Promises, Promises: A History of Debt Omnibus part 2

First broadcast on BBC R4 in 2016. Individual episodes previously huffduffed no longer have attached audio.

Anthropologist David Graeber explores the history of debt from the use of virtual money in the medieval period and the rise of the slave trade, to the financial crash of 2008. He draws on his years of groundbreaking research to deliver a series that challenges established wisdom over the banking system, the moral power of debt and even the very definition of money itself.

In this second episode, David takes us back to the medieval period when coinage largely disappeared and money become virtual. He reveals the importance of debt during the conquest of South America and the birth of the modern world economy.

David goes on to explore the influence of debt during the birth of capitalism and the centrality of debt to the slave trade. The conventional view is that the innovations during the birth of capitalism led to greater material prosperity enabling us to lead happier lives. David argues that, in fact, these times were marked by extraordinary levels of war and violence. He goes on to examine the rise of virtual money since the 1970s and the power of international creditors such as the IMF.

To conclude, David analyses the financial crash of 2008 and more recent debt crises in the context of the long history of debt. David argues that we are currently living in the early years of a new era in which physical money - cash passing from hand to hand - will be replaced by virtual money. There have been many eras of virtual money over the past 5000 years and David says we cannot yet know what this latest phase will mean as we are just a few decades years into a historical epoch likely to last 500 years.

Presenter: David Graeber Producer: Max O’Brien A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4.