David Graeber’s much talked of Debt: The First 5,000 Years is what the title suggests –a history of debt since ancient times. Debt, that is, in the broadest sense, since Graeber discusses theological conceptions of debt as something humans owe to gods or to God or to society, which is rather remote from the more usual sense of owing money.
The myth of barter
Graeber sets out to refute the idea put forward by Adam Smith and followed by others that money arose out of barter. Smith argued that all humans had a “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another”and so that barter would have been the original way in which they exchanged the products of their different trades. As barter has the inconvenience that those wanting to exchange have to have what each wants, at some stage money is invented as something that can be exchanged for anything.