Money is a token of cooperation

The biology of indirect exchanges

– Human morality confuses altruism with cooperation
– Cooperation requires the ecological ability to choose partners
– I propose a game theoretical definition of these concepts
– I provide evidence from anthropology, history and cryptocurrency

Author: Jose Maanmieli

Abstract: I propose a clear definition of money, as opposed to credit, by elaborating on the distinction between the biological concepts of cooperation and altruism. I argue that these aspects of animal sociality are often confused because they are evaluated from an anthropocentric perspective. Ecologically speaking, the function of a monetary token is to mediate interactions that are more constructive than reciprocal altruism, as they involve partner-choice and non-additive benefits. This focus on proximate mechanisms explains the challenges encountered by monetary theorists, who typically emphasise the utility of a token versus its symbolism. The invention of Bitcoin provides empirical support. Indeed, the value of bitcoins does not come from any intrinsic utility nor does it come from an institution. This form of digital money has simply emerged on the internet, a social environment akin to the ecological environment in which trade has evolved. Like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, money is naturally created by humans as a signal of cooperative intent. This potential for indirect exchanges is then seized by processes of cultural group selection that transform money into credit.

Keywords: game theory, economic anthropology, morality, social evolution, credit-money

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