I’ve tried to read this book several times (libcom has a free PDF here) but I never get very far before petering out. I started listening to this free audiobook version and have gotten up to Chapter 5. I’ve been mostly listening as I cook breakfast or dinner.
Why is it good: it examines a bunch of economic received wisdom and rethinks it with reference to anthropology and the different ways humans have formed societies and functioned with each other today and in the past.
For example, in chapter 2, he examines the semi-mythic tale told in economics about the development of currency: that people at first bartered with each other, but found it too difficult to fulfill the “double coincidence of wants” to satisfy a trade partner, and so developed currency as a universal referent to denominate trades. He points out that there has never really been a society that used a barter economy; that barter is something that was done primarily with strangers, and often took place along with social rituals to defuse the possibility of violence (nobody likes getting cheated). If someone needs something they don’t have, there are many other solutions for solving the problem in any particular society, including: getting the item from a neighbor/friend, knowing that they will call in the implied debt at some future time, even if you haven’t arrived at an “exact value”; or your village might find a way to create what you need from collective resources.
I think rethinking things in this way makes it clear that “market societies” like the one we live in, in the US, are not at all “natural developments” and were deliberately created, through violence, and since people lived in other ways in the past, we can too in the future.
The author, David Graeber, is an anarchist anthropologist. He’s supposedly responsible for suggesting the slogan “We are the 99 percent” on an email list prior to the first day of Occupy. He wrote this essay on “bullshit jobs” that is very good and that he’s now turned into a book.