APRIL FOOL: David Graeber Deserves to Be Remembered...

I mean, Apple Computer was founded in 1976, not the 1980s; and none of its three founders had ever worked for, let alone split from, IBM—they had worked for Atari & HP...

David Graeber had less idea of what a “laptop” is and when it was invented, or of what Apple was and how it was founded, than your average housecat:

The greater the need to improvise the more democratic the cooperation [within companies] tends to become. Inventors have always understood this, start-up capitalists frequently figure it out, and computer engineers have recently rediscovered the principle…. Apple Computers is a famous example: it was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other’s garages…

David Graeber offered three inconsistent and contradictory explanations of how he came to write this:

  1. Marc Gemein on Twitter: The Strangest History Of Apple Ever: @markgimein: ‘David Graeber, Debt, p96: Apple was founded by engineers from IBM who formed little democratic circles of 20–40 with laptops in garages. –HUH?!’ @davidgraeber: ‘oh ask Mr Wolff…. Richard Wolff the Marxist economist whose student did a study of the origins of Apple and never published it…. I think he led me astray…. yeah I know I think Wolff was just kind of wrong about a lot of this; I tried to check with him but he didn’t answer the email… it’s upsetting; it’s also possible he was talking about a different early start-up; anyway won’t be in the 2nd edition!’

  2. David Graeber: ‘The endlessly cited Apple quote was… about a whole of series of other tiny start-ups created by people who’d dropped out of IBM, Apple, and similar behemoths. (Of them it’s perfectly true)…’

  3. David Graeber: ‘The passage got horribly garbled at some point into something incoherent, I still can’t completely figure out how, was patched back together by the copyeditor into something that made logical sense but was obviously factually wrong. I should have caught it at the proofreading stage but I didn’t. I did catch it when the book first came out, tried to get the publisher to take it out, and have been continually trying since July. All to no avail. I have absolutely no idea why a book can go through eight editions and it’s impossible to pull out a couple lines of obviously incorrect text but they just keep telling me, no, I have to wait until July…’


I leave to you, gentle reader, the task of explaining how Graeber can be simultaneously:

  1. Misled by Richard Wolff, who is wrong about a lot of this stuff and doesn’t answer his email.

  2. Accurately writing about a whole bunch of other little startups, none of which he has ever identified.

  3. Betrayed by an ignorant copyeditor into publishing something that was “factually wrong”—i.e., not just getting the id of the company wrong, but everything about the paragraph wrong. Computer engineers were never “mostly Republican”. There was no wave of “breaking from IBM”. If any computer engineers did break from IBM, they did not do so in Silicon Valley. You cannot fit twenty people in a Silicon Valley garage.  

I think David Graeber had, way back in his mind, some very dim memories of having once read Ron Rosenbaum’s article about Cap’n Crunch and phone phreaking. And was little more than a b******* artist who could never deal with what happened when he (frequently) found himself over his head with people calling him on his b*******.

Share Grasping Reality Newsletter, by Brad DeLong

Leave a comment

(Remember: You can subscribe to this… weblog-like newsletter… here: 

There’s a free email list. There’s a paid-subscription list with (at the moment, only a few) extras too.)