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Top 20 US Progressives: David Graeber

Anthropologist, Occupy Wall Street co-ordinator.

The mainstream media demand figureheads, even from "leaderless" social movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the protest against economic inequality that has inspired similar actions in hundreds of cities around the world. So it is that David Graeber, a 50-year-old anthropologist and native New Yorker, has been labelled the movement's "anti-leader". Graeber was certainly one of the handful of people involved in planning the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan on 17 September 2011, and he is also one of the most articulate proponents of the anarchist principles that underpin the movement. His ideas are drawn not only from his experience of anti-globalisation pro­tests over the past decade, but also from his academic work. His book Debt: the First 5,000 Years, published last year, argues that credit was a feature of human societies long before physical money, that it is profoundly exploitative, and that debts have been routinely written off in order to prevent social unrest. This last feature, a Financial Times reviewer remarked, is a safety valve lacking in our own culture.

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This article first appeared in the 09 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Forget Obama