Politics of Debt

Sovereign Money vs. Bank Money: References

Strike Debt from Money

The BRICS Bank and Dollar Hegemony: The Importance of Geopolitics

Super Imperialism: Michael Hudson on Dollar Hegemony

Debt and Moral Grounding: Beginning David Graeber’s Debt

The Dual mythology of Market and State

The Forces of Nietzsche vs the Humanity of Graeber: part I

The Forces of Nietzsche vs. the Humanity of Graeber: part II

For the past year I’ve participated in a reading group called Politics of Debt organized with the Bay Area Public School in California. The platform is a website (thepublicschool.org) in which anyone can propose an idea for a class and then display it on the site, which will then become a class when enough interest has been generated and the logistics has all been ironed out. It’s a very open and accessible method for organizing classes that fit in with the zeitgeist and after only 18 months or so in the Bay Area, there are a range of classes and a rented-out room in downtown Oakland for scheduling meeting times. I figured that I would try my hand at making a class considering there were so many ideas swirling around in my mind at the time and some structure would definitely help provide some endurance. Grabbing some people together and sticking them in a room for two hours every two weeks goes a long way for adding continuity to an idea that might not get enough play in an academic setting. Classes tend to be more of a collaborative effort and less an instructional exercise of one expert speaking to an audience, giving them a kind of heady seminar feeling pulling in participants thought more seamlessly.

Of the topics churning around in vaguely patterned motions that I wanted to discuss in these class meetings was the an idea that came out of a focus group of Occupy Wall Streeters in debt and a debt strike. Debt was billed as “the tie that binds the 99%” and lumped various fronts that groups had undertaken together separate projects like the student debt refusal campaign, occupy theory, and others. Strike Debt came in as an organization bearing a great deal of momentum from people’s gathering into a critical mass with a critical edge that targeted the greed of Wall Street and their corruption of American politics. It was exciting in the beginning, with debtors assemblies and the possibility of a great strike that would hit the parasitic financiers right where it hurts buzzing. But this was unfamiliar territory for me, uncharted ground, and it seemed like the perfect topic for a study group, seeing as the interest level was so high. So two things came together for me in the aftermath of sustained public demonstrations and a critically offensive theory merged with practice in the form of a reading group and possible strategy session: a free public school and a popular debt refusal.

The group has done very well over the months and remains regularly attended in a biweekly format. It has gone from a theoretical-humanistic origin in David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5,000 Years to a narrower analysis of contemporary economic theory and monetary reform; specifically, what does it mean to have debt-free money and just how influential are banks on economies? The reading/watching list has gone in this order, and there is (always) plenty more to read:

Debt and Study – Moten and Harney
Debt: The First 5,000 Years – David Graeber.
The Violence of Financial Capitalism – Christian Marazzi.
The Makings of an Indebted Man – Maurizio Lazzarto.
’Time of Debt’ – an article by Simon Morgan Wortham.
Web of Debt – Ellen Brown.
’97% Owned’ – a video by Positive Money.
The Secret of Oz – documentary film by Bill Still.
Occupy Finance – The Alternative Banking Working Group.
Real World Economics Review #64.
Modern Monetary Theory vs. Austrian School of Economics – Warren Mosler and Robert Murphy.
The Keen vs. Krugman Debate – Steve Keen and Paul Krugman.
The Bubble and Beyond – Michael Hudson.
“New Currency Theory” – Joseph Huber.
The End of Growth – Richard Heinberg.
Griftopia – Matt Taibbi.

The Public Banking Solution – Ellen Brown

The Nature of Money – Geoffrey Ingham


All are welcome to join for a single meeting or the long haul. The web page for the class can be found here: [Politics of Debt]. I will be writing summaries and a critical analysis of the texts in a reflective manner and post them on this blog page. These will be personal interpretations and conclusions formulated in my reading of these texts and viewings of these videos and not necessarily reflect or even touch on the debates had in class. Comment freely: this is a hotly contested subject for economists, historians, religious scholars, and (hopefully more so now) philosophers.


5 thoughts on “Politics of Debt”

  1. This is a great list of resources! I was actually just asking a colleague in Turkey who writes on debt and governmentality if he knew of any writing on the concept of debt in A Thousand Plateaus. It’s odd, because in Anti-Oedipus the notion of the State is based on Nietzsche’s discussion of debt in the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morals, but D&G don’t really discuss it explicitly in ATP. Readng Dumézil helped me see the compatibility (binder-organizer, Varuna-Mitra, Romulus-Numa, and Roman debt as nexum-mutuum), but I’m curious as to why their focus on it seems to fade….

    1. It’s true, D&G suddenly halted the infinite debt vs. finite debt talk in ATP save for a few spots, even though it is a central distinction they use in Anti-Oedipus. Graeber scolds them in a footnote in Debt for taking Nietzsche’s critique in the second essay of the Genealogy too seriously; he’s basically saying it was a parody of bourgeois economists of his time and was not a version of his own theory, which I agree with him on. The distinction could remain useful when considering the willingness of rulers to forgive debts, with older model despots wiping the debt slate clean for lack of bureaucratic management from the yet-to-be-seen priestly class. The depot would be the binder and the organizers would be the central money managers reinforcing continuity in the regime of debts, basically substituting “restructuring” for forgiveness. People like Matt Taibbi have written about the religious character of the Federal Reserve system.

      What they all miss is Nietzsche’s somewhat veiled emphasis on forgetting and memory. The various writing and documenting technologies that developed over long periods of time allowed for memories of debts and accounts to be extended, providing an alternative to declaring clean slates. The “infinitizing” of debts could correspond with a rise in the priestly administrative class that digs deeper into the economic relations of the state, but Nietzsche, in his physiological way, points to the memory of the body.

      The closest D&G come to reconsidering the finite/infinite debt in ATP is On Several Regimes of Signs when it gets swallowed up by signifying and subjectifying regimes (top p.113). A modern jubilee is being talked about now that we have so much knowledge of past civilizations, but the difference in the state structures of times when that was normal and our own lead to all kinds of moral confusion.

  2. Is this class still going on or has it ended? Also, do you have any idea if there are other classes or book groups related to Occupy Oakland that are going on right now? Thanks!

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