I finished David Graeber's book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, a week or so ago. I found it idea and fact rich, and an enjoyable read. I'd lump it with Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs. and Steel, Charles Mann's 1491 and Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order - odd bedfellows, but all books I very much enjoyed. I immediately suggested it to a friend with a background in economics/finance, and was a little surprised when he he told me he would avoid everything Graeber writes like the plague, and then he sent me this link: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2013/01/the-very-last-david-graeber-post.html
...and then yesterday my friend sent me another more recent post (which poses as a critical review, but is so lame-brained and trolly, I cannot in good conscience include link to it.)
For those who don't click through, DeLong's post pretty damning, if you consider factual errors, like switching Apple for HP and botching the exact structure of the Federal Reserve Bank, damning. For my friend the errors, and to be fair there are more than two (and some of them seem like real whoppers), were beyond the pale. For him, they totally delegitimized everything else Graeber says - anywhere. Ever.
I contacted a another friend, a Leftist writer and a personal friend of Graeber's, to ask what he had made of Debt, and to find out if he knew about the kerfuffle, and what he thought of it all. Turns out he hadn't read Debt (they aren't close friends - acquaintances really), but he wasn't surprised by the mistakes or the backlash. He wrote:
"Sounds like there are some factual errors. Any lefty book that gets any traction tends to get this treatment. They came up with a list of a huge number of minor factual errors in Robert Fisk's giant book on the middle east, for example. So I think that Graeber's right about the delegitimization process. Do other big, ambitious books not contain lots of minor factual errors? I would imagine that they do, based on the kinds of mistakes I find when I read things I know about."
That was kind of what I expected to hear. My Leftist friend see's Graeber being rejected by those "with a vested interest in a) ignoring his arguments and b) keeping him out of the legit thinkers' club."
I would not put my economics/finance friend in that category however. He's a very smart guy, one of the smartest I know; and as far as I can tell, not terribly ideological. So my take on the critical backlash (my friend's included) was slightly different. As an artist I sometime opine about maters that I have no legitimate authority to speak about. I talk about movies, or architecture, or democracy - all things a sculptor has no real business weighing in on - at least according to many (but not all) those who think and speak about those matters professionally - with authority.
I find when I speak about art history I am met by a certain amount of resistance by art historians - for instance - who do not appreciate my unconventional view, but are far more irked by my sloppy scholarship. And make no mistake, my scholarship is sloppy.
My feeling is, what happened with Graeber, is a bigger version of what I have experienced. Graeber is not an economist, he's an anthropologist, and he wrote about the origins of MONEY; argued that economists get it exactly WRONG. Worst of all he is persuasive, even compelling.
On a number of occasions in Debt, Graeber brings up the passage of the Lord's Prayer that say “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" - but that's no the version I grew up with. My father was an Episcopalian priest and the way I was taught the prayer was "Forgive us Our Trespasses, as we Forgive those who Trespass against Us." That, to my mind, was Graeber's great sin, that is what has his economist critics so upset. They may as well ned their posts with a warning to all other would-be-Graebers:
Trespassers Will be Shot.