It’s been months since David Graeber’s book “Debt” was published, and around the time that Crooked Timber has started a symposium on it an excerpt has gained infamy as Wrongest Sentence Ever. Reading every comment at Unfogged would be time-consuming (and since they come in a little pop up window, annoying), but the collection curated at the link contain some very amusing parodies. From what I’ve read online, I find some of the arguments he appears to be making odd (the only economist I can think of who talks much about barter is Nick Rowe, who emphasizes its unworkability as illustrating how useful money can be and harmful a shortage of currency relative to demand is), but it still sounds like an interesting & ambitious book. In those Unfogged comments a number of people compare him to Jared Diamond, specifically “Collapse”, whose problems I have discussed here before. I enjoy reading Diamond despite all that and maybe Graeber will be similar. On the other hand, it was over two years ago that I started writing a review of Karl Polanyi’s somewhat similar sounding “Great Transformation”, before I ran out of extensions and had to return the book to the library, and I feel I really should deal with that before taking on Graeber.
On an unrelated note, there has been a hubbub about the Gleick/Heartland affair, but I am mystified by the absence of anyone making a point that seems obvious to me. Gleick claims he received the “strategy” document in the mail, subsequently emailed Heartland pretending to be a board-member and then received the other documents. I haven’t read any of these myself, but there is unanimity that the “strategy” document largely consists of elements borrowed from the other documents, so the author must have read them before writing it. The pdf from the scanned “strategy” paper contains metadata indicating the date & time at which it was scanned (whose Pacific timezone has been widely noted). The Heartland emails will have date/time stamps as well. If the date on the document precedes that of the emails that would clear Gleick of the charge of fabricating it himself. I don’t think he’ll clear himself in that way because he seems pretty obviously guilty. I should add that a later date would be consistent with him only scanning the physical document after he received the emails, but that’s about as plausible as the idea that anyone else would think his Forbes blog is a vital outpost in the battle over climate policy. Now I feel stupid for even spending time writing about this tempest in a teacup.