Three Longs & Three Shorts

R.I.P David Graeber – Prophet of Wall Street

David Graeber, the scholar, anarchist and intellectual leader of Occupy Wall Street passed away on 2nd September. One of the most original and influential thinkers on Economics and Finance over the past 20 years, we join the Indian Express in celebrating this polymath: “David Graeber, the anarchist who powered the Occupy movement with intellectual rocket fuel, has died before his time. One of the last polymath public intellectuals, he joined the dots between anthropology, economics, politics, social science and history. The truths he revealed were devastatingly obvious, but had gone unnoticed. His most popular work, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011), questioned a central assumption of economics — that money was invented to formalise barter. He pointed out that barter required only mutual satisfaction, not the exactitude of money. Instead, he suggested, money was created to quantify debt — what people in ancient cultures owed to the temple and the royal treasury, which was carefully calibrated and recorded.”
Graeber was equally caustic – and equally correct – regarding the false virtue of pointless hard work: “lay readers will remember him for his books on the false virtue of meaningless hard work, the surge in work brought on by machines, which had been expected to eliminate it, and the urgent need for universal basic income.” [See “Bullshit Jobs: The Rise of Pointless Work and What We Can Do About it”]
In a moving obituary in the New York Times Review of Books (, David Wengrow writes: “David Graeber died three weeks after we finished writing a book together about human history, which had absorbed us for more than ten years. It will be called The Dawn of Everything, because he wanted that. David and I became friends around 2007, an in-between time for us both. We used to meet on my regular visits to New York. David would say that every time we talked he learned something new. It’s how we bonded—but in truth I was learning much more, and soon we were learning together. He opened horizons. “We will change the course of history,” he said, “starting with the past.” …David sprinkled magic dust, and changed all that. He restored my faith in knowledge, but more, he gave it purpose, because he lived his social science; if you couldn’t inhabit it, share it, practice it, then it was trivial theorizing.
“When Occupy was taking off,” he used to tell me, “the most common objection I heard was, well, this kind of thing is great, but it could never really work on a large scale.” Was that actually true? The history of the last few centuries, perhaps even the last few thousand years, would suggest so. But what if you dug deeper? That’s why he needed an archaeologist like me, and to some extent to become one himself. We bracketed the Iron Age, and went below the surface. As David predicted, we were soon under attack for having “political motivations.” He wasn’t fazed. Neither was I.”
There are plenty of people in our social and professional circles who don’t like people like David Graeber. Such people are suspicious of “left-wing JNU types” who refuse to fall into line. The Indian Express hits the nail on the head when it says: “Was Graeber an anarchist prophet? It doesn’t matter. It is not necessary for the anarchist to be always right. His function is to ring the alarm bell when something is disastrously wrong.”