Political Economy of Debt

Course Number: 


The Political Economy of Debt
0797 ECON 4883 / 2429 PSCI 4883
Spring 2013
T/Th 1:30-2:55
Troutt 303

Course Description

This course will explore the history and meaning of debt, from personal debt to national and international debt. We will spend the term reading, writing, and discussing the idea of debt as well as its political and economic consequences and meanings.

The schedule of topics and readings below is tentative; we will spend as much or as little time on a section as interest and discussion warrants. As this is an advanced level course, and is not intended to be a traditional lecture-style experience, students are expected to contribute in many ways: bring what you know of economic theory and political science to the table; ask questions; be willing to help us discover  possible answers; and be active readers and thinkers.

Readings (more will be added soon)

Part I: The History of Debt

·         Graeber, David. Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House Publishing, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-933633-86-2

·         selected chapters from Neale, Walter C. Monies in Society. Chandler and Sharp, 1976. On reserve at Nash      Library.

Part II: Personal Debt

·         "The American Way of Debt," from the New York Times

·         "Credit Card Use and Abuse: A Veblenian Analysis," by Robert H. Scott III

·         "Consumer Credit Outstanding" from the Federal Reserve

"Major Banks Aid in Payday Loans Banned by States" from the New York Times

"Credit Card" podcast from BBC's A History of the World in 100 objects

"Household Debt and Credit: Student Debt" NY Federal Reserve report, February 21013

"Everything You've Been Told About Personal Finance is Dead Wrong" from nakedcapitalism.com

Part III: National Debt

·        A History of the Bank of England, from the Bank of England

Hamilton, Alexander. "First Report on Public Credit," 1790, from www.norton.com

"Why the Founding Fathers Loved the National Debt," from Bloomberg.com

·         Andrew Jackson's Veto Message Regarding the Bank of the US, 1832, from The Avalon Project

·         The Economist's Debt Clock at www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock

"Dwindling Deficit Disorder," from Krugman at the NY Times

"Why Our Current National Debt Is Not the Largest in History" from Forbes.com

"Gone Deficit Gone" from Krugman at the NY Times

"Larry Summers: US Must Do More than Focus on Deficit"

"Schiller: A History of the National Debt," from the Washington Times


Part IV: International Debt

·         "The LDC Debt Crisis" from the FDIC at http://www.fdic.gov/bank/historical/history/191_210.pdf

·         "Resolving the Debt Crisis of Low-Income Countries" by Jeffrey Sachs, at http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sitefiles/file/about/director/pubs/BPEA_Sachs1_2002.pdf



The quality (not so much the quantity) of your participation in class matters. This means not only the questions and ideas that you bring to class each day, but how prepared you are for each day's topic.  100 points


Three times during the term, you will submit a 3-5 page paper analyzing the readings and ideas that have fascinated you so far. At least one outside source is required for each. The outside source should help you understand in more detail the idea that you are discussing. If this assignment sounds fairly vague, that's because it is. Each paper will be different. As you are developing your idea, keep in mind that we will use class time to ask what others are thinking about and writing. Ask me for help in developing your first paper.

The papers are due on  January 31, February 28, and March 28. Each is worth 100 points.

Final Exam

The final will be a take home essay exam worth 200 points. I will provide the questions well in advance.

Tentative Schedule




Week 1: Jan 8, 10

History of Debt

Graeber Chs. 1 and 2
Neale Chs. 1 and 2

Week 2: Jan 15, 17

History of Debt

Graeber Chs.3, and 4
Neale Chs. 1 and 2

Week 3: Jan 22, 24

History of Debt

Graeber Chs.5and 6
Neale Ch. 9

Week 4: Jan 29, 31

History of Debt

Graeber Chs. 7 and 8 10

Week 5: Feb 5, 7

History of Debt

Graeber Chs. 9 and 10

Week 6: Feb 12, 14

History of Debt

Graeber Chs. 11 and 12

Week 7: Feb 19, 21

Personal Debt


Week 8: Feb 19, 22

Personal Debt


Week 9: Feb 26, 28

National Debt


Week 10: Mar 5, 7

National Debt


Week 11: Mar 12, 14

National Debt


Week 12: Mar 26, 28

National Debt


Week 13: Apr 2, 4

International Debt


Week 14: Apr 9, 11

International Debt


Week 15: Apr 16

International Debt