[Surfside] NYT -- Monkey Economics

Vulcan vulcan at photonforge.com
Mon Jun 6 05:38:07 BST 2005


Monkey Business
Published: June 5, 2005

Keith Chen's Monkey Research

Adam Smith, the founder of classical economics, was certain that 
humankind's knack for monetary exchange belonged to humankind alone. 
''Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone 
for another with another dog,'' he wrote. ''Nobody ever saw one animal 
by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that 
yours; I am willing to give this for that.'' But in a clean and spacious 
laboratory at Yale-New Haven Hospital, seven capuchin monkeys have been 
taught to use money, and a comparison of capuchin behavior and human 
behavior will either surprise you very much or not at all, depending on 
your view of humans.

[ ... ]

Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that 
convinced Chen of the monkeys' true grasp of money. Perhaps the most 
distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, 
the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During 
the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of 
his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts 
he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed 
exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof 
that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex 
immediately traded the token in for a grape.)

[ .... ]

More information about the Surfside mailing list