In Praise of Debt

Dr hab. Kacper Pobłocki (EUROREG UW), moderator: Przemysław Wielgosz (LMD-PL)

“Debts should be paid”. “Who does not, loses credibility with their investors”. “Public debt created today will fall on the shoulders of future generations”. “Rising public debt acts as a brake on the economic development”. These and similar statements can be heard non-stop in the media, expert comments and political debates. And what if debt is not the sin of the debtor, but the common interest binding them with the creditor who also should bear the cost of risk? What if the debtor does not have to atone, putting their fate in the hands of financial institutions, and endlessly paying off interest many times higher than the original debt? What if some debts – incurred against social interests and without a democratic debate – are simply unlawful? And finally, what if the best way to lighten the load of public debt is incurring even more debt, to raise the investment rate, i.e. cultivating deficit? All these doubts (or rather well-proven theses), formulated for a long time by critical currents of economics, effectively undermine the neoliberal discourse on debt. But David Graeber proposes we should do even more. He goes a step further. His historical analysis of the phenomenon of debt leads the idea of debt out of the sphere of fault, deficiency and moral condemnation, although it reclaims the moral dimension of every economic theory as well. At the same time, it reaches far beyond tight restrictions of the economy imagined by orthodox economists. In his view, debt, long before the notion was warped by classical economics, was the name of one of the fundamental social relationships. It meant a network of mutual obligations on which social cohesion, equality, solidarity and trust were based. Such understanding of debt not only is not a problem, but it is an essential part of the social praxis. So the more of it there is, the better. Without debt, without the logic of reciprocity and obligation hidden within, there can be neither reasonable economic development, nor any reproduction of society. Furthermore, just like beach can be hidden under cobblestones, under the crust of stale capitalism, social life is governed by the rules of baseline communism and the principle of gift.

David Gaeber’s theory of debt puts in the foreground the question of conditions of capacities of society based on egalitarian relationships of reciprocity. In the background, it provokes a question about the historical genesis of the transition to the reductionist concept and material trap of the debt system that characterise capitalist economic relations. He does not do it only to ponder historical questions, but primarily to determine necessary framework of a systemic transformation. A transformation that, arising from a “deep” level of socialisation, that does not yield to the influence of commodity and productivity logic, would find a foothold for the construction of a different, truly egalitarian and democratic society.

The meeting will be held on Zoom. Registration required (open until 22.02.2021) via the application form on our website. We will e-mail the link to the meeting to registered participants. We are planning live streaming on Facebook. The meeting will be recorded and archived on our YouTube channel and in Resources on Biennale website. To protect your image, we ask you to keep your cameras and microphones off during the entire event. But we do encourage you to join the discussion and send us questions on the chat. The moderator Przemysław Wielgosz will ask them on your behalf.


Data Czas Tytuł Miejsce Wstęp
February 23 2021
, 18:00

In Praise of Debt

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