THE DESIGN OF MONEY: Whether discussing the evolutionary irrationality wired into our brains, contemplating how futured versus futureless languages change what and how we accumulate, or experimenting with the types of incentives that shift human behavior, a central premise of the episode that money is a technology capable of being iterated, upgraded, deprecated, or rendered obsolete based upon its utility to mobilize the purposes that we value in building a more just and equitable society.
Too often we lack the imagination to take a more radical course and think outside of our existing realm of human activity. Is money still useful? If so, what type of money? What functional purpose will money serve in the social structure of the future? Do we like its current design or do we need a new playbook?
Our economic system is not so much designed as a series adaptations by our species to accommodate the design of money we encountered during our shift from tribal to global economies. We owe it to ourselves to recognize that everyone is capable of being an economist and we need people who have mapped out in detail their local, social economy to design the structure of incentives that will meet our future needs.
Everybody’s economy and every body’s economy. There are no experts here. And even the experts are subject to the same irrational, reactionary responses. Accept your limitations and grow from them.
RAZ: So, I mean, they become totally irrational.
SANTOS: That’s right. Just in the sense that what an economist would say that monkeys should like is just the absolute amount of food they get. It doesn’t matter what they thought they were going to get. But we saw an even more striking effect, not with bonuses, but with losses. So these are cases where the monkeys think they’re going to get a lot of food, and they get less.
And what we found is that just like humans, the monkeys are averse to losses. So they tend to avoid guys who give them less than they expect even in cases where that guy is, overall, giving them the same amount of food.
RAZ: OK. So, wait, you’re saying that monkey part of us, right, that that hasn’t changed, it hasn’t evolved?
SANTOS: Yeah. I think that is one thing you can learn from our work, is that whatever strategies we’re using for money, especially those strategies that we share with monkeys, those kinds of strategies can’t be built in for money per se. They’re not for markets or for credit cards. They’re just strategies that we had sitting around in our primate brain that we’re adapting to money. And that might mean that they lead us astray.
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