I’ve often used the relationship between money and sex as a clear allegory for how important finance and financial services is to our lives.
Now we have a real proof point from last week’s Sunday Times (see towards end of page, and this is an abbreviated version):
Monkeys wise up and get the hang of money
Keith Chen, an associate professor of economics at Yale, asked himself: what would happen if I could teach a bunch of monkeys to use money?
His monkey of choice was the capuchin which, in the tradition of monkey labs everywhere, were given names.
Felix was Chen’s favourite.The monkeys lived together in a large, open cage with a testing chamber at the end. For currency, Chen settled on a 1-inch silver disc with a hole in the middle.The first step was to teach the monkeys that the coins had value. If you give a capuchin a coin, he will sniff it and, after determining he can’t eat it (or have sex with it), he’ll toss it aside. So Chen and his colleagues gave the monkey a coin and then showed a treat. Whenever the monkey gave the coin back to the researcher, it got the treat. It took many months, but the monkeys eventually learnt that the coins could buy the treats.Chen now introduced price shocks to the monkeys’ economy. Let’s say Felix’s favourite food was Jell-O, and he was accustomed to getting three cubes of it for one coin. How would he respond if one coin suddenly bought just two cubes? To Chen’s surprise, Felix and the others responded rationally. When the price of a given food rose, the monkeys bought less of it, and when the price fell, they bought more. The most basic law of economics — that the demand curve slopes downward — held for monkeys as well as humans.
Other experiments confirmed the parallels between human beings and these
monkeys. And then, as if Chen needed any further evidence, the strangest
thing happened in the lab.
Felix scurried into the testing chamber, gathered up all the coins that had
been placed there, flung them back into the communal cage and dashed after
them — a bank heist followed by a jailbreak.
There was chaos in the big cage, with 12 coins on the floor and seven monkeys
going after them. When Chen and the other researchers went inside to get the
coins, the monkeys wouldn’t give them up. After all, they had learnt that
the coins had value. So the humans resorted to bribing the capuchins with
treats. This taught the monkeys another valuable lesson: crime pays.
Out of the corner of his eye, Chen saw something remarkable. One monkey, rather than handing his coin over to the humans for a grape or a slice of apple, gave it to a female monkey. Chen had done earlier research in which monkeys were found to be altruistic. Had he just witnessed an unprompted act of monkey altruism?>
Then — bam! — the two capuchins were having sex. As soon as the sex was over, the female brought the coin over to Chen to purchase some grapes.
What he had seen wasn’t altruism but the first instance of monkey prostitution in the recorded history of science.