Money and Cooperation

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright February 2018

(power point)


This thought was inspired by preparing for a panel at the 2018 Life, the Universe and Everything writer symposium.

How does money arise in a society? How do various monetary policies affect a society? What might people use as alternates to money when monetary policy goes awry?

with L.E. Modesitt Jr., Bob Defendi, Alicia McIntire, Jeb Kinnison

Why have money?

The root purpose of money is to make it easier for people to cooperate with each other. When people can cooperate more easily all sorts of benefits accrue to the people cooperating and to the communities around them. Money is all about cooperating. This is why we have money and why its forms change over space and time.

The earliest form of money is oath trading. "I promise I'll do this for you if you promise you'll do that for me." It is simple, but the range of tasks and conditions a promise can handle is limited and the details of what are being promised can be confusing and become a source of disagreement. Money is a way of getting beyond oaths' limitations. It supports many more styles of cooperation.

Who gets involved?

Because money is all about facilitating cooperation lots of people get involved with it. Money is a tangible form of cooperation. It is easy to measure and easy to trade. Another benefit is that it allows cooperation from the past and future to be traded. A person's savings are past cooperation, and mortgages are about future cooperation.

Advancing cooperation

As money gets more sophisticated, trading gets easier, and new kinds of cooperation can be supported. In the case of house building, add in a mortgage and the cooperation gets more convenient and what can be constructed gets more complex. Investing in a company is much easier when there is a stock market. This means that the variety of companies that can be successfully created grows as well. A successful steel company requires a lot more cooperation than a successful Main Street grocer.

And betrayal

We have money so we can cooperate, but it also supports betrayal. And, like cooperation, the more kinds of money we have the more forms of betrayal get supported. Oath breaking is the oldest style. "Your money or your life!" gets supported when tangible money gets common. Ponzi schemes are an example of a 20th century betrayal style.

Emotions are involved too. Being greedy is seen as betrayal in the eyes of those seeing the greed. It is seen as duly earned reward in the eyes of those who don't see the greed.

Just as there are many ways to cooperate there are many ways to betray.

More coming: Blockchain

Creating new styles of money is still going on. Paying with smartphones is one example and another is blockchain technology, of which Bitcoin is an early example. It is going to be interesting to see how these change how we cooperate over the next couple decades.


Money makes the world go round by making many more forms of cooperation practical. And the more forms of money we have the more forms of cooperation are supported. As new kinds of monies are developed the world goes round in a much flashier fashion.



--The End--