“Bill owns a company that manufactures and installs car wash systems. Magic Wand Car Wash Systems just in case you want to buy one. Bill’s company installed a car wash system in Frederick, Md. for a gentleman. Now understand that these are a complete system including the money changer and money taking machines. The problem started when the new owner complained to Bill that he was loosing significant amounts of money from his coin machines each week. He went as far as to accuse Bill’s employees of having a key to the boxes and ripping him off. Bill just couldn’t believe that his people would do that. So they setup a trap for the thief. Well they caught the thief in the act! The bird had to go down in the machine and back up to get to the money! That’s three quarters he has in his mouth! Another amazing thing Bill told us is that it was not one bird there were several working together. Once they identified the thief, they found over $4000 in quarters on the roof of the car wash and more under a nearby tree.”



“The goal of this project is to create a device that will autonomously train crows. So far we’ve trained captive crows to deposit dropped coins they find on the ground in exchange for peanuts. The next step is to see how quickly we can get wild crows to learn the system, and then how quickly they can learn it from each other. Once we’ve got system down for teaching coin collection we’ll move to seeing how flexibly they can learn *other* tasks, like collecting garbage, sorting through discarded electronics, or maybe even search and rescue. The crows continue to amaze us with their abilities, so who knows? In the meantime, the idea of mutually beneficial synanthropy is gaining ground. That’s the concept that we can have mutually beneficial relationships with animals adapted to human ecologies. We’re doing some consulting with companies that have animal-related problems to find animal-related solutions – instead of just bombing, shooting, or poisoning them. Based on established Skinnerian training principles the action of the device is divided into four stages. These are:

Stage One: Food and Coins Available on Departure.
At this stage the device pushes a few peanuts and one or two coins onto the feeder tray whenever a crow *leaves* the device. This ensures that the device always has food whenever it is examined by a potential feeding crow. It also ensures that both the sound of the device and its mechanical operation occur in close proximity to the feeding act so as to aclimate the crow. By having this noise occur as the crow leaves it prevents startling a potential feeder away from using the device.

Stage Two: Food and Coins Available On Landing.
Herein the action of the device is identical except that food and coins are issued when a crow arrives. At this point the crow should be comfortable with the sound of the device and is now being trained to wait for its reward when arriving at the machine. Note that the feeding tray is slanted such that coins will pile up and prevent peanuts from being available until the crow cleans them away – a typical behavior of crows is to sweep things out of the way with their beak, and in this case this causes the coins to fall down the funnel. This should help reinforce the connection between coins going down the funnel and peanuts being produced..

Stage Three: Coins Available On Landing, Food Available on Deposit
This is the highest-risk segment of the machine’s operation. At this point coins alone are made available whenever the bird lands on the perch. However, should a bird peck or sweep coins off the tray and cause a coin to fall down the funnel, the device then produces some peanuts. This stage is designed to cement in the crows’ mind the relationship between coins going down the funnel and peanuts being made available.

Stage Four: Food Available On Coin Deposit
Finally we shift the device into its intended, and long-term state of only providing peanuts when coins go down the funnel. Nothing is otherwise provided aside from coins scattered around the device at the beginning of the project.”

josh [at] wireless [dot] is




“Perhaps Skinner’s best known critic, Noam Chomsky published his review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior soon after it was published.[23] The review became better known than the book itself. It has been credited with launching the cognitive movement in psychology and other disciplines. Chomsky also reviewed Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity, utilizing the same basic motifs as his Verbal Behavior review. Among Chomsky’s critiques were that Skinner’s laboratory work could not be extended to humans, that when it was extended to humans it represented ‘scientistic’ behavior attempting to emulate science but which was not scientific, that Skinner was not a scientist because he rejected the hypothetico-deductive model of theory testing, that Skinner had no science of behavior, and that Skinner’s works were highly conducive to justifying or advancing totalitarianism.”






by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt  /  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. The capuchin is a New World monkey, brown and cute, the size of a scrawny year-old human baby plus a long tail. ”The capuchin has a small brain, and it’s pretty much focused on food and sex,” says Keith Chen, a Yale economist who, along with Laurie Santos, a psychologist, is exploiting these natural desires — well, the desire for food at least — to teach the capuchins to buy grapes, apples and Jell-O. ”You should really think of a capuchin as a bottomless stomach of want,” Chen says. ”You can feed them marshmallows all day, they’ll throw up and then come back for more.”

When most people think of economics, they probably conjure images of inflation charts or currency rates rather than monkeys and marshmallows. But economics is increasingly being recognized as a science whose statistical tools can be put to work on nearly any aspect of modern life. That’s because economics is in essence the study of incentives, and how people — perhaps even monkeys — respond to those incentives. A quick scan of the current literature reveals that top economists are studying subjects like prostitution, rock ‘n’ roll, baseball cards and media bias. Chen proudly calls himself a behavioral economist, a member of a growing subtribe whose research crosses over into psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. He began his monkey work as a Harvard graduate student, in concert with Marc Hauser, a psychologist. The Harvard monkeys were cotton-top tamarins, and the experiments with them concerned altruism. Two monkeys faced each other in adjoining cages, each equipped with a lever that would release a marshmallow into the other monkey’s cage. The only way for one monkey to get a marshmallow was for the other monkey to pull its lever. So pulling the lever was to some degree an act of altruism, or at least of strategic cooperation.

The tamarins were fairly cooperative but still showed a healthy amount of self-interest: over repeated encounters with fellow monkeys, the typical tamarin pulled the lever about 40 percent of the time. Then Hauser and Chen heightened the drama. They conditioned one tamarin to always pull the lever (thus creating an altruistic stooge) and another to never pull the lever (thus creating a selfish jerk). The stooge and the jerk were then sent to play the game with the other tamarins. The stooge blithely pulled her lever over and over, never failing to dump a marshmallow into the other monkey’s cage. Initially, the other monkeys responded in kind, pulling their own levers 50 percent of the time. But once they figured out that their partner was a pushover (like a parent who buys her kid a toy on every outing whether the kid is a saint or a devil), their rate of reciprocation dropped to 30 percent — lower than the original average rate. The selfish jerk, meanwhile, was punished even worse. Once her reputation was established, whenever she was led into the experimenting chamber, the other tamarins ”would just go nuts,” Chen recalls. ”They’d throw their feces at the wall, walk into the corner and sit on their hands, kind of sulk.”

Chen is a hyperverbal, sharp-dressing 29-year-old with spiky hair. The son of Chinese immigrants, he had an itinerant upbringing in the rural Midwest. As a Stanford undergraduate, he was a de facto Marxist before being seduced, quite accidentally, by economics. He may be the only economist conducting monkey experiments, which puts him at slight odds with his psychologist collaborators (who are more interested in behavior itself than in the incentives that produce the behavior) as well as with certain economist colleagues. ”I love interest rates, and I’m willing to talk about their kind of stuff all the time,” he says, speaking of his fellow economists. ”But I can tell that they’re biting their tongues when I tell them what I’m working on.”

It is sometimes unclear, even to Chen himself, exactly what he is working on. When he and Santos, his psychologist collaborator, began to teach the Yale capuchins to use money, he had no pressing research theme. The essential idea was to give a monkey a dollar and see what it did with it. The currency Chen settled on was a silver disc, one inch in diameter, with a hole in the middle — ”kind of like Chinese money,” he says. It took several months of rudimentary repetition to teach the monkeys that these tokens were valuable as a means of exchange for a treat and would be similarly valuable the next day. Having gained that understanding, a capuchin would then be presented with 12 tokens on a tray and have to decide how many to surrender for, say, Jell-O cubes versus grapes. This first step allowed each capuchin to reveal its preferences and to grasp the concept of budgeting.

Then Chen introduced price shocks and wealth shocks. If, for instance, the price of Jell-O fell (two cubes instead of one per token), would the capuchin buy more Jell-O and fewer grapes? The capuchins responded rationally to tests like this — that is, they responded the way most readers of The Times would respond. In economist-speak, the capuchins adhered to the rules of utility maximization and price theory: when the price of something falls, people tend to buy more of it. Chen next introduced a pair of gambling games and set out to determine which one the monkeys preferred. In the first game, the capuchin was given one grape and, dependent on a coin flip, either retained the original grape or won a bonus grape. In the second game, the capuchin started out owning the bonus grape and, once again dependent on a coin flip, either kept the two grapes or lost one. These two games are in fact the same gamble, with identical odds, but one is framed as a potential win and the other as a potential loss.

How did the capuchins react? They far preferred to take a gamble on the potential gain than the potential loss. This is not what an economics textbook would predict. The laws of economics state that these two gambles, because they represent such small stakes, should be treated equally. So, does Chen’s gambling experiment simply reveal the cognitive limitations of his small-brained subjects? Perhaps not. In similar experiments, it turns out that humans tend to make the same type of irrational decision at a nearly identical rate. Documenting this phenomenon, known as loss aversion, is what helped the psychologist Daniel Kahneman win a Nobel Prize in economics. The data generated by the capuchin monkeys, Chen says, ”make them statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.”

But do the capuchins actually understand money? Or is Chen simply exploiting their endless appetites to make them perform neat tricks? Several facts suggest the former. During a recent capuchin experiment that used cucumbers as treats, a research assistant happened to slice the cucumber into discs instead of cubes, as was typical. One capuchin picked up a slice, started to eat it and then ran over to a researcher to see if he could ”buy” something sweeter with it. To the capuchin, a round slice of cucumber bore enough resemblance to Chen’s silver tokens to seem like another piece of currency.

Then there is the stealing. Santos has observed that the monkeys never deliberately save any money, but they do sometimes purloin a token or two during an experiment. All seven monkeys live in a communal main chamber of about 750 cubic feet. For experiments, one capuchin at a time is let into a smaller testing chamber next door. Once, a capuchin in the testing chamber picked up an entire tray of tokens, flung them into the main chamber and then scurried in after them — a combination jailbreak and bank heist — which led to a chaotic scene in which the human researchers had to rush into the main chamber and offer food bribes for the tokens, a reinforcement that in effect encouraged more stealing.

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.)

This is a sensitive subject. The capuchin lab at Yale has been built and maintained to make the monkeys as comfortable as possible, and especially to allow them to carry on in a natural state. The introduction of money was tricky enough; it wouldn’t reflect well on anyone involved if the money turned the lab into a brothel. To this end, Chen has taken steps to ensure that future monkey sex at Yale occurs as nature intended it. But these facts remain: When taught to use money, a group of capuchin monkeys responded quite rationally to simple incentives; responded irrationally to risky gambles; failed to save; stole when they could; used money for food and, on occasion, sex. In other words, they behaved a good bit like the creature that most of Chen’s more traditional colleagues study: Homo sapiens.”

Keith Chen
keith.chen [at] yale [dot] edu


Why people believe weird things about money
by Michael Shermer  /  January 13, 2008

“Would you rather earn $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000, or would you rather earn $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000? Assume for the moment that prices of goods and services will stay the same. Surprisingly — stunningly, in fact — research shows that the majority of people select the first option; they would rather make twice as much as others even if that meant earning half as much as they could otherwise have. How irrational is that? This result is one among thousands of experiments in behavioral economics, neuroeconomics and evolutionary economics conclusively demonstrating that we are every bit as irrational when it comes to money as we are in most other aspects of our lives. In this case, relative social ranking trumps absolute financial status.  Here’s a related thought experiment. Would you rather be A or B? A is waiting in line at a movie theater. When he gets to the ticket window, he is told that as he is the 100,000th customer of the theater, he has just won $100. B is waiting in line at a different theater. The man in front of him wins $1,000 for being the 1-millionth customer of the theater. Mr. B wins $150. Amazingly, most people said that they would prefer to be A. In other words, they would rather forgo $50 in order to alleviate the feeling of regret that comes with not winning the thousand bucks. Essentially, they were willing to pay $50 for regret therapy.

Regret falls under a psychological effect known as loss aversion. Research shows that before we risk an investment, we need to feel assured that the potential gain is twice what the possible loss might be because a loss feels twice as bad as a gain feels good. That’s weird and irrational, but it’s the way it is. Human as it sounds, loss aversion appears to be a trait we’ve inherited genetically because it is found in other primates, such as capuchin monkeys. In a 2006 experiment, these small primates were given 12 tokens that they were allowed to trade with the experimenters for either apple slices or grapes. In a preliminary trial, the monkeys were given the opportunity to trade tokens with one experimenter for a grape and with another experimenter for apple slices. One capuchin monkey in the experiment, for example, traded seven tokens for grapes and five tokens for apple slices. A baseline like this was established for each monkey so that the scientists knew each monkey’s preferences.

The experimenters then changed the conditions. In a second trial, the monkeys were given additional tokens to trade for food, only to discover that the price of one of the food items had doubled. According to the law of supply and demand, the monkeys should now purchase more of the relatively cheap food and less of the relatively expensive food, and that is precisely what they did. So far, so rational. But in another trial in which the experimental conditions were manipulated in such a way that the monkeys had a choice of a 50% chance of a bonus or a 50% chance of a loss, the monkeys were twice as averse to the loss as they were motivated by the gain. Remarkable! Monkeys show the same sensitivity to changes in supply and demand and prices as people do, as well as displaying one of the most powerful effects in all of human behavior: loss aversion. It is extremely unlikely that this common trait would have evolved independently and in parallel between multiple primate species at different times and different places around the world. Instead, there is an early evolutionary origin for such preferences and biases, and these traits evolved in a common ancestor to monkeys, apes and humans and was then passed down through the generations.

If there are behavioral analogies between humans and other primates, the underlying brain mechanism driving the choice preferences most certainly dates back to a common ancestor more than 10 million years ago. Think about that: Millions of years ago, the psychology of relative social ranking, supply and demand and economic loss aversion evolved in the earliest primate traders. This research goes a long way toward debunking one of the biggest myths in all of psychology and economics, known as “Homo economicus.” This is the theory that “economic man” is rational, self-maximizing and efficient in making choices. But why should this be so? Given what we now know about how irrational and emotional people are in all other aspects of life, why would we suddenly become rational and logical when shopping or investing?

Consider one more experimental example to prove the point: the ultimatum game. You are given $100 to split between yourself and your game partner. Whatever division of the money you propose, if your partner accepts it, you each get to keep your share. If, however, your partner rejects it, neither of you gets any money. How much should you offer? Why not suggest a $90-$10 split? If your game partner is a rational, self-interested money-maximizer — the very embodiment of Homo economicus — he isn’t going to turn down a free 10 bucks, is he? He is. Research shows that proposals that offer much less than a $70-$30 split are usually rejected. Why? Because they aren’t fair. Says who? Says the moral emotion of “reciprocal altruism,” which evolved over the Paleolithic eons to demand fairness on the part of our potential exchange partners. “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” only works if I know you will respond with something approaching parity. The moral sense of fairness is hard-wired into our brains and is an emotion shared by most people and primates tested for it, including people from non-Western cultures and those living close to how our Paleolithic ancestors lived. When it comes to money, as in most other aspects of life, reason and rationality are trumped by emotions and feelings.”

mshermer [at] skeptic [dot] com




the MIND of the MARKET

“How did we evolve from ancient hunter-gatherers to modern consumer-traders? Why are people so emotional and irrational when it comes to money and business decisions? Bestselling author Michael Shermer believes that evolution and evolutionary psychology provides an answer to both of these questions through the new science of evolutionary economics. Drawing on research from neuroeconomics, Shermer explores what brain scans reveal about bargaining, snap purchases, and how trust is established in business. Utilizing experiments in behavioral economics, Shermer shows why people hang on to losing stocks and failing companies, why business negotiations often disintegrate into emotional tit-for-tat disputes, and why money does not make us happy. Employing research from complexity theory, Shermer shows how evolution and economics are both examples of a larger and still somewhat mysterious phenomenon of emergence, where one plus one equals three. Along the way, Shermer answers such provocative questions as, Do our tribal roots mean that we will always be a sucker for brands? How is the biochemical joy of sex similar to the rewards of business cooperation? How can nations increase trust within their borders? Finally, Shermer considers the consequences of globalization and what will happen if nations allow free trade across their borders. Throughout this entertaining and surprising book Shermer considers the morality of markets in a discussion of what he calls virtue economics. Although we are selfish and altruistic, cooperative and competitive, peaceful and bellicose, in the main the balance is heavily on the side of good over evil. For every random act of violence that makes the evening news, there are 10,000 nonrandom acts of kindness that go unrecorded every day. Markets are moral and modern economies are founded on our virtuous nature. The Enron model of business is the exception and the Google motto of “Don’t Be Evil” is the rule.”

The Mind of the Market : Prologue — Economics for Everyone

“In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, recounted in Matthew 25:14-29, the gospel author recalls the messiah as saying in the final verse: “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” Out of context this hardly sounds like the wisdom of the prophet who proclaimed that the meek shall inherit the earth, but in context, Jesus’ point was that properly investing one’s money (as measured in “talents”) generates even more wealth. The servant who was given five talents invested it and gave his master ten talents in return. The servant who was given two talents invested it and gave his master four talents in return. But the servant who was given one talent buried it in the ground and gave his master back just the one talent. The master then ordered his risk-averse servant to give the one talent to the servant who had doubled his investment of five talents, and so he who earned the most was rewarded with even more. And thus it is that the rich get richer. Jesus probably had in mind something more than an economic allegory about selecting the right investment tool for your money, but I want to employ the story as a parable about the mind of the market. In the 1960s, the sociologist of science Robert K. Merton conducted an extensive study of how scientific ideas are discovered and credited in the marketplace of ideas — in this case treating science as a market — and discovered that eminent scientists typically receive more credit than they deserve simply by dint of having a big name, while their junior colleagues and graduate students, who usually do most of the work, go largely unnoticed.1 A similar well-known effect can be seen in how both innovative ideas and clever quotes gravitate up and are given credit to the most famous person associated with them.2

Merton called this the Matthew Effect. Marketers know it as Cumulative Advantage. In a broader economic context I shall refer to it here as the Bestseller Effect. Once a product gets a head-start in sales it signals to consumers that other people want that product and therefore it must be good thereby causing them to desire it as well, which leads even more people to purchase the product, sending more signals to other consumers that they too must have it, and so it climbs up the bestseller list. Everyone in business knows about the effect, which is why authors and publishers, for example, try so fervently to land their book on the New York Times bestseller list. Once you are on the list bookstores move your title to the “bestseller” bookcase (sometimes even labeled “New York Times Bestseller List”) and to the front of the store where copies of the book are stacked like cordwood. This sends a signal to potential book buyers entering the store that this must be a good read, triggering an increase in sales that gets reported to the New York Times book review editors, who bump the title up the list, sending another signal to bookstore buyers to order even more copies, which secures the title more time in the bestseller list that increases sales even further, and round and round the feedback loop goes as the richest authors get even richer.3

To find out if the Bestseller Effect is real, the Columbia University sociologist Duncan Watts and his collaborators Matthew Salganik and Peter Dodds tested it in a web-based experiment in which 14,000 participants registered at a Web site where they had the opportunity to listen to, rate, and download songs by unknown bands.4 One group of registrants were only given the names of the songs and bands, while a second group of registrants were also shown how many times the song had been downloaded. The researchers called this the “social influence” condition, because they wanted to know if seeing how many people had downloaded a song would influence subjects’ decision on whether or not to download it. Predictably, the Web participants in the social influence condition were influenced by the download rate figures: songs with a higher download number were more likely to be downloaded by new participants, whereas subjects in the independent group who saw no download rates, revealed dramatically different song preferences.5 This is not to deny that the quality of a song or a book or any other product does not matter. Of course it does, and this too is measurable. But it turns out that subjective consumer preferences grounded in relative rankings by other consumers can and often does wash out the effects of more objective ratings of product quality.

Markets that traffic in rankings, ratings, and bestseller lists seem to operate on their own volition, almost like a collective organism. In fact, this is only one of many effects we shall see in this book that demonstrate just how much the mind influences the market, and in a broader sense how markets seem to have a mind of their own. Consider another economic parable with an evolutionary lesson related to the Bestseller Effect. Imagine that you are a banker with a limited amount of money to lend. If you advance loans to people who are the poorest credit risks, you are taking a great gamble that they will default on their loans and you will go out of business. This sets up a paradox: the people who most need the money are also the worst credit risks and thus cannot get a loan, whereas the people who least need the money are also the best credit risks and thus once again the rich get richer. The evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides call this the Banker’s Paradox, and they apply it to a deeper evolutionary problem: to whom should we extend our friendship? The Banker’s Paradox, they suggest, “is analogous to a serious adaptive problem faced by our hominid ancestors: exactly when an ancestral hunter-gatherer is in most dire need of assistance, she becomes a bad ‘credit risk’ and, for this reason, is less attractive as a potential recipient of assistance.”6 If we think of life as an economy, and if we count resources as anything we have that could help others — including and especially friendship — by the logic of the Banker’s Paradox we have to make difficult choices in assessing the credit risk of people we encounter. In evolutionary theory the larger problem to be solved here is altruism: why should I sacrifice my genes for someone else’s genes? Or, more technically, an altruistic act is one that lowers my reproductive success while simultaneously raising the reproductive success of someone else.

Standard theory suggests two evolutionary pathways to altruism: kin selection (“blood is thicker than water”) and reciprocal altruism (“I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine”). By helping my kin relations, and by extending a helping hand to those who will reciprocate my altruism, I am helping myself. Thus, there will be a selection for those who are inclined to be altruistic … to a point. With limited resources we can’t help everyone and so we must assess credit risks, and some people are better risks than others. Here again is the Banker’s Paradox: those most in need of assistance are the least likely to be given help, and so yet again the rich get richer. But not always, because fair weather friends may be faking their signs of altruistic tendencies and later fail to come to our aid when the weather turns decidedly stormy. By contrast, true friends are those who are deeply committed to our welfare regardless of the potential for reciprocity. “It is this kind of friend that the fair weather friend is the counterfeit of,” Tooby and Cosmides continue. “If you are a hunter-gatherer with few or no individuals who are deeply engaged in your welfare, then you are extremely vulnerable to the volatility of events — a hostage to fortune.”7 The worse the environment the more important it is that we have true friends, and the environment of our evolutionary past was no picnic.

Evolution, it is suggested, would have selected for adaptations to work around the Banker’s Paradox dilemmas, including selecting us to

1. seek recognition from our fellow group members for our trustworthiness and reliability,
2. cultivate those attributes most desired by others in our group,
3. participate in social activities that recognize and reinforce such pro-social attributes,
4. avoid social activities that lead to untrustworthy actions and therefore a negative reputation,
5. notice similar attributes of trustworthiness in others, and
6. develop the ability to discriminate between true and fair weather friends.

Thus, Tooby and Cosmides conclude, the Banker’s Paradox leads us to an evolved psychology where “if you are unusually or uniquely valuable to someone else — for whatever reason — then that person has an uncommonly strong interest in your survival during times of difficulty. The interest they have in your survival makes them, therefore, highly valuable to you. The fact that they have a stake in you means…that you have a stake in them. Moreover, to the extent they recognize this, the initial stake they have in you may be augmented.”8 Through such augmentation can the poor become rich through the evolved foundation of friendship. If this sounds like I have reduced human relationships to nothing more than credit calculations and reciprocal relations, in my previous book, The Science of Good and Evil, I demonstrate how kin selection and reciprocal altruism led to the evolution of deep and real moral emotions that include love, friendship, and trust, because it is not enough to fake being a good and faithful spouse, friend, or partner; you actually have to believe it yourself, and actions follow beliefs. Thus it is that morality is real and transcendent, and human relations genuine and deeply ingrained in our nature.

In 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. The book was so controversial that in 1861 the British Association for the Advancement of Science devoted a special session of its annual conference to it. Talks were given, pro and con, with one critic carping that Darwin’s book was too theoretical and that he should have just “put his facts before us and let them rest.” In attendance was Darwin’s friend and colleague, the political economist and social activist Henry Fawcett, who wrote Darwin to report on the theory’s reception (Darwin did not attend such meetings, usually due to ill health and family obligations). Darwin wrote Fawcett back, explaining the proper relationship between facts and theory: “About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize, and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!”9

This quote was the centerpiece of the first of my monthly columns for Scientific American, in which I elevated it to a principle I call “Darwin’s Dictum,”10 as identified in the final clause: all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service. Darwin’s Dictum encodes the philosophy of science of this book: if observations are to be of any use they must be tested against some view — a thesis, model, hypothesis, theory, or paradigm. Since the facts never just speak for themselves, they must be interpreted through the colored lenses of ideas — percepts need concepts. Science is an exquisite blend of data and theory — percepts and concepts — that together form the bedrock for the foundation of science, the greatest tool ever devised for understanding how the world works. We can no more separate our theories and concepts from our data and percepts than we can find a truly objective Archimedean point — a god’s eye view — of ourselves and our world.

One view that I am writing against in this book, ironically, is the belief that Darwin and the theory of evolution have no place in the social sciences, especially in the study of human social and economic behavior. Whereas scientists are up in arms about attempts to teach creationism and Intelligent Design in public school biology classrooms (see my book Why Darwin Matters), and are distraught by the dismal state of science education and the lack of acceptance of Darwin’s theory (less than half of Americans believe that humans evolved)11, most scientists — especially social scientists — have resisted with the emotional intensity of a creationist any attempts to apply evolutionary thinking to psychology, sociology, and economics. The reason for this resistance — understandable at the time — was the equation of evolutionary theory with Social Darwinism and especially the extreme hereditarian views that led to enforced sterilization of the mentally retarded in America, and to the Nazi eugenics program that led to the Holocaust. As a consequence, post-World War Two social scientists steered a wide course around any attempts to employ evolutionary theory to the study of human behavior, and instead focused almost exclusively on socio-cultural explanations.

A second view that I am writing against is the theory of Homo economicus, which holds that “Economic Man” has unbounded rationality, self-interest, and free will, and that we are selfish, self-maximizing, and efficient in our decisions and choices. When evolutionary thinking and modern psychological theories and techniques are applied to the study of human behavior in the marketplace, we find that the theory of Homo economicus — which has been the bedrock of Traditional Economics — is often wrong or woefully lacking in explanatory power. It turns out that we are remarkably irrational creatures, driven as much (if not more) by deep and unconscious emotions that evolved over the eons, as we are by logic and conscious reason developed in the modern world.

A third view that I am writing against is the belief, first propounded in 1849 by the British historian Thomas Carlyle, that economics is “the dismal science.” For the next century and a half most people thought of it that way, seeing only a field bogged down in mathematical models, financial analyses, and theoretical representations of people as rationally calculating and maximally selfish machines. In reality, when we examine all three of these views together, we find that economics is anything but dismal. First, it is undergoing the most dynamic revolution since Adam Smith founded the science in 1776 with his book The Wealth of Nations. Rich transdisciplinary hybrids are emerging to breath new life into an old science, such as evolutionary economics, complexity economics, behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and what I call virtue economics. Second, and more important, people, companies, and nations care deeply and passionately about their finances, and they always have. On this level, economics has never been dismal. Put a couple of liberals and conservatives in a room together and ask them to dispassionately discuss the economics of universal health care, the privatization of social services, the cost-benefits of foreign aid, or the relative merits of a flat tax versus a progressive tax, and see just how quickly the tone of the conversation will escalate into a state that is anything but dismal.

I have spent thirty years in science dealing with such controversial topics as evolution, creationism, global warming, Holocaust denial, racial differences in I.Q., racial differences in sports, gender differences in cognitive abilities, conspiracy theories ranging from Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to the JFK, RFK, and MLK assassinations, alternative and complimentary medicine, reincarnation and the afterlife, and even God and religion. Yet, it has been my experience that as ruffled feathers go, economics is second to none in emotive volatility. If ever we need impartiality in our assessment of the facts — especially when the facts do not just speak for themselves — it is in economics. We must study the laws of human behavior in economies as the physicist, chemist, or biologist studies the laws of nature; and when we do so, because we are dealing with a subject to which most people are emotionally invested, we must make a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, bewail, or scorn human actions, but to understand them. Allow me to explain how I came to this subject.

In the mid-1970s, I was an undergraduate at Pepperdine University, a Church of Christ institution with a strong conservative bent at a time when liberals ruled academe. I matriculated there because I was an evangelical Christian who wanted to be a college professor, so theology seemed like the most appropriate field and Pepperdine had a strong theology department (it didn’t hurt that the campus is located in the majestic Malibu hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean). I soon discovered, however, that in order to earn a Ph.D. in theology one had to master four dead languages — Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Aramaic — and since I found even Spanish to be taxing, this career choice was problematic. When my advisors also warned me about the questionable university job market for theologians, and my parents began to wonder aloud what I was planning to do for a living, I switched to psychology, where I discovered the language of science, in which I flourished. Theology is based on logical inquiry, philosophical disputation, and literary deconstruction. Science is founded on empirical data, statistical analysis, and theory building. For my style of thinking the latter was a better fit.

My introduction to economics came in my senior year when many of the students in the psychology department were reading a cinderblock of a book entitled Atlas Shrugged, by the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. I had never heard of the book or the author, and the novel’s size was so intimidating that I refused to join the ranks of the enthused for months, until social pressure pushed me into taking the plunge. I trudged through the first hundred pages (patience was strongly advised) until the gripping mystery of the man who stopped the motor of the world swept me through the next thousand pages. I found Atlas Shrugged to be a remarkable book, as many have. In fact, in 1991 the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club surveyed readers about books that “made a difference” in their lives. Atlas Shrugged was rated second only to the Bible.12 Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism was based on four fundamental principles:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality;
2. Epistemology: Reason;
3. Ethics: Self-interest;
4. Politics: Capitalism.13

Although I now disagree with her ethics of self-interest (science shows that in addition to being selfish, competitive, and greedy, we also harbor a great capacity for altruism, cooperation, and charity), reading Rand led me to the extensive body of literature on business, markets, and economics. I cannot say for certain whether it was the merits of free market economics and fiscal conservatism (which are considerable) that convinced me of its veracity, or if it was my disposition that reverberated so well with its worldview. As it is for most belief systems we hold, it was probably a combination of both. I was raised by parents who could best be described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Products of the depression and motivated by the fear of falling back into abject poverty, they skipped college and worked full time well into their later years. Throughout my childhood I was inculcated with the fundamental principles of economic conservatism: hard work, personal responsibility, self-determination, financial autonomy, small government, and free markets. Even though they were not in the least religious (as so many conservatives are today), my parents were exceedingly generous to those who were less fortunate — greed is good, but charity is better.

After Pepperdine, I began a graduate program in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullerton, by which time I had abandoned my religious faith and embraced in its stead the secular values of the Enlightenment and the rigorous methods and provisional truths of science.14 But after two years of enticing rats to press bars in proportion to the frequency and intensity of the reinforcements we gave them, my enthusiasm for practicing this type of science waned while my wanderlust for the real world waxed.15 I went to the campus career development office and inquired what I might do for a living with a Master’s degree. “What are you educated to do?” they inquired. “Train rats,” I replied sardonically. “What else can you do?” they persisted. “Well,” I searched, “I can research and write.” The employment book included a job description for research and writing at a trade magazine of the bicycle industry, about which I knew nothing. My first assignment was to attend a press conference hosted by Cycles Peugeot and Michelin Tires in honor of John Marino, a professional bicycle racer who broke the transcontinental record from Los Angeles to New York. I fell in love with the sport, entering my first race that weekend, and for the next two years I learned the business of publishing, the economics of sales and marketing, and the sport of cycling. I wrote articles, sold advertisements, and rode my bike as far as I could. At the end of 1981, I left the magazine to race full time, supported by corporate sponsors and an adjunct professor’s salary from teaching psychology at Glendale College.

One day in 1981, during a long training ride, Marino told me about Andrew Galambos, a retired physicist teaching private courses through his own Free Enterprise Institute, under an umbrella field he called “Volitional Science.” The introductory course was V-50. This was Econ 101 on free market steroids, an invigoratingly muscular black-and-white world where Adam Smith is good, Karl Marx bad; individualism is good, collectivism bad; free economies are good, mixed economies are bad. The course was popular in Orange County, California (labeled by our neighbors in L.A. County as the “Orange Curtain”), and the time was right with Ronald Reagan as President and conservatives on the ascendant. Where Rand advocated for limited government, Galambos proffered a theory in which everything in society would be privatized until government simply falls into disuse and disappears. Galambos identified three types of property: primordial (one’s life), primary (one’s thoughts and ideas), and secondary (derivatives of primordial and primary property, such as the utilization of land and material goods). Thus, Galambos defined capitalism as “that societal structure whose mechanism is capable of protecting all forms of private property completely.” To realize a truly free society, then, we have merely “to discover the proper means of creating a capitalist society.” In this free society, we are all capitalists.16

Galambos’s story is not unusual in the history of the oft-fringy libertarian movement. He had a massive ego that propelled him to a successful career as a private lecturer, but led him to such ego-inflating pronouncements as his classification of all sciences into physical, biological, and his own “volitional sciences.” His towering intellect took him to great heights of interdisciplinary creativity, but often left him and his students tangled up in contradictions, as when we all had to sign a contract promising that we would not disclose his ideas to anyone, while we were also inveigled to solicit others to enroll. (“You’ve got to take this great course.” “What’s it about?” “I can’t tell you.”) And he had a remarkable ability to lecture for hours without notes in an entertainingly colloquial style, but when two hours stretched into three, and three hours dragged into four, his audiences were never left wanting for more. Most problematic, however, was any hope of translating theory into practice, which is where the rubber meets the road for any economic principle. Property definitions are all well and good, but what happens when we cannot agree on property rights infringements? The answer was inevitably something like this: “in a truly free society all such disputes will be peacefully resolved through private arbitration.” This sounds good in theory and makes for a nice just-so story, but I would like more data from real world social experiments.

Galambos had a protégé named Jay Stuart Snelson, whom I met shortly after taking V-50. Snelson taught courses at the Free Enterprise Institute, but after a falling out with Galambos (a common occurrence in Galambos’ social sphere that also plagued Ayn Rand and other libertarian leaders), Snelson founded his own Institute for Human Progress. To distance himself from Galambos and bring his ideas more into line with mainstream economic theory, Snelson built on the shoulders of what is known as the Austrian School of Economics, most notably the work of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. Snelson demonstrated through a series of economic principles and historical examples that free market capitalism is unquestionably the most effective means of optimizing peace, prosperity, and freedom, and that the privatization of education, transportation, communications, health services, environmental protection, crime prevention, and countless other areas would produce the greatest good for the greatest number.

During this time Marino and I (and our cycling partner Lon Haldeman) turned our cycling passion into a business called the Race Across America — a 3,000-mile nonstop transcontinental bicycle race — with corporate sponsors and a contract from ABC Sports. Several appearances on Wide World of Sports gave me the recognition and confidence to open Shermer Cycles, a bicycle shop in Arcadia, California. Meanwhile, I expanded my teaching duties by creating new courses in evolutionary theory and the history of ideas at Glendale College.17 I also developed a monthly seminar reading group called the “Lunar Society” — after the famous eighteenth-century Lunar Society of Birmingham — centered on discussing such books as Human Action, which inspired me toward the lofty goal set by its author, Ludwig von Mises: “One must study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature.” I call this Mises’ Maxim, and it is one of two principles that guide my thinking in this book.18

In 1987, I decided that if I wanted to make an impact on the world through ideas I was going to have to give up my competitive cycling career and complete my graduate studies. I switched fields from psychology to history, and in 1991 I graduated from Claremont Graduate University with a Ph.D. in the history of science. I began teaching at Occidental College, a prestigious four-year liberal arts college in Los Angeles, and since I was interested in broader issues in science, particularly the growing threat of pseudoscience and irrationality in our culture, in 1992 I co-founded (along with my wife Kim and the artist Pat Linse), the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and our public science lecture series at the California Institute of Technology.

The motto of the Skeptics Society is the second guiding principle of this book, and it comes from the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s 1667 treatise on politics penned just before his death, Tractatus Politicus, in which he explained his methodology for studying such emotionally-charged subjects as politics and economics: That I might investigate the subject matter of this science with the same freedom of spirit as we generally use in mathematics, I have labored carefully not to mock, lament, or denounce human actions, but to understand them; and to this end I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties just as pertinent to it as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature of the atmosphere.19

A pithier translation of the key phrase reads: “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” I elevated it to Spinoza’s Proverb, a standard toward which to reach when dealing with such emotionally-laden topics as science, religion, and morality, which encompass my belief trilogy: Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and The Science of Good and Evil20. It is no less so with this, the product of an intellectual journey whose purpose is to improve our understanding of the mental, moral, and material nature of humanity. To that end, economics is for everyone.”

posted by Raquel Baranow  /  January 28th, 2008

“Someone sent me an email several years ago with Rand’s Money Sermon/Rant without identifying the source. I thought the person who sent me the email was the author, so I responded, sentence by sentence to Rand’s Rant here:”

SAMPLE COMEBACK: “Money is made possible by magic. It is intrinsically inert, unnecessary or no real value (most of the gold and silver supply is consumed in jewelry).” – Ayn Rand on money

From ATLAS SHRUGGED, by Ayn Rand, page 387:

“Rearden heard Bertram Scudder, outside the group, say to a girl who made some sound of indignation, “Don’t let him disturb you. You know, money is the root of all evil–and he’s the typical product of money.” Rearden did not think that Francisco could have heard it, but he saw Francisco turning to them with a gravely courteous smile.

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Aconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

“When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor– your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil? Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions–and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.

“But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is MADE –before it can be looted or mooched– made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced. To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except by the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss–the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery–that you must offer them values, not wounds–that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of GOODS. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best your money can find. And when men live by trade–with reason, not force, as their final arbiter–it is the best product that wins, the best performance, then man of best judgment and highest ability–and the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

“But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality –the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind. Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants; money will not give him a code of values, if he’s evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he’s evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

“Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth–the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve that mind that cannot match it. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

“Money is your means of survival. The verdict which you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men’s vices or men’s stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or a penny’s worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you’ll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity? Is this the root of your hatred of money?

“Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices. Money will not give you the unearned, neither in matter nor in spirit. Is this the root of your hatred of money? Or did you say it’s the LOVE of money that’s the root of all evil? To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men. It’s the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is the loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money–and he has good reason to hate it. The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know they are able to deserve it.”

“Let me give you a tip on a clue to men’s characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it. Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter. So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another–their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun. But money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or to keep it. Men who have no courage, pride, or self-esteem, men who have no moral sense of their right to their money and are not willing to defend it as they defend their life, men who apologize for being rich–will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait for the swarms of looters that stay under rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt–and of his life, as he deserves.

“Then you will see the rise of the double standard–the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money–the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law–men who use force to seize the wealth of DISARMED victims–then money becomes its creators’ avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they’ve passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

“Do you wish to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion– when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing –when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors– when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you– when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice–you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.

“Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it becomes, marked: ‘Account overdrawn.’

“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, ‘Who is destroying the world?’ You are. You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it’s crumbling around you, while your damning its life-blood–money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men’s history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves– slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody’s mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer. Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers–as industrialists.

“To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a COUNTRY OF MONEY–and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes- by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being–the self-made man–the American industrialist. If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose- because it contains all the others–the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to MAKE money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity–to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.

“Yet these were the words for which Americans were denounced by the rotted cultures of the looters’ continents. Now the looters’ credo has brought you to regard your proudest achievements as a hallmark of shame, your prosperity as guilt, your greatest men, the industrialists, as blackguards, and your magnificent factories as the product and property of muscular labor, the labor of whip-driven slaves, like the pyramids of Egypt. The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide-as, I think, he will. “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns- or dollars. Take your choice–there is no other–and your time is running out.”



‘Soon after his release, Radford described the system that developed in a classic paper entitled “The Economic Organization of a POW Camp,” a write-up that’s much appreciated by undergraduates everywhere for its skill at explaining the mysteries of monetary systems. What interested Radford the most was the way that cigarrettes, as a means of exchange, were subject to all of the fluctuations of normal currency.’ –  [thanks to http://faceofthemoon.blogspot.com/] –

New currency for space travellers  /  5 October 2007

“Scientists have come up with a new currency designed to be used by inter-planetary travellers. It is called the Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination, or Quid. It is designed to withstand the stresses of space travel and has no sharp edges or chemicals that could hurt space tourists. It was designed for the foreign exchange company Travelex by scientists from the National Space Centre and the University of Leicester. “None of the existing payment systems we use on earth – like cash, credit or debit cards – could be used in space,” said Professor George Fraser from the University of Leicester. “Anything with sharp edges, like coins, would be a risk to astronauts while the chips and magnetic strips used in our cards on Earth would be damaged beyond repair by cosmic radiation,” he added. Using any sort of technology that involved sending and receiving information from Earth would also be impractical because of the distances involved. Quids are made of the polymer best-known for its use in non-stick pans. The Quid “coins” have moulded edges so that they will not damage anything if they accidentally float free in zero gravity.

National Space Centre scientists predict that regular trips into space will be commonplace in the next five years and that tourist facilities on the Moon are a distinct possibility by 2050. Professor Fraser told BBC News: “With an inflatable space hotel, from Bigelow Aerospace, under development in the US, and Virgin Galactic developing SpaceShipTwo, there will be better access to space than there has been. “In the fullness of time we will have to adopt a universal currency if we are going to carry out serious commerce in space. It’s an interesting initiative.” Travelex said: “It’s only a matter of time before people will be walking up to our shops and asking for Quids for their two weeks in a space hotel.” It is currently quoting the currency at £6.25 to the Quid.”




by Jesse Walker  /  October 2000

“Artist J.S.G. Boggs is famous for drawing intricate but slightly skewed versions of the national currency, asking businesses to accept one of these bills in lieu of ordinary dollars, then asking for the correct change. Anyone willing to take this leap of faith and accept the bill will soon find collectors offering him thousands of Treasury- approved dollars for it. In a sense, Boggs is issuing his own currency, backed by the full faith and credit of the fickle art market. If it sounds a bit like a confidence game, that may be because it’s public confidence that gives money value in the first place. Critics and journalists love Boggs’ work, but lawmen are sometimes less tolerant. In 1986, the British government charged him with counterfeiting, even though he has never represented his work as “real” money. He won that case, but that hasn’t kept other police forces from harassing him. Late in 1992, the U.S. Secret Service raided his workshop, confiscating drawings, receipts, even press clippings. Eight years later, they’ve neither filed charges against the artist nor returned his property. More recently, Boggs has designed an electronic image–or rather, a rapidly shifting flux of images–for an encrypted online currency to be unveiled later this year by Blue Spike Inc. And the University of Chicago Press has published an excellent book about the man, his art, and the issues his art raises: Boggs: A Comedy of Values, by Lawrence Weschler.”

Q: What’s the status of your conflict with the Secret Service?
A: They confiscated over 1,300 items of my property. But when I went to collect them, there were only a couple of hundred items in the box–and they wouldn’t even allow me to inventory them. So I’m going to have to go back to court.

Q: Isn’t there a sense in which fights like that magnify the point your art is making?
A: It magnifies several points. One is that art in this country is not properly understood, respected, or valued. Another is the discrepancy between what we represent as our beliefs and what we actually practice. In this country, we’re supposed to have due process, and we’re supposed to have respect for private property.

Q: If I drew a dollar bill and signed your name to it, would I be a forger or a counterfeiter?
A: A forger. I don’t make money; I make works of fine art.

Q: Have you ever drawn a currency that was subsequently devalued?
A: Yes.

Q: Did the price of your drawing drop after the devaluation?
A: No–my work has a nasty tendency to keep appreciating.

Q: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever bought with a Boggs bill?
A: I’ve bought everything with Boggs bills. Hot dogs, watches, airplane tickets, rent, clothing, jewelry–anything.

Q: Have you ever drawn a campaign contribution?
A: No, but I’ve drawn a charitable contribution. I drew a $1 bill, which I gave to the New York Dance Company as a donation valued at $1. They put it up for auction and sold it for $5,000. The person who bought it sold it for 10,000. Last I heard, the current owner was offered $25,000 but declined to accept it.”

Macaque monkeys ‘pay’ for sex  /  02 January 2008

“Sex has probably been a commodity for as long as human society has existed, and perhaps even longer. The “oldest profession” seemingly has pre-human evolutionary roots. “When the opportunity arises, male macaque monkeys groom females to ‘pay’ for sex,” says Michael Gumert of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Gumert looked at research on a 50-strong group of long-tailed macaques in Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia, that covered a 20-month period. He found there was an increase in sexual activity after bouts of male-to-female grooming. On average, females had sex 1.5 times per hour, but immediately after being groomed by a male partner, this rate jumped to 3.5 times per hour. After grooming, the female was also less likely to offer herself to males other than her grooming partner (Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.03.009).

“My interest in this study stemmed from Trivers’s theory of reciprocal altruism,” says Gumert. In the early 1970s, Robert Trivers suggested that an organism will provide a service benefiting another, as long as it gets something back at a future date. But Gumert suspected that if the payback involved sex, the value would vary depending on the context – like all commodities in economics – a finding not predicted by reciprocal altruism. Sure enough, if there were several females in the area, the value of sex would drop – a male could “buy” a female for just 8 minutes of grooming. But if there were fewer females than males in the area, a male would have to groom his partner for up to 16 minutes before sex was offered.

A two-player interaction, such as is usually considered in reciprocal altruism studies, doesn’t make sense in this “general mating market”, says Ronald Noë of the University of Strasbourg, France. Noë and Peter Hammerstein of Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, formulated biological market theory to better explain the kind of social behaviour Gumert identified in macaques. Market forces have a powerful influence on behaviour, says Noë. “There is a very well-known mix of economic and mating markets in the human species itself,” he says. “There are many examples of rich old men getting young attractive ladies.”

Yet prior to Gumert’s study, the evidence that market forces influence mating in nature has been scant – the only other clear example was in wood mice. “Many studies that fail to find biological market effects were performed in captivity,” says Gumert. “It is quite possible that the confinements of captivity alter or remove the effects of a social market.” For instance, there is no migration within captive communities, so the value of commodities such as sex remains stable, which makes market forces difficult to identify, he says. Gumert says macaque males are very “short-termist” in their thinking. “Some work is showing that monkeys really don’t have the capacity to wait for long-term trades and therefore trades probably only occur in the immediate sense,” he says.”

Michael D. Gumert
email : gumert [at] ntu [dot] edu [dot] sg

Ronald Noë
email : ronald [dot] noe [at] c-strasbourg [dot] fr

Payment for sex in a macaque mating market

“In primate sexual relationships, males and females can cooperate through social trade. Market-like trading of sexual activity has been theorized, but no data have yet been presented that clearly show its existence. I collected data to test whether biological market theory could account for exchanges of male-to-female grooming and sexual activity in longtailed macaques. I explored male-to-female grooming, rates of sexual activity, and grooming-mating interchanges, which were male-to-female grooming bouts that directly involved mating. Male-to – female grooming mainly occurred when females were sexually active, and males groomed females longer per bout when mating, inspection, or presentation of female hindquarters was involved. Moreover, male-to – female grooming was associated with an increase in female rates for all forms of sexual activity, where in contrast, female-to-male grooming was associated with decreased rates of mating in the groomed males. Males did not preferentially mate with swollen females or invest more grooming in them during grooming-mating interchanges, as swellings did not seem to be a reliable indicator of female fertility. Rank status was correlated with grooming payment during grooming – mating interchanges in favour of higher-ranked males and females. In support of a biological market interpretation, the amount of grooming a male performed on a female during grooming-mating interchanges was related to the current supply of females around the interaction. The results provided evidence of a grooming-mating trade that was influenced by a mating market.”

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