Anthropologist David Graeber, the man behind ‘We are the 99%’ slogan, dead at 59

The 59-year-old author has died at a Venice hospital, his wife, artist and writer Nika Dubrovsky, revealed. A strident critic of neoliberal capitalism, Graeber is said to have coined the famed Occupy Wall Street slogan.

His death was announced on Thursday in a tweet from Dubrovsky, who stated he had died Wednesday in the hospital. The cause of his death remains unknown, according to a statement from his publisher, Penguin Random House.

An anthropology professor at London School of Economics, Graeber was known for his books criticizing and deconstructing the capitalist system, including ‘Debt: the First 5000 Years,’ ‘Bulls*** Jobs: a Theory,’ and ‘The Utopia of Rules.’ Multiple collections of his essays on topics including economics and debt, empire and geopolitics, as well as creativity and alienation have also been published.

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‘Bulls*** Jobs’ argued that a vast swath of modern economies consisted of meaningless paper-pushing and would not be missed by most people if they vanished off the face of the earth. Further developing that idea, ’The Utopia of Rules’ examined the peculiarities of modern-day bureaucracy, suggesting one of the reasons 21st century civilization hasn’t achieved the great heights predicted decades ago is that technological innovation has been intentionally stifled – or at least redirected – so as not to threaten existing power structures.

Graeber, an activist since the 1990s, was a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement and has been credited with coining the iconic phrase “We are the 99 percent,” which became its rallying cry. Asked about the slogan years ago, however, he denied he came up with the exact phrase, insisting he merely suggested the movement call itself “the 99 percent” while others added the “we are” part.

The writer had recently completed a book with David Wengrove titled ‘The Dawn of Everything: a New History of Humanity,’ which is set to be published next year. Graeber revealed a few days before his death that he was feeling “a little under the weather” but claimed he was on the mend.

His editor at Penguin Random House praised Graeber as “a true radical, a pioneer in everything he did” in a statement released after the announcement of his death, calling his legacy “immense,” and an outpouring of support on social media from people claiming to be influenced by the late professor’s work followed.

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