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A critical review of David Graeber's Debt

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Railyon's picture
Railyon
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Oct 27 2012 10:15
duskflesh wrote:
for example no theory about “what is relevant to economics” by it self will never undoubtedly prove the labor theory of value by itself...only a theory that trys to find patters in data can

so when one says that Marxist economics or any other bullshit-onomics school is unscientific it means that they don't base their theory on developing patters in the data but their a-porioa assumptions(which have nothing to do with a theory of data, but rather anthropological assumption or false analogising)

While I'm generally inclined to agree with you I think your view that Marx's analysis of capitalism rests on a priori assumptions is fallacious, but beating a dead horse will not bring it back to life. So I'd approve of the notion that 'marxian economics' or whatever could use a more empirical grounding but if you look at how Marx conducted his research you'll see the idea of his value theory didn't just pop into his head while he was in the restroom (but maybe I'm misunderstanding your point here). And looking at certain fields like econometrics I'm not even sure they have an idea what they're doing.

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syndicalistcat
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Oct 27 2012 17:58

me: "inductive reasoning can work..."

Lbird:
"No, it can't, mate. A pre-existing theory is always required to select and make sense of data."

You're just regurgitating a formula without paying attention to what I said. There are well known classes of inductive arguments where the argument does show the conclusion to be more probable if the premises are true. But, as I said, this is typically explained by a hypothesis. Natural kinds being an example. A hypothesis is what you call a "theory". so your last sentence here does not contradict what I said, nor does it show that inductive arguments under certain conditions do not lead from truth to probable truth. Hypotheses are not organized by linear chains of reasoning, but can support each other in various ways. When a deductive or mathematical probability argument is used to refute a hypothesis, it invariably also assumes in that context other hypotheses.

LBird
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Oct 27 2012 18:36
syndicalistcat wrote:
There are well known classes of inductive arguments where the argument does show the conclusion to be more probable if the premises are true.

But this is not induction, mate. Induction does not have 'premises'. The 'conclusions', it is argued, come from an 'untheoretical', passive, observation of the data.

Please have a look at 'grounded theory', which is a recent, academic, supposed impartial approach to data, from which 'theory' emerges.

It doesn't stand up, mate. Communists should insist on the necessity of examining the 'theory' of any 'scientific'method.

Most of the things that you have written actually agree with the anti-inductive stance.

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Oct 27 2012 19:19

LBird:

Quote:
But this is not induction, mate. Induction does not have 'premises'. The 'conclusions', it is argued, come from an 'untheoretical', passive, observation of the data.

I used to each logic. I think i know a bit about induction. Induction is a type of argument. Arguments have premises and conclusions. To take an example, from his study of garden peas Mendel had observed that traits are passed on from one generation to the next. He inferred from this that this was probably a characteristic of living things in general. This is an inductive inference. Drugs are often tested on non-human animals to see if they have certain effects. When they infer that they will likely have similar effects on humans, this is an argument by analogy which is a type of inductive inference.

kingzog
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Oct 27 2012 20:46

Hey guys,

I don't want to disturb this great thread by being the troll that I am; but I wanted to give a Marx quote. I'm not even sure how relevant it is, but I thought it was very interesting and a little related. This is from the introduction to the Grundrisse:

Quote:
"Money may exist, and did exit historically, before capital existed, before banks existed, before wage labour existed, etc. Thus in this respect it may be said that the simpler category can express the dominant relations of a less developed whole, or else those subordinate relations of a more developed whole which already had a historic existence before this whole developed in the direction expressed by a more concrete category. To that extent the path of abstract thought, rising from the simple to the combined, would correspond to the real historical process."

Maybe this means something, maybe it means nothing.

S. Artesian
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Oct 27 2012 23:58

An administrator should split the posts re "scientific method" into a separate thread.

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Apr 4 2013 10:08

I don't know if someone posted it here already, but here's another critical review of Debt, from the German magazine Wildcat (English translation): http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/wildcat/93/e_w93_bb_graeber.html

So far, I think I've liked this review the most.

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Apr 4 2013 12:09

Thanks Jura. Enjoyed that review a lot. Probably the best one I've seen also. Although I think they miss the degree to which Graeber is a regression on Polanyi as far as distinguishing reciprocity from exchange is concerned.

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Apr 5 2013 02:19

That review is awesome. Thanks, Jura.

@Ocelot. Is there a summary of Polyani's argument in this regard because it is a subject that comes up all the time in my conversations with liberals.

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Apr 5 2013 08:57

Malva. If there is, I haven't come across it. I recently wrote something on this and went back to The Great Transformation to see if there was a handy compact quote that would do the job, but I found that it's kinda spread out through the chapter.

Then again, after all this time, there must be a review somewhere of TGT that brings out these points succinctly, but I'm damned if I know how to find it. All suggestions welcome.

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Apr 5 2013 09:59

Hmm. This paper on Polanyi by Daniel Ankerloo is pretty good, albeit I haven't found the killer quote just yet.

Daniel Ankerloo: Some Notes on The Economic Theories of Karl Polanyi

There's also an article on "Exchange and Reciprocity" by C. A. Gregory in the Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology, 1994, (p. 984 in pdf here), which has a section on Polanyi starting at p. 994

Quote:
Polanyi, an economic historian, first became interested in the theory of gift exchange in order to understand the 'extraordinary assumptions' underlying the market economy of Europe, the principal subject of his magnum opus, The Great Transformation (1944). For him the market economy was a system of self-regulating markets in which the prices of commodities organized the whole of economic life. The basis of this system was seen to lie in the profit motive and in the existence of commodities in the form of land, labour and money. The non-market economy, he noted, is the very opposite of this: the motive of gain is absent, there is no wage-labour, and no distinctively economic institutions. How then, he asked, is production, exchange and distribution organized? His argument rests on the identification of three principles of economic behaviour—'reciprocity', 'redistribution', and 'householding'—which are 'a mere function of social organization' (1944:49) and which, in turn, are associated with distinct institutional patterns. Polanyi's argument is summarized in Table 1.
[...]
For Polanyi, then, the comparative economic history of humanity is characterized by a great divide: on one side is the self-regulating market; on the other, economies based on the principles of reciprocity, redistribution and householding (or some combination of these three principles). This is just another way of saying that the capitalist economy that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century ushered in a radically new form of economic organization, which was unique in world history.

This is a bold generalization, but it is still a great advance on the mistaken idea that there was no divide at all—that all economies were commodity economies. This fallacy, which lay at the base of the writings of Adam Smith, was uncritically accepted by many twentieth-century economists, and Polanyi—like Malinowski—was concerned to challenge it. Like Marx, Polanyi started with Aristotle's distinction between householding and money-making—'probably the most prophetic pointer ever made in the realm of the social sciences' (1944:53)—but was able to develop the distinction much further.[...] His claim was rather that prior to capitalism, commodity exchange was subordinate to the principles of reciprocity and redistribution; in other words that it was socially embedded and hence regulated rather than self-regulating.

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Apr 5 2013 10:03

Cheers, Ocelot. I shall have a look into it.

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Apr 5 2013 15:25

Did ya'll already talk about D Graebs' assertion that the alter-globalization movement destroyed the Washington Consensus because I am curious to hear what people's views are on that.

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Apr 5 2013 16:52

I found the review quite funny. It had some good specific points but they were lost in the.

"this isn't a book written by a marxist for a tiny milleau using the language and concepts of said milleau. The book should have been titled Capital and been about capital, labour, value etc. Debt is not the same as capital which is a mistake by the author."

In other words its not dissimilar to the other marxist critiques of the book. The fragments of the review that were about the book were good though. I found debt a bit fast and loose and poorly edited but it would have been nothing (ie to cumbersome) if it covered the gaps and plugged all the holes, even worse if the scope would have been wider. it has a scope which it almost covers and this in a readable (not because of the language) way.

Graeber isnt apopulist but his ideas and writing is accessible which is commendable, even if i occasionally feels he dumbs things down (liberelises) a bit.

sorry train at my stoip.

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Apr 5 2013 17:57

That's interesting Cooked. I noticed some of the jabs they take at Graeber, but I thought think they were nowhere nearly as hostile as in some of the other reviews (Kliman being the comical extreme).

I think some of the points Wildcat make, e.g. about chattel slavery and the concept of "human economy", are rather destructive to Graeber's argument. (Unlike other "marxist" reviews, which mostly follow the path you sketched.)

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Apr 5 2013 19:32
jura wrote:
That's interesting Cooked. I noticed some of the jabs they take at Graeber, but I thought think they were nowhere nearly as hostile as in some of the other reviews (Kliman being the comical extreme).)

I agree, it's not bad in terms of jabs and snipes.

jura wrote:
I think some of the points Wildcat make, e.g. about chattel slavery and the concept of "human economy", are rather destructive to Graeber's argument. (Unlike other "marxist" reviews, which mostly follow the path you sketched.)

Yep, as I said they made some good points. I barely remember them though because there was so much text about the book not being written by a full blown marxist* with a full marxist perspective. *using marxist as a shorthand here as thats basically what it's about.

It would have been nice to read a edited version that deals with the book on it's own terms. Plenty of things to criticise and the reviewer seemed well informed and with interesting takes. He did read the book very differently than me though. I didn't read it as if Graeber though those "social" societies were great in any way. Plenty of horrific anectote against this in the book. I only understood it as if they were less alienated and that capitalism (perhaps to some extent just money) enabled horrors at a scale and inhumanity that isn't possible in "social" societies. That human relationships are different under different systems.

It would also be nice to read a piece that critiques the topic "debt" and argues why and most importantly describes how Value, labour, capital etc. reveals more important things about society. Clearly laying out the consequences compared to Debt.

I had a third review but now I cant remember what it was supposed to be. There was some other interesting but incomplete strand in the review.

PS only now, thanks to css loading slowly did I see that Ocelots avatar is an Ocelot... thought it was an orchid all this time.

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Apr 6 2013 12:37
Cooked wrote:
It would also be nice to read a piece that critiques the topic "debt" and argues why and most importantly describes how Value, labour, capital etc. reveals more important things about society. Clearly laying out the consequences compared to Debt.
.

Im sorry but earlier in your post you were going against a review which you said critiqued it for not being Capital, but this reads like exactly the same point. Whats the point in another book about those things? David wrote about debt and he did it, why would he talk about value, labor capital etc being more important ultimately ?

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Apr 6 2013 15:02

@croydonian
I was trying to say that Debt might be a good starting point for showing how a marxist analyis can take you further. These reviews just go 'failure to marx. lingo, lingo namedrop' without actually *showing* in a way that matches Graeber where it can take you and why its important.

The wildcat one is one of the better ones but i still fails because the need to score political points obscures the interesting bits. A honest clear attempt at improving the analysis of debt through a 'more marxist' perspective would be interesting. But it would have to be an investigation not a ideologically motivated slapdown attempt. Wildcat sniffs around a serious discussion/advancing of ideas but muddles it up which is a shame because they can obviously see merit in the book.

You are correct though this wouldnt be a review but something much more interesting. Its just me hoping Graeber could inspire some marxist to write some legible grounded stuff without going FULL ACADEMIC wink

As I said there a several interesting strands to the text. Should have done one of them properly instead of mixing it all up half finished in a long text.

writing all these posts on my phone on trains is clearly not doing my communication skills any favours. at my stop again...