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Debt (also, hello again :p)

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My old account got deleted, or something, when the site got updated. I think. I'm not sure, but it's good to be back. And with something to say. smile.png

One of my favorite books now, even though the author is a little long-winded at times, is Debt: the First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. For once, the author looks at the history of money and debt not from the perspective of an economist, but from the perspective of an anthropologist. It changes everything, and makes wildly more sense. A few highlights:

  • Again, money is as old as mankind. The author quotes from Buddhist vedas throughout the text on ideas of debt.
  • Money is a measurement, a quantification of an obligation. A debt is nothing more than a financial obligation.
  • Currency is an IOU, and that's all it ever is or ever will be. That's why even when the state quits minting coins or printing cash for whatever reason, people will still make up "tabs" or stocks or some other device to measure their debt. (Scots used nails at one point for this.)
  • For that reason, "credit" isn't a new concept. While the most quintessential example of money in people's minds is probably gold coins, credit in all its forms is the purest form of money there is.
  • The idea that money is as old as man also forces us to question a few things: How and why does money influence morality? Think about it for a second. If you saw me in front of my house and a tow truck was repossessing my car, how would you view me? "Oh there goes Ben, not paying his bills!" I'd be humiliated. But if your car was repossessed, how would you view the lienholder who ordered so, or the tow truck driver who was taking it? You would loathe that company and yourself for not paying. Clearly, if money is a quantification of an obligation, this leads to some rather peculiar, and even inconsistent, views towards debtors and creditors.

    All in all, it's a deeply interesting book. It's also on Kindle, if you're curious. tongue.png


    Picture a role-playing game. Make it whatever setting you wish. What if your character is in debt? What if he can buy someone else's debt and become their creditor? What if our hero gambled a few too many rupees and at the most inappropriate time had to engage in a fight with legbreakers, perhaps spoiling a mission underway? What if our hero could lend money to a builder so he could build his house, and in return, we are welcome to stay there overnight whenever we want, plus we eventually get paid back with interest? (He's a really generous builder. tongue.png)

    (Also, anyone ever wondered why, in the Legend of Zelda, Link would lose rupees by shooting arrows? What, was he using the rupees as arrowheads?? If so, awesome, and could regular stone/bone/metal arrowheads then be used as IOUs? Just curious. tongue.png)

    What if our hero could go into town and buy someone's debt, perhaps his own creditor's? That might lead to a confrontation as well, and not necessarily a physical one. Viscerality isn't only manifest in physical violence; it is deeply rooted in finance as well.

    Maybe it doesn't have to be the singular focus of the game, but think of the extra dimensions this could lend to a game. Or indeed, what if it was the focus of the game? What if our hero's people had been virtually or actually enslaved by a foreign empire, they fought and won their revolution, and now they are impoverished by a crippling debt which that empire laid upon them which was recognized by other sovereign powers, and it's inescapable due to compound interest and diminished GDP? Well, what if?

    Debt is a fascinating concept to me, and maybe this is implemented somewhat in an MMO that I don't play (because I don't play any) so let's hear it. What do you think? smile.png

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Another highlight from the book is "primordial debts". Graeber quotes British sociologist, Geoffrey Ingham here:
[indent=1]In all Indo-European languages, words for "debt" are synonymous with those for "sin" or "guilt", illustrating the links between religion, payment and the mediation of the sacred and profane realms by "money". For example, there is a connection between money (German geld), indemnity or sacrifice (Old English geild), tax (Gothic gild) and of course, guilt.

Ingham notes a person's "primordial debt" which is "that owed by the living to the continuity and durability of the society that secures their individual existence." Graeber concludes that in this sense, "it is not just criminials who owe a "debt to society"-- we are all, in a certain sense, guilty, even criminals."


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