MONEY IN A NEW LIGHT
by Dick Racey
The use of money has psychological ramifications that no textbook on
Economics ever mentions. By and large, we don't know what money IS; we
learn about it by experiencing what it DOES. Its influence over us is
so ingrained, however, that we can't "step back far enough" from
ourselves to really detect the nature and origins of the tentacles
money wraps around our psyches. We know about as much about money as a
fish knows about a muddy river - a fish that spends a lifetime immersed
in its murky waters, never daring to imagine any other "reality."
The purpose of this essay is to develop an
understanding of money, not by poring over textbook definitions, but by
hypothetically performing a cruel experimCX Xent on
fellow primates to see what "human-like" behaviour we might induce in
them. As a byproduct of the experiment, we might develop a better
understanding of our own behaviour - as an essential first step in
For all practical intents and purposes, mankind is ruled by money or by the lack of it.
In today's world, we can't get very far without money. We need it for
food, clothing, shelter - all the basic necessities of life. In today's
industrial societies, we may also need it for transportation to and
from work, for an occasional theatre ticket, and maybe an occasional
beer. We need money, as well, for interest and taxes, recognizing that
much of the former is disguised as the latter. To survive, we must have
an income. That income may come from investments, or from government
programs such as unemployment insurance or welfare. Most of us work for
a living, and our income comes in the form of a pay cheque every couple
of weeks. Regardless of how we get it, we need it to live.
If we're in business, we need money for
somewhat different reasons - to start up, to operate, and, if things go
well, to expand, or to lobby for legislation favourable to our
business. If we don't have enough, we have to borrow from lenders, or
to dilute our own interest in our business by offering shares to
others. These all demand compensation - in the form of either interest
Governments need money to provide essential
services: sanitation, education, health care, welfare, roads and
airports and harbour facilities - and, according to some opinion, to
provide many services that we could well do without. Governments can,
of course, CREATE money by printing it; but as a rule they borrow just
like individuals or businesses in order, they say, to eliminate the
threat of inflation. Governments then change the name of the interest
they pay lenders, calling it instead "taxes," then add it to the
unitemized tax bill they send us.
Money is of such compelling interest that, in
desperation, we have been known to resort to theft, fraud, extortion,
and an occasional murder in order to maintain our supply of "spending
money." Some of us "invest" a portion of our pay cheques in lotteries,
clinging to the slim but tantalizing hope that we may be in a position
to tell the boss, "Take this job and shove it!"
Alas, so much for the obvious. But, after
recognizing the absolute necessity of money at all levels of society,
the question arises: What IS Money? And, more importantly, what
accounts for its powerful grip upon our minds?
Of course, we can refer to textbooks on
Economics to provide answers. These texts inform us that money is (a) a
medium of exchange, (b) a measure of value, (c) a means of discharging
debt, and (d) a "store-house of value." But, having accepted these
definitions, or "functional attributes," are we any wiser?
As a rule, we don't need to be told what money
IS. Since we use it every day of our lives, we "know" what it is
without necessarily being able to define it. We don't "learn" about
money in the same way we "study" history or algebra; we "absorb" our
knowledge from the attitudes of others, and from the direct impact it
has upon our lives. Thus, much of our "knowledge" of money may be
unarticulated; but this really doesn't matter because we know that
money is something we need in order to survive and function, and that
it doesn't grow on trees. Money is a "reality of life" to which we have
grown accustomed; it is something like a familiar old rock that we pass
by on our way to work, but don't take much notice of.
But even an "old rock" can have surprises - if
it is viewed in a different light. When certain kinds of rock are
placed beneath ultraviolet light, their appearance changes. They begin
to glow. This reveals the presence of minerals that are invisible to
the naked eye viewing it under "ordinary light." It may still be the
"same old rock," but we know more about it than we did before.
So, while not forgetting about the
conventional definitions of money to be found in the textbooks, let's
look at money in a NEW light.
Money - in a DIFFERENT Light
With that objective in mind, let us
pretend, for this chapter anyway, that we have abandoned our present
employment, if any, and have instead donned the white frock coats and
the spectacles of animal behaviourists. With our extremities thus
protected from the elements, our motives thoroughly disguised in an air
of bland, benign inscrutability as befits our new calling, let us look
at money through new spectacles.
Of course, we would need animals to experiment
upon. Chimpanzees would be ideal because of their intelligence, their
manual dexterity, their structural similarity to human beings, and,
above all, because of the uninhibited manner in which they habitually
give forthright expression to feelings which we, as human beings, in
upholding our traditions of both dignity and hypocrisy, would rather
For our purposes, chimpanzees born and raised
in captivity wouldn't do. The chimpanzee born in captivity is but a
pale shadow of the chimpanzee born, raised, and matured in its natural
environment. In the wild, the chimpanzee retains its individuality, and
is a member of a primitive society, a loosely-knit and
shifting hierarchy built upon the authority of the dominant males, the
"ruling class" of chimpdom.
An experiment in the "fiscal management of the
chimpanzee" would certainly involve a preparatory period of study among
the chimpanzees in their natural habitat, to provide a baseline for
future comparison. Their feeding, sleeping, and mating habits would be
studied in great detail, as would be their social structure. The
dominant males, from whom the lines of authority flow, would be
identified, as would every member of the band in a descending order of
authority and influence. Very close personal relationships are common
in chimpanzee society - among friends, within the family, and
especially between a mother and her offspring. All of these
relationships would be jotted down in our field notebooks, and,
as a starting point for our experiment, we would have a "Who's Who"
social registry of our band of unsuspecting chimps.
Individual chimps in their native habitat
enjoy a direct, unconditional relationship with the environment. Each
is economically independent, gathering its own food requirements from
the available nuts, berries, insects, and for meat, an occasional small
monkey. They have even devised "tools," which they frequently use to
feed upon underground insects, poling a blade of grass down the
underground passages of termites. Often, they climb into trees as a
complete social unit in order to feed. After a day's work, each chimp
fashions a bed of leaves in the fork of a tree-branch, and goes
peacefully to sleep. A dull, prosaic life, perhaps - but without ulcers.
For our experiment, we would need an
appropriate setting. For this purpose, a concrete pad would be
constructed in the jungle - atop which we would erect tall concrete
walls of twenty or so feet in height, inward-leaning to render
impossible any attempt at escape. In one wall we would install a screen
of one-way glass, to facilitate observation from outside the compound.
Where convenient, we would install sleeping platforms, where the
chimps could rest from their daily exertions. Once inside the compound,
the only remaining evidence of a "prior existence" would be the
occasional rustling of leaves in nearby trees.
Our initial period of observation completed,
we would then entice the chimps inside the compound with generous
feedings of bananas, one of their favourite foods. Conceivably,
it might take a few weeks to thoroughly acclimatize the chimpanzees to
their new surroundings. But, one day, when we were sure that all the
chimps were gathered inside the walls, we would snap the gates shut,
trapping them inside.
A New Life Inside the Walls
At first we would feed the chimps in the
normal manner with vitamin-protein-enriched bananas, nutritionally
sound in every respect. We would simply throw bananas over the wall of
the compound several times a day, making sure that each chimp had
plenty to eat.
We would then unveil the coin-operated
banana-dispensing machines installed in one of the compound walls. For
our purposes, they might be identical with those frequently found in
company lunchrooms, tier upon tier of small glass windows, their
contents plainly visible through the glass. When the correct coin was
inserted in an adjacent slot, a glass window would unlock and a
chimpanzee could reach inside for his banana. To vary the diet later on
in the experiment, we could supplement the bananas with fruit and nuts
gathered from the surrounding area, thereby conferring upon the
chimpanzees a minimal "freedom of choice" in their luncheon fare.
Next, we would demonstrate the use of plastic
poker chips which would thereafter serve as "currency" for the chimps.
Because of their intelligence, the chimps might be expected to master
the intricacies of the banana-dispensing machines very quickly, and it
might even be a lot of fun for them pushing the plastic coins into the
slots and extracting the bananas.
After the chimps had mastered the use of the
plastic chips, we would cease feeding them in the normal manner.
Instead of throwing bananas over the wall at feeding time, would
instead throw plastic chips into the compound, and the chimps would
thereafter "purchase" their nutrition through the vending machines.
After a few weeks, the chimps should have
become thoroughly familiar with the use of the plastic currency, and it
would then be time to introduce the concept of "work." For this
purpose, we would install bicycle exercisers, just like those found in
health club gymnasiums - one for each adult chimp and one for each
adolescent chimp of "working age." Learning to pedal the machines would
probably not take the chimps very long; after all, the chimp has been
trained successfully to ride bicycles and motorcycles, and even to
negotiate city traffic. A simple exerciser should be child's play even
to the dimmest of chimps.
Inevitably, however, the exercisers might be
expected to lose their initial attraction for the chimps, in all
probability a little bored with the experiment thus far. Once the
novelty has worn off, the next step would be to install the plastic
chip dispensers on the handlebars of each machine. The exercisers would
be controlled remotely from behind the one-way glass to deliver one
plastic chip after a given distance pedalled, say, two miles. From
behind the screen we would also control, quite arbitrarily, the
distance required on each of the machines to deliver a plastic chip. We
would also be able to control the resistance offered by each machine to
the act of pedalling, and thereby the energy required of the chimp in
pedalling a predetermined distance.
We might leave it to the chimps themselves to
discover that the machines would eject a plastic chip into a receiving
tray, immediately after a little red light above the receiving tray
began to flash. We might expect the chimps to discover all by
themselves that a two-mile pedal would earn them a plastic chip, with
which they could buy a banana. A few of the duller chimps might require
a little extra time to master this idea; but in a short while we might
expect the chimps to discover that chips didn't grow on trees. When we
were satisfied that each and every chimp had internalized a rudimentary
form of the Protestant Ethic, we could proceed to the next stage
of the experiment.
We would gradually reduce the number of chips
thrown over the wall at feeding time, so that the chimps would
have to earn more and more their own livelihood. After a few weeks, we
could make them completely dependent upon their "earnings."
By this time, the chimps would have completed
their "historical development." Whereas human society has progressed
from Hunting and Gathering through agricultural stages of development,
we would have forced the chimps to jump from the initial stage directly
to the final stage. We would have made the chimps completely dependent
upon money for their access to the environment, and, as experimenters,
we would be in a position to control the chimps' access - through the
instrumentality of the plastic chip. Our role would then take on some
of the characteristics of the Governor of a Central Bank. For that
reason, we would project an image of benign inscrutability to the
chimps, never allowing the facade to fail even while swatting flies.
An additional period of observation would be
required to establish equitable "work norms" for each of the
chimpanzees. Each of the chimps would be rated as to its capacity, so
that an eight-hour day at the machine would result in sufficient
chips to keep it fit and healthy, in none too fat. When a chimp changed
exercisers, its "rating" would travel with it, and the machine's
resistance and the"distance required" would be adjusted accordingly.
The experiment thus far might well have
induced some changes in the original social hierarchy. The dominant
males, for example, might not necessarily be the hardest workers. The
utility and effectiveness of their charging displays might have less
effect within the compound than they had formerly had outside -
particularly if the chimps at the lower end of the social scale
happened to notice that the charging displays were having no effect
whatsoever upon the operation of the exercisers or upon the banana
dispensers. The prestige of the dominant males might suffer as a
result. Would, for example, the females raise their rosy pink rumps to
them as preferentially as before?
After several weeks, the chimps, complete
realists, would probably have adjusted to their new environment and
working conditions, or at least would have accepted the situation with
as much stoic philosophy as a chimp can muster. When the adjustment
process was complete we would be in a position to simulate the highs
and lows of the "business cycle" of which economists are so fond.
Alienated from their natural environment, the chimps' sole link with
what was once "theirs for the taking" would be US. The chimps would be
completely at our tender mercies.
Now the experiment could be pressed in
earnest, and we might then commence the task of evoking "human-like"
emotion among the chimps by the application of fiscal and monetary
policies of various kinds. We would not, of course, consult the
"poor dumb animals" concerning their economic destinies.
After all, the animals would have the advantage of working in a "free
economy." The chimps would, in effect, be ready for their first
We would introduce the Depression in stages.
The first week, we would "de-activate" one exerciser from behind the
one-way screen, locking its pedals to simulate a shutdown at a factory
or a mine. How would the affected chimp react? Its livelihood gone,
what would its next step be? To "beg" for chips from the others -
perhaps by deferential grooming? To intimidate others, displacing them
from their exercisers? To work part-time on idle machines? Would there
be any noticeable change in the attitude of other chimps toward it? We
would record the results.
The second week, we would increase the
"mileage required" on all the remaining exercisers by ten percent - to
simulate the extra work that factory managers have been known to expect
when market conditions are tight, and when jobs are scarce.
The third week, we could disable another
exerciser, and again observe the behaviour of the affected chimp. Now
there would be *two* unemployed chimps. Would there be any discernible
change in the relationship between the displaced chimps and those who
still had "jobs"? Would the still-employed chimps display any signs of
anxiety? Would the they display threatening facial expressions or
"barks" upon the approach of either of the unemployed chimps? We would
jot down the results.
The fourth week, we could increase the
"mileage required" by a further ten percent. The fifth, we might
disable yet another exerciser, on this occasion one belonging to a
dominant male. It would be interesting to note his reactions. Would we
witness a charging display? If we did, toward what would the display be
directed? Against the inoperative exerciser? Against other chimps? Or
would he lapse into a silence? Again, we would note the results.
The sixth week, we could increase the "mileage
required" by a further ten percent, and restrict the working hours to
between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. After 4 p.m., we would de-activate all the
exercisers until the following morning, effectively bringing to an end
any moonlighting that might have been going on. Would this induce
social tensions among the chimps? How would the female chimps fare -
particularly those with young offspring to nurse and feed? Would there
be any signs of acute psychological stress - individuals withdrawing
from the group, to sulk silently in the more remote corners of the
compound? Would there be any "unconstructive" behaviour - perhaps
chimps found pacing back and forth along the inner limits of the
compound, or perhaps banging their heads against the compound walls? We
would keep our pens poised to record any interesting psychological
The seventh week, we might disable yet another
machine. Perhaps we might be fortunate enough to witness the first
signs of malnutrition among some of the weaker chimps. How do chimps
react when they are hungry? What would be the attitude of the employed
chimps toward the hungry ones? Would they, on occasion, share their
chips? Would there be any noticeable change in the mating habits of the
chimps - or would this type of activity cease altogether? Would the
birth rate show signs of impending decline? We might also be on the
lookout for indications of "chimp nostalgia" - evidenced, perhaps, by
chimps with far-away looks in their eyes, triggered by the sound of
rustling leaves in the trees outside the compound.
The next few weeks might be devoted entirely
to observations as the full effects of the depression were allowed to
settle in. As thoroughly humane experimenters, we might periodically
stroll through the compound, doling out chips and an occasional banana
to destitute chimps - provided, of course, that they begged for them.
Would there be any hostility mis-directed
toward the experimenters during the periodic strolls? Would there be
any tendency to destructive aggression directed against the
paraphernalia of the experiment - against either exercisers or the
dispensers? If there were, how would we set about punishing the
After a further several weeks of observation,
it might be worthwhile to determine if we could evoke "criminal
tendencies" among the chimps. For this purpose we would obtain a large,
transparent, but completely indestructible ball of plastic.Regardless
of what violence were directed against the ball - being bounced, jumped
on, or bitten - the ball would withstand all.
Since the decline in economic activity within
the compound would by now have resulted in a substantial number
of chips being left over, we might seal the uncirculated "capital"
within the ball. Inside the ball, the plastic chips would rattle and
tumble, perfectly visible, but as secure as government bonds in a
safety deposit box.
The completed ball would then be thrown over
the wall into the compound, and the behaviour of the chimps would be
closely scrutinized for any signs of criminal intent. What attempts, if
any, would be made to get at the ball's contents? Would such attempts
involve violence, actual or attempted? And if this did occur, what form
of punishment could we devise to correct it? Beating the affected
chimps with sticks? Putting them inside a cage within the compound
Once the ball was retrieved, we might also
check for the development of "capitalist proclivities" in the chimps'
psychology. We could do this, I suppose, by throwing the same ball back
over the walls. What attempts, if any, would be made to get at its
contents? Would such attempts involve violence, actual or attempted?
And if "capitalist proclivities" did become evident, what form of
reward could we devise to reinforce them?
After satisfying ourselves on these points and
any others that might occur to us during the course of the experiment,
it would be permissible to allow "good times" to return. We might, one
by one, re-activate the exercisers, repairing any damage wrought by
earlier stages of the experiment. We might reduce the "mileage
required" to normal levels. We would retrieve the plastic ball and
restore its chips to active circulation in the "economy."
But, in restoring "prosperity," we might still
be interested in seeing whether the depression had left any lasting
psychological scars on the chimps. Towards this end, we would provide
each chimp with a carpenter's apron, containing several pockets. We
would then show the chimps how to hang the aprons about their hips, and
how they might store surplus chips in their pockets.
After making sure that the chimps knew how to
store the chips in the aprons, we might further decrease the "mileage
required" - so that even normal effort would produce a surplus of
chips. Would the chimps now be inclined to "save for a rainy day"?
Would they tend to hoard and protect the chips, and to take defensive
measures against any chimps threatening to make off with their hoard?
Would their "sense of security" now be based upon the number of plastic
chips in their aprons?
After the chimps had regained any weight loss
occasioned by the experiment thus far, we might turn our attention to
the simulation of increased efficiency in the productive process. We
might do this by again disabling a number of machines (thereby creating
a "rainy day" for the displaced chimps) but, instead of increasing the
"mileage required" for each chip, we would DECREASE it - so that fewer
chimps were earning a greater number of chips.
Meanwhile, we might alter the arrangements at
the dispensers. Instead of just vitamin-enriched bananas, we might
display nuts, fruits, dried monkey-meat - to provide a more varied,
interesting diet - at least for those chimps with the money to spend.
We might, however, increase the price of these "luxury items" to TWO
During the evenings, we might entertain the
chimps by showing old Charlie Chaplin movies, in which the hero carries
an umbrella and wears a bowler hat, which he doffs at every turn. Then,
in addition to the "luxury food items," we would make bowler hats and
umbrellas available to the chimps - perhaps at a price of THREE chips.
The "affluent" chimps, those who retained
their employment, would thereby have more chips than required to
sustain life and good health. But there would be more to spend the
surplus chips on. Would the affluent chips "save" - or would they
spend? Would they willingly share their earnings with the "redundant"
chimps - the ones with no chips at all to spend? Would the affluent
chimps take to wearing bowler hats and sporting umbrellas? Would the
destitute chimps behave deferentially toward those wearing bowler hats
and umbrellas - or would there be renewed signs of social tension among
Perhaps it might now be time to conclude the
experiment. How long would it take the chimps to discover that the
gates were not only unlocked, but slightly ajar? Would they return to
their natural environment willingly, or would they betray a "fear of
the unknown"? Would they emerge from the compound with aprons full of
chips - or would they scatter them about in playful glee? Once outside,
would they return from time to time to "buy" a banana? Would they
occasionally return, jump astride an exerciser, and attempt to "earn" a
chip or two? Would they roam the forest paths on all fours like they
once did, or would an occasional chimp be seen adopting a three-legged
gait, its remaining arm clutching its apron to avoid spilling the
precious chips? Would the dominant males recapture their authority, or
would there be a permanent change in the nature of the social
hierarchy? Would there be an occasional chimp still to be seen,
swinging from branch to branch, wearing a bowler hat and carrying an
Fencing Out - and its Effects
Would there be any point in conducting such an
experiment in real life with chimpanzees or other animals?
Not really. We have accomplished enough if we
agree that such an experiment *could* be performed. There would be
little purpose in inflicting upon the hapless chimpanzees the trials
and tribulations that we, as human beings, experience in our own lives.
Also, there is no guarantee that the chimps would *actually* behave the
way we've intimated that they might under these conditions of
confinement and indirect manipulation. The underlying thrust of the
experiment really boils down to the question, "Would they behave the
way WE do?" And to another: "What forces have prompted US to behave the
way we do?"
At first glance, it might appear that what we
have done is to fence the chimps IN. But there are really two ways of
looking at it. Have we fenced the chimps IN, or have we fenced them
OUT? If we are to extend any worthwhile parallel to the human
condition, we are much farther ahead to think in terms of having fenced
them OUT. In this sense, we might say that they have been "fenced out"
of their environment, their "life support system," and the economic
basis of their individual independence.
In our own case, we have no conscious
recollection of the "fencing-out" process because it has taken place
over many generations. In some parts of the world, it is still an
on-going process. A salient example of the fencing-out process was the
Enclosure Movement, beginning about the 15th century and continuing
throughout the Industrial Revolution. While it lasted, hundreds of
thousands of British peasants were thrown off the land and out of the
security of village life. Why? Initially, to make room for sheep
pastures. Wool commanded a very high price, far more than tenant
farmers could ever pay in rent. By whatever means were possible, they
were forced off the land by the landowning classes of the day. Karl
Polanyi in his classic work, THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, describes the
Enclosures have appropriately been called a revolution of the rich
against the poor. The lords and nobles were upsetting the social order,
breaking down ancient law and custom, sometimes by means of violence,
often by pressure and intimidation. They were literally robbing the
poor of their share in the common, tearing down the houses which by the
hitherto unbreakable force of custom, the poor had long regarded as
theirs and their heirs'. The fabric of society was being disrupted;
desolate villages and the ruins of human dwellings testified to the
fierceness with which the revolution raged, endangering the defenses of
the country, wasting its towns, decimating its population, turning its
over-burdened soil into dust, harassing its people and turning them
from decent husbandmen into a mob of beggars and thieves...
Money - in a NEW Light
What inward-leaning concrete walls did for the
chimp, history has done for US. The fencing-out process wreaked havoc
upon our individual and collective psychology, making most of us
thoroughly dependent upon money in order to live, and through its
instrumentality, completely subservient to forces beyond our control.
It is as if we were now confined within an Invisible Trap.
The fencing-out process fundamentally changed
the nature of money. Now, in addition to the conventionally-defined
uses of money - as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, a means of
discharging debt, and a store-house of value - it has become a Means of
Manipulation. This has become its most important characteristic.
Grasping - and changing - that reality is the
key to wresting control of our lives from the faceless forces that
control us, and is the essential first step in restoring a semblance of
humanity to the economy.