Recently, a complex social game experiment was conducted at Chapman University in Orange, California, to find out if the evolution of money inspired us to co-operate.
Camera theorizes that money makes cooperation possible when people cannot rely on reputation or kinship. He speculates that money drives cultures toward money-based economies by helping to support larger populations.
The study is convincing evidence that money promotes cooperation among Camera’s research subjects, says Paul Rubin, an economist at Emory University in Atlanta. But he points out that they “were undergraduates, meaning they have lived in a money economy all their lives.” The cooperation-boosting power of money may not hold for people with no exposure to modern monetary systems, he says.
Camera agrees that this is a limitation of the study. “We have given some thought to the possibility of running the same experiment with subject pools that are ‘nonstandard,’ ” he says, such as isolated Amazonian tribes. Despite some “nontrivial logistical issues”—such as importing a version of this computer-based game into the jungle—Camera hopes to test the cooperation-inducing effect in groups who live more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Hmmm. A big conceptual problem here is that money is a function of central government. That is why heads of state or their symbols have been pictured on coins from earliest times. Governments create the value of money by underwriting an orderly marketplace in which units of money can have an agreed value. In a state of emergency or violent chaos, people would want food, medicine, guns, gold, or something, not the currency of a failed government. Hunter-gatherer societies typically don’t make much use of money because they localize rather than centralize.
Here’s a guess: Gabriele Camera will discover that greater use of money resulted from the growth of market towns and cities. 😉