Michael Hudson
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Debt, land and money
From Polanyi to the new economic archaeology
in Karl Polanyi and twenty-first-century capitalism
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Polanyi spoke of the commodification of money, and this chapter focuses on how interest-bearing debt became the major dynamic, also contributing to the commodification of land and labor. By the late third millennium BC the main way to obtain manual labor was to lend money and make debtors work off their debts as an antichretic interest charge. Personal debt became the lever for creditors to pry land out of the clan-based tenure system, mainly for sale under economic duress. Debtors who pledged their crop or land rights usually ended up forfeiting them. This alienation catalyzed the ‘commodification’ of land. By tracing these debt dynamics, the new economic archaeology is compatible with Polanyi’s intuitions and recognition that market relations are embedded in social relations, and extends his analysis in tracing how administered pricing and monetary valuations created the preconditions for market exchange. The earliest markets, credit and land tenure systems were regulated. Administered pricing was a precondition for creating weights, measures and price equivalencies to enable market exchange to evolve more flexibly.

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