austerians, one by Harvard profs Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff and the other by Italy’s Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna, purporting to show that government spending that exceeds 90% of GDP in the wake of a depression or financial meltdown is catastrophic for the economy in question.

David Stockman’s The Great Deformation … [is] an immensely long rant against excesses of various kinds, all of which, in Stockman’s vision, have culminated in our present crisis. History, to Stockman’s eyes, is a series of “sprees”: a “spree of unsustainable borrowing,” a “spree of interest rate repression,” a “spree of destructive financial engineering,” and, again and again, a “money-printing spree.” For in Stockman’s world, all economic evil stems from the original sin of leaving the gold standard. Any prosperity we may have thought we had since 1971, when Nixon abandoned the last link to gold, or maybe even since 1933, when FDR took us off gold for the first time, was an illusion doomed to end in tears. And of course, any policies aimed at alleviating the current slump will just make things worse.

In itself, Stockman’s book isn’t important. Aside from a few swipes at Republicans, it consists basically of standard goldbug bombast. But the attention the book has garnered, the ways it has struck a chord with many people, including even some liberals, suggest just how strong remains the urge to see economics as a morality play, three generations after Keynes tried to show us that it is nothing of the kind. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Cherokee Blood-Feud, or Anthropology is Only Fun Till Someone Puts an Eye Out!

This is a fascinating piece (with an irresistible title!). It reminded me of a documentary film called Push Back (or Pushback?),  Payback by Margaret Atwood. It’s a difficult film to remember because it’s a little all over the place, but one segment concerns a blood feud in Albania of all places. The consequences of the patriarch of this little family in the Albanian mountains having killed a neighbor over a dispute involving land was that every member of the family was marked for assassination if they left the property. The entire family, in other words, was serving the murder sentence. As “northier” says, this is not an anomalous form of justice; this is the apparent human default. Are there other animals that behave this way? Or is this sense of debt unique to us?

David Graeber touches on this in his history of debt. But northier makes an interesting observation about the collective guilt shared by the customer support staff operator (who’s often half a world away from the actual perpetrators of banking chicanery) with the whole corporation, at least in the view of the irritated customer.

Really interesting food for thought here.

northierthanthou

…and of course that is when it gets really interesting.

By poking an eye out, I am of course talking about a special sort of moment one gets from time to time in the study of anthropology, at least I do. It’s the sort of moment when some cultural practice causes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and your stomach tries to dig its way to China (or Antarctica, as would be the case here in Barrow). I’m talking about that kind of moment when you encounter something in an ethnography that just seems like too much. So, you sit there and ask yourself, “How in the Hell could that be anything but wrong?” And for a little while anyway, your mind just doesn’t want to travel down that road, the one that leads to understanding the practice in its own context. You’d rather just say ‘no’. Hell, you’d…

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Graeber: “In America…the Entire System Is Built on Legalized Bribery”

This video interview with David Graeber of Occupy Wall Street by Italian activist, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo covers a range of subjects this blog has also covered, focusing on debt, political power and direct democracy.  The questions appear in written Italian, but most should be fairly clear to anyone with high school-level familiarity with the romance languages, and those that aren’t Graeber answers very straightforwardly and clearly. (One thing he discusses that I’m not familiar with is the Italian 5 Star movement, of which Grillo is a leader.)

Graeber’s view of the American system is essentially captured by the quote which is the title of this post. I think it’s an accurate view. What do you think? I also greatly appreciate his proposed antidote to  the poison in the US system, which is for the people to act as though they are free and have power. That is what Occupy Wall Street is all about.

Assange Grills #Occupy

Julian Assange chats (sometimes pointedly) with leaders prominent members of the #Occupy movement from New York and London, including David Graeber, Alexa O’Brien of US Day of Rage and Aaron Peters. Does Assange get Occupy? Not fully, which leads to some interesting exchanges, particularly around the subject of force and violence from without and within the movement. These are amazingly intelligent people all around, which makes for occasionally abstruse dialogue. But it’s very much worth sticking with to the end. Uncommon television. Lots and lots of food for thought.

PS: I want to point out a startling (on first hearing, but not on second thought) revelation from David Graeber during the discussion in the video’s late portion about how #occupy deals with disruptors that the NYPD “allegedly” sent newly released prisoners by the busload to Zuccotti Park last fall, telling them that there was free food and shelter available. As Graeber says earlier in the program, the United States (and its hired goons) do not act well to the threat of democracy breaking out all over.

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

Must Read: David Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”

I’m reading a book that is so good, so well-written, so relevant to the zeitgeist, that I can confidently recommend it to anyone who reads, though I’m just a bit more than halfway through it myself: Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber.

Before I tell you why you should go now and buy, borrow or reserve this book and get reading, I’ll call your attention to an interview Graeber gave the British magazine The White Room which gives an interesting peek into his background and main political ideas. Graeber, a well-respected anthropologist,  is becoming better known as one of the influencing thinkers behind #occupyWallStreet. A couple of sentences from the introduction of the White Room interview beautifully make a point about OWS that I less successfully try to make when people criticize its “fuzziness” and lack of demands:

…Graeber has put the spotlight on the anarchist principles of the Occupy movement, explaining that the lack of concrete demands is part of a pre-figurative politics. The protestors act as though they are ‘already living in a free society’, and thus refuse to accept the legitimacy of existing political institutions and legal order – both of which, he says, are immediately recognised in the placing of demands. Continue reading