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Monkey Business and Freakonomics

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the cashing-out-in-banana-chips dept.

The Almighty Buck 182

marct22 writes "Stephen J Dubner, co-writer of 'Freakonomics' said there will be a second Freakonomics book. One of the items that will be covered is capuchin monkeys' use of washers as money, buying sweets, budgeting for favored treats over lesser treats. He mentioned that one of the experiments had similar outcomes as a study of day traders. And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!"

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182 comments

fiznizzy piszszzzy (-1, Troll)

acxr is wasted (653126) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809235)

Slashdot is dying.

Re:fiznizzy piszszzzy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18809425)

Good thing you're here.

There's only been half a book so far.. (4, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809237)

If you're thinking of buying Freakonomics, don't bother. Half the book is "letters from our website".

It's one of those books you buy at the airport before a long trip only to discover that it only takes half the trip to read it.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (5, Informative)

26199 (577806) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809275)

It was short. But also one of the most interesting short books I've read.

So I hereby counter your unrecommendation ;)

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18809999)

Your post is modded +5, the parent is +4 - therefore - according to the wisdom of numbers we should all buy this book.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (2, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809309)

I concur. Freakonomics stripped a bit too much of the science away in an attempt to make the book accessible.

Naked Economics [amazon.com] tries to do the same thing as Freakonomics, but achieves a much higher degree of success. Freakonomics was dumbed down to an almost insulting level, and many of the examples provided felt somewhat outlandish. Naked Economics does a much better job of distilling economic theory down to plain english, and picks much more relevant examples. I also found it to be a pretty entertaining read:

"The sultan of Brunei earned billions of dollars in oil revenues in the 1970s. Suppose he had stuffed that cash under his mattress and left it there. He would have had several problems. First, it is very difficult to sleep with billions of dollars stuffed under the mattress. . ."

(Yes.... I did pull that quote from one of the Amazon reviews, but it's a rather accurate representation of the text)

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (5, Insightful)

vidarh (309115) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809545)

From the descriptions on Amazon, it seems like Naked Economics tries to be something completely different than Freakonomics. The entire point of Freakonomics is applying economic theory to areas economists don't usually look at, and describe some of the more interesting results in an entertaining and accessible way, not to be an economy textbook. You say it was "dumbed down" - I say it was written with a specific audience in mind: People who are not interested in economics, i.e. most of us, but who might find a description of some of the results of applying economic theory to everyday situations interesting and entertaining.

It never spends much space on economic theory, even "distilled to plain English", because that isn't the purpose of the book.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (0)

s20451 (410424) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810505)

My main objection to the book is that the author doesn't ask the right questions. For instance, he presents his own study claiming that real estate agents get a better price when selling their own homes rather than selling their clients' homes (because they're willing to put more work in for themselves), and then concludes that you don't need a real estate agent.

But even as someone without a lot of degrees in economics, I can see that the argument is horseshit: the real question is, how much extra do you get for your house when employing a real estate agent, compared to a private sale?

The book is full of half-answered questions, followed by sweeping generalizations. The irony is that the authors criticize "expertise" constantly (such as in the real-estate agent case), but then turn around and make sweeping statements that depend on their own status as experts.

The time I spent reading the book was wasted. If you consider yourself an independent thinker, don't buy it.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (5, Funny)

Scaba (183684) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810691)

So, you're saying independent thinkers should take your word for it and do what you demand?

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (1)

ichigo 2.0 (900288) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810793)

If you consider yourself an independent thinker, don't buy it.


This statement seems to me a bit contradictory. :)

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810857)

The book is full of half-answered questions, followed by sweeping generalizations. The irony is that the authors criticize "expertise" constantly (such as in the real-estate agent case), but then turn around and make sweeping statements that depend on their own status as experts.
My local expert (a fellow with a Ph.D. in economics) has a similar opinion, and doesn't really consider anything in it particularly insightful to begin with.

Sorry, I don't have mod points (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810981)

I've been trying to tell people the same thing since the book was released. I don't have any economics degrees, just ones in common sense. although, I think your last line has an extra word in it.

If you consider yourself a thinker, don't buy it.

There, thats closer. That should remove the objections other posters have.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (3, Informative)

Erwos (553607) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809919)

Speaking as someone who actually did econometrics and hard math/statistics economics in school, I could not agree more with this critique of Freakonomics. It is an entertaining read, to be sure, but he's omitted a lot of the data to support his conclusions, making it more of a "just believe me" book than an actual primer to non-traditional economics.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810787)

I'd like to join the pile-on. Not only was it far too short, half of the book was his abortion theory, which was shortly after discredited. Still, the part about gangs being run like corporations, with a board of directors and all, totally blew my mind.

All of this pales in comparison, of course, to this revelation that monkeys have discovered money. God help us.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809815)

Yup. I agree. "Undercover Economist" is far for informative and interesting, although written from a London persective.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (1)

ocbwilg (259828) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810199)

I don't recall so much of the "letters from our website", but I do recall being seriously disappointed with this book. For starters, it's very short. I know, that may not sound like a bad thing, but it is representative of a lack of detail. They cover several topics that I thought had the potential to be really interesting, but for the most part they cover them with a "studies have shown" or "we were able to show" or similar statements. They didn't really go into any of the details of their analysis of these interesting topics (with perhaps the exception of the section of teachers helping students cheat on standardized tests). It took about an afternoon to read, and offered very little insight, and even less data. Like I said, I don't think that it really lived up to it's expectations at all.

Re:There's only been half a book so far.. (1)

rundgren (550942) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811269)

The "letters from our website" stuff is added to the "2006 expanded edition" and not really a part of the book. The book itself has great points and is thoroughly researched, though i agree it could've been longer (I loved it and was craving for more when i'd finished it).

Washers (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18809245)

And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!
Wow! I need to hit up home depot!

3 week later, in prison... "I need to learn how to spell Cancun."

Re:Washers --==NOT FUNNY==-- (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18809311)

Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Monkey prostitutes (2, Interesting)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809277)

And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!

Proof positive that it's the oldest profession?

I find it interesting how monkeys can be compared to day traders. I think to goes to show how similar us humans really are to other animals. In many ways we're more a fortunate combination of traits than having truly unique traits.

Re:Monkey prostitutes (1)

metushelach (985526) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809375)

No, Pimping is the oldest profession in the world. Prostitution came a close second.

Re:Monkey prostitutes (5, Funny)

antoy (665494) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809455)

I find it interesting how monkeys can be compared to day traders. I think to goes to show how similar us humans really are to other animals.

I think it simply goes to show how similar day traders are to monkeys.

Re:Monkey prostitutes (5, Funny)

montyzooooma (853414) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809719)

Careful - the monkeys may sue for defamation of character.

Re:Monkey prostitutes (5, Funny)

ronanbear (924575) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811071)

in that case they really are very similar to day traders

Re:Monkey prostitutes (2, Interesting)

zotz (3951) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810311)

"I think it simply goes to show how similar day traders are to monkeys."

"He also devised two games that showed monkeys could end up feeling as if they'd won or lost, even though they'd actually broken even. Their seemingly irrational preference for the "winning" game had Chen questioning how useful the monkeys would be as a touchstone for studying human behavior. Then he found that a similar study of day traders conducted by another researcher resulted in the same psychological preference. Even when they came out even, the day traders irrationally preferred to feel they won, rather than lost money."

I don't think it is irrational at all. If I can play two games where the money outcome for each is that I break even, but one leaves me feeling good and one leaves me feeling down, it is comepletely rational under those circumstances to prefer to play the game where I at least feel good when I am done playing.

Now, it might indeed be irrational to prefer a game where I lost a lot and felt like I won to one where I won a lot but felt like I lost. I could of course just be chalking the losses up to entertainment expenses.

all the best,

drew

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=zotzbro [youtube.com]
UFOs, Paper Planes, and underwater smoke rings...

Re:Monkey prostitutes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810589)

Yeah, that caught my eye also. I think it was supposed to mean that it's irrational to feel you've won or lost when you've broken even.

Of course that's not what the author actually wrote :)

Re:Monkey prostitutes (1)

zotz (3951) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810767)

"Yeah, that caught my eye also. I think it was supposed to mean that it's irrational to feel you've won or lost when you've broken even.

Of course that's not what the author actually wrote :)"

Good point. Interesting wording that.

It would be irrational to think you had won or lost when you've broken even. Feel? I don't know that how we feel is a rational deal from the start.

all the best,

drew

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=zotzbro [youtube.com]
UFOs, paper planes, and a bit more.

Or maybe (4, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809457)

Or maybe, it just shows that you can compare anything to anything, if you carefully choose only the aspects that sorta superficially support your idea, do a lot of sophistry to make them look even more supportive, and keep your fingers crossed that noone notices all else you've ignored.

Let me tell you a joke: "A researcher puts a flea on a piece of paper and yells, "JUMP!" The startled flea jumps. The researcher cuts off the flea's legs, puts it back on the piece of paper, and yells, "JUMP!" The flea doesn't jump. The researcher notes, "Fleas hear with their legs. A flea whose legs have been cut off can't hear any more.""

Or here, let me offer definitive proof that cats are nerds, or at least nerds act just like cats. Cats:

- are naturally attracted to books and keyboards. Mine always used to come curl up on the book I was reading.

- aren't very social, and don't deal well with extended periods of social interaction. (Keep petting one too long after it signalled "I've had enough," and it might just scratch.) They also actually need periods of being alone or left alone. Also, bringing a new cat home might just result in a fight over who's alpha, instead of, "hi, welcome to the team."

- except for a few modified/selected races, only "talk" when they actually have something to say and/or when all else failed. (See the widespread myth that meowing is somehow only for communicating with humans.) They're also not good at telling you what they want or why. How introverted is that?

- have a problem with authority and obeying orders. (See, "herding cats.")

- have unbalanced diets, by human standard, and would rather not eat their veggies

- have weird sleep schedules, by human standards.

- like it warm. I can just see a cat coming to the office in mountain boots and a sweater in July, if it were anthropomorphic.

- really dislike being stuffed in a suit and tie.

- really don't like showering, or being given a shower. Actually, "loathe" just about starts to describe it.

- play (with) all sorts of stuff that makes no sense for a normal human.

- never discovered complex courting rituals.

Etc. There you go. I've proven beyond all doubt that nerds act just like cats. Funny how similar we are to animals, eh?

In practice it just shows how easy it is to find _some_ animal that matches whatever you want to match, if you just look hard enough and ignore what is _really_ happening there. E.g., I've thoroughly ignored the fact that a nerd surviving on say, chocolate or pizza/chinese food only, is doing it because of taste preferences or being too lazy for anything else, while a cat is actually biologically made to be a meat-only eater. ("Obligate carnivore.") E.g., I've thoroughly ignored the fact that a cat's attraction to books isn't because it actually wants to read, and to your keyboard isn't because it wants to program. Etc.

To get back to the topic, yeah, you can compare anything from the real economy to a monkey play-economy, but it's just material to make Joe Sixpack feel better about his not understanding the real economy. Day trading especially is a complex phenomenon, including such aspects as being, basically, a form of gambling. I.e., when you see monkeys playing cards/dice/3-cups/whatever, then you'll have an essential ingredient in it. Sure, you can look at it superficially being just like monkeys and bottle caps changing hands, but that's the kind of superficial over-simplification that's outright useless except maybe as an emotional metaphor.

I disagree (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809603)

Humans thrive on metaphor and symbols. In fact we are the only species on the planet that can create, manipulate, fuse, and synthesize in everything we do. Perhaps it is true that some metaphors are more useful than others, but metaphors more often than not help people understand. The proof? Look at the continued success of poems; Are these essential to human development? Many would argue yes.

Humans are a fickle species. We demand to be entertained, humored, amused. Perhaps its our irrational emotions taking control of our better judgment, but then again if we didn't have these characteristics, we would be as interesting as snails...and probably not nearly as successful.

Yes, but... (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809649)

Yes, but, see, the trick is to know when it's just a funny metaphor which shouldn't be taken seriously. Nothing against the human species coming up with entertaining metaphors, similes and other figures of speech, but the trick is to know that that's not, in fact, an accurate model of reality.

Yes, if we couldn't dream, fantasize, whatever, we'd probably be less successful than snails. But equally if we took all phantasies to seriously, we'd be even less successful. The trick is to _not_ jump off the house just because you dream of flying.

Same here. It's ok to read about monkeys trained to enact a silly pseudo-economy game, and to be entertained by it. What I'm saying is: but please _do_ remember that it's essentially only entertainment. It may be packed in some pseudo-scientific and all revelation babble, but do come back to RL when you're done with it anyway. Realize that, once that entertainment is over, the RL economy still doesn't work like that. Judging RL economy by what silly play a bunch of trained monkeys do, is about as productive as judging RL warfare by D&D rules.

Re:Yes, but... (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810571)

Trained monkeys enacting a silly pseudo economic game *is* a decent description of the real world.

(Or do you think pretty, shiny diamonds truly are useful, and so on?)

Re:I disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810287)

it's some kind of.. metaffer...

Re:Or maybe (1)

Cragen (697038) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809865)

Ok, one monkey gave another a washer. They then groomed each other and then had sex. Other explanations are EQUALLY as possible (given our real ignorance on the reason(s) for the monkeys' behaviors):

1. It was simply a gift and the ensuing actions may or may not have happened anyway.
2. It could have been "What's this? You know? Me, neither. Hey, want a back-scratch?"

To assume anything is simply anthropomorphizing the situation.

Re:Or maybe (1)

supersnail (106701) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810291)

"nerds act just like cats" except when cats do it, its cool!

I'm sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810533)

You lost me when you decided to prattle on for a page about your friggin' cat, you nerd.

Re:Or maybe (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810977)

Honestly you simply are stereotyping cats. And you are being silly for the sake of making a joke but I have to correct you.

a cat does not inherently act that way, humans promote that behaivoir in them. I have had 5 cats in my lifetime as well as trained 4 more for friends because of how cats act from my rearing.

Cats if raised correctly will tolerate anything and can learn that humans are harmless and will not hurt me. Instilling this fact (you can even instill this fact into the cats mind of a dog if you have the dog trained correctly)

All of the cats I have raide or trained sleep normal human hours. they did not go "catting" all night but slept on the bed with the humans. They would come when called, even play fetch. they would not bite or scratch a human even with extended petting them backwards and intentionally annoying them. They would put their mouth on you but not bite down. I have also trained 3 cats recently to respond to commands like sit, lie down, and to speak.

cats can be trained, cats also can be incredibly social, have human sleep patterns and actually do eat a balanced diet, they want mostly protein which is right for a carnivore.

Only cats that are left to roam and not trained act the way yours does.

BTW, thay are not attracted to keyboards and books ,they are attracted to human attention. they actually crave it if they are the only cat, if you have multiple cats you only have cats that dont need humans for their interaction. They are social, and if you train them right are dwonright vocal and will not shut up at times. Hell our current cat asks the dog if it will feed it. The last kitten I trained was convinced the full sized rough collie was so harmless it was trying to play with it like another kitten and the two slept together on a regular basis if the kitten was banished from the bedroom. (it was exceptionally smart and knew that under the covers was hands to be pet with and would find a way under the covers to locate those hands or to simply sleep curled up against a human or two for warmth. Kind of freaks you out to roll over and feel a furball where you dont expect it.)

cats are very trainable, anda if trained right from a young age, amaze the uneducated masses that think that cats all act a certian way. They dont, only untrained cats left to act like antisocial misfits do.

you train your dog, Why dont you train your cat? Posting Anon to not get flooded with requests. My training services are availabe online and I will not train any kitten older than 7 weeks. YOU HAVE TO start early and for 2-3 months. and no I will not give out my secrets, I make big bucks at this.

Re:Or maybe (4, Insightful)

A Name Similar to Di (875837) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811055)

Or maybe, it just shows that you can compare anything to anything, if you carefully choose only the aspects that sorta superficially support your idea, do a lot of sophistry to make them look even more supportive, and keep your fingers crossed that noone notices all else you've ignored.

Allow me to start by mentioning my bias, I liked the book, took classes from Steve Levitt, and worked for him for a while during and after college. It may help to know that those gimmicky "comparisons" really were not a part of Levitt's academic papers [uchicago.edu] which the book is based on. Here's a bit of background on Freakonomics, basically Levitt writes a ton of clever papers that win him some recognition. Dubner took these papers and simplified them to try and make them accessible to the non-economic public. Sure, stylistically, there's issues that I have with it as well (and these are issues I have with virtually every pop-science book out there). But I feel as if you've belittled the book's content based on some style choices designed to draw the reader in.

Perhaps I've misunderstood your point, but gimmicky comparisons aside, there's a lot of well thought out content to that book that shouldn't be outright dismissed or characterized badly due to some tasteless introductory paragraphs.

Re:Or maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18811145)

- except for a few modified/selected races, only "talk" when they actually have something to say and/or when all else failed.

Certain Races? Are you hinting that DESI geeks are somewhat more loquacious (i.e. won't freakin' shut up; think they're experts on EVERY topic)? :-)

[For those not hip to the lingo, Desi = South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and sometimes Afghan)]

man, beast and machine (1)

N3wsByt3 (758224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809579)

"I think to goes to show how similar us humans really are to other animals."

Kenan Malik would disagree.

That said, there are some things I disagree with Kenan Malik myself. ;-)

In any case, his book 'man, beast and zombie' is an interesting read, which make you wonder of the intrinsical (?) differences between humans and animals (and AI's).

Re:Monkey prostitutes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810615)

And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!
Proof positive that it's the oldest profession?
I find it interesting how monkeys can be compared to day traders.
I guess day traders are whores?

The cheapest sex I ever had cost me one draft beer. The most expensive cost me a house, a car, and part of my pension. And she was almost as ugly as a capuchin!

-mcgrew

Re:Monkey prostitutes (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810735)

Actually, 1000 monkeys typing on a keyboard would probably make more money than your average day trader.

May I be an early welcomer... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18809283)

of our monkey-shagging overlords?

1) capture monkeys
2) provide a selection of washers
3) !!sex!!
4) profit!!

In Africa, monkeys shag you!

God, Slashdot is soooo predictable these days....

And why was my capcha 'incest'? Is someone trying to make a point?

Re:May I be an early welcomer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18809461)

think of the children beware the pedocapuchin

Strange news (-1, Offtopic)

oicangius (1089957) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809305)

Do not sleep, study, coffee and ginseng are your allies!

Oicangius'blog [slashdot.org]

they are like us (1, Redundant)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809377)

apes, especially monkeys, are very genetically related to humans, because of this it is not surprising to find that they have what we usually think are human behaviors. Gorillas for instance, can be taught to understand sign language, monkeys are known to use tools, form tightly knit groups and even make primitive weapons for killing prey. [spears] In fact, monkeys are so very much like we humans that recently it was debated as to whether to grant them human-like rights.

Re:they are like us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18809447)

Birds are known to use tools as well, but they're not known for buying them, much less ummm services.

Yes, but TRAINED (3, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809615)

That may well be so, but that sorta misses the point that it's useless to compare a human to an animal that has been _trained_ to do something, as a way to draw conclusions about the human. E.g., sure, you can train a gorilla to understand sign language, and it sure says something about its intelligence. But then you can't go and write a book on the premise that, basically, "hey, what mutes do is exactly the same sign language as these gorillas are using! Mutes are just like gorillas!"

Basically it's bullshit to then compare a community of gorillas arificially _trained_ to do X to a community of humans who have a rationale behind doing X, as if there were no difference there. Whatever X may be.

In this case, "monkeys using washers/caps/whatever as money" conjures an image that is thoroughly misleading. It's not like those monkeys just saw a heap of washers and went, "I know, let's use those as money". They were _trained_ and coaxed to play a game they don't even understand.

Money was a hard concept to figure out even for humans. It took tens of thousands of years to figure that one out. Even if you look at the economy of, say, the Old Kingdom (an ancient Egypt period), it was based on barter. If you had some extra grain (e.g., you were a farmer) and wanted a pot, you'd go to the potter and ask, basically, "how much grain do you want for that pot?" Then the potter wanted a knife and went to the smith and asked, "can I trade you some pottery for a knife? What if I gave you some of this grain I earned too?" And so on.

Discovering money wasn't just an accidental seeing a round piece of metal and going, "oh, you know, we could use a bunch of those as money." It was a long and rocky road in itself, for example, discovering first the artificial value of jewellery and other rare luxuries. Then the fact that a golden chalice could be stored longer than a ton of grain, which would eventually rot. And only then the money wasn't just some rounded bits that could be traded, but a standardized quantity of such a valuable, non-decaying metal.

E.g., the value of the Roman Solidus, wasn't just being a round piece like a washer, but being a standardized quantity of gold. There wasn't some arbitrary assigned value to it, like when playing with washers or Monopoly money, the value was the exact value of the 4.5g of gold in it. Two pounds of Solidi weren't just an arbitrary value multiplied by the number of coins, it was the exact value of two pounds of gold.

Floating paper money with floating values are a _very_ recent invention, and it took lots of growing pains to wrap the human mind around _that_ notion. It took first assigning a value in gold, and getting people to believe that they can actually go and redeem a 100$ note for 100$ worth of gold. I.e., the value was _still_ tied to the idea of having an inherent value. It took a Great Depression to finally decouple money from an intrinsic value in precious metals, and some people _still_ can't really wrap their mind around it.

That was, in a nutshell, 40000 years after humans got out of Africa. Yep, 40k years. That's how long it took humans to arrive at the modern concept of money as just tokens.

So it's silly to believe that a bunch of monkeys would just see a bunch of worthless (for them) washers and immediately come up with the exact same concept. "Hey, we'll use these as tokens whose value is dictated by supply and demand." Nope, sorry, it's just not going to happen.

What you can have is monkeys _trained_ to play with washers in a mockery of an economy. We don't even know how much they understand there, and how much is mindless imitation and "pavlov's dog" kinda reflexes.

E.g., did someone actually figure out prostitution in all its human implications? Or more likely, a bunch of monkeys trained to give tokens to the researcher on all occasions, e.g., when they're fed, started also giving tokens as a reflex to anyone, including to the female they're mating with?

Did they really understand the concept of _buying_, or is it largely just a game of passing tokens around like they've been trained? I can think of plenty of stuff that, say, my cats tried to imitate, but I doubt that they really understood it. Just because a monkey can learn to imitate exchanging washers for bananas, doesn't mean it understands value and buying.

Did they even understand the concept of money representing a unit of _work_? Because that's what it is. When you buy something or don't buy something, you compare it not just to other prices, but, basically, with how much of those currency units you earn in a month of working. You may even make arithmetic like "ok, this will save me X hours, but does it cost more than I make in X hours?" If it's just exchanging washers or monopoly money, you might do a lot more crazy stuff, because they're essentially worthless. It's a game of passing around some worthless tokens or bits of paper. You can go crazy with them, or you can just give a million of them to a perfect stranger (you see that happening daily in MMOs), because they're just toys.

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (1, Insightful)

rozz (766975) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809743)

That may well be so, but that sorta misses the point that it's useless to compare a human to an animal that has been _trained_ to do something, as a way to draw conclusions about the human. E.g., sure, you can train a gorilla to understand sign language, and it sure says something about its intelligence.
...........
Basically it's bullshit to then compare a community of gorillas arificially _trained_ to do X to a community of humans who have a rationale behind doing X, as if there were no difference there. Whatever X may be.

sorry to break your party but EVERYTHING you know and do as a human comes from the TRAINING you received... a school for humans works on the same basic principles as a school for dogs, gorillas, etc .. the only diff is that humans seem to have a way better capacity to assimilate that training .. or it's just that the methods are better suited for them.

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (2, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809835)

sorry to break your party but EVERYTHING you know and do as a human comes from the TRAINING you received... a school for humans works on the same basic principles as a school for dogs, gorillas, etc .. the only diff is that humans seem to have a way better capacity to assimilate that training .. or it's just that the methods are better suited for them.


Sorry to break it to you, but if all that school left you with is a bunch of pavlovian reflexes, like a school for dogs would, then you probably shouldn't be a human to start with. I will assume you were just going for a figure of speech, instead.

A characteristic of humans is that you can also think about it later, and change that training. You can later realize stuff like, to use that old joke as an example, "wth, mom's cutting off the end of the pot roast was only because she didn't have a bigger pot. I have one, so I can change that recipe." Or you can move to another country/group/whatever and realize stuff like, "oh, here it's impolite to blow your nose at the dinner table, like dad kept doing, let's refrain from doing it." You don't continue doing it for the rest of your life, like a trained dog would.

The difference basically is that you also have the intellect to understand _why_ something is done, _when_ it's done, and when _not_ to do it. It's not just stimulus-reaction reflexes based on pure association. You have the mental power to realize when an existing reflex is stupid, and force yourself to stop or develop a better one.

Well, or _should_ have the mental power. Maybe I'm assuming too much ;)

That's how all human progress happened too. Some guy had been dragging stuff around all his life, and then comes up with the idea of rolling bigger stuff on logs. Some other guy had been pushing stuff on logs, and notices he doesn't really need the whole log: the end discs will do. Voila, you have wheels now.

And to get back to the economy: some guy had been dealing with gold coins all his life, then he figures out that you don't need to actually carry the coin, a note saying "this is worth X ounces of gold" will do the trick just nicely. Voila, now you have paper money.

_That_ is the point. While an animal might just blindly apply a reflex again and again, a human can choose which reflexes to apply and which not. There is usually some rationale and logic behind whether you do something or not. Whereas training an animal to mechanically do the same thing, doesn't really tell you much about the humans. As long as the monkeys just apply some trained reflexes, as opposed to having a reason for it, you can't really say, "heh, day traders act just like monkeys." That's only because you trained the monkeys to imitate it. No more, no less.

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (2, Insightful)

$1uck (710826) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810139)

Maybe I'm assuming too much
You are. You assume you know that animals can't reason or think about things and apply them differently. Do you really for a moment think the researchers trained the monkeys to be prostitutes for the washers/money? No thats an instance of the monkey's reasoning and thinking about new and other ways to garner their sweets. Is the ability of the monkey's to reason and think about the training as sophisticated as our ability? probably not, but it seems like it should be judged on a case by case basis as there are some truly stupid people out there.

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (1)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810143)

You've hit on something that I've been pondering for a while...I've been thinking that one of the qualifications for 'sentience' needs to be "willfully and knowingly acts in opposition to instinct or trained behavior". The problem with that, I realize, is how do you know that it's willful and not also just part of some other training...

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811043)

The difference basically is that you also have the intellect to understand _why_ something is done, _when_ it's done, and when _not_ to do it. It's not just stimulus-reaction reflexes based on pure association. You have the mental power to realize when an existing reflex is stupid, and force yourself to stop or develop a better one.

I think you'd be surprised to realize just how much like the rest of the apes we really are. Do you actually think this "intellect" is inherent to being human? It's not; it's "trained" too! How do we know this? By observing children that don't get the training [wikipedia.org] . They act more like animals than most chimps (trained or untrained -- even the "untrained" ones are still trained in chimp society) do!

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809801)

Still, the analogy holds. Since we too are "trained" to see money as money. Do you really think a lot of people put any thought into the development of money and currency? No, they are trained that they get goods for their greenbacks, and that they may accept those green bills for their stuff 'cause there's someone else who's gonna give them other items for them.

People don't see that development, the money-for-gold of the old days. They see the essentially worthless token that becomes valuable because everyone around them deems it just as valuable. They don't care about how international trade influences inflation and how the Dollar stands towards the Euro or Yen, they know that prices go up or wages go down, but the why and how completely escapes them.

So generally, most people are just at the level of those monkeys. They know that if they perform some tricks (i.e. work), they will get some tokens (a paycheck) and they can redeem them for sweets (or a new computer). And that's it.

When you look at the bottom of it all, you'll see that many people are just that: Trained monkeys.

Yes and no (1, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810011)

As usual with such issues, the answer is: yes and no. Depends what you're looking at and at what level.

Yes, you can say that many individual humans are not much better than trained monkeys. But that's a different topic.

No, IMHO, you can't compare:

A) a human behaviour that evolved over 40,000 years, and based on concepts refined and formalized over all that time, to

B) a monkey behaviour that exists only because someone trained them to do that.

Even if many of the individual humans involved at point A don't really understand that evolution and those concepts, nevertheless, some smarter humans before them did. Joe Sixpack may not understand Keynesian economics in regard to, say, government spending, but Keynes did. It's not a random behaviour that came out of nowhere.

Saying, basically, "haha, human traders act like monkeys" would be valid if we were talking behaviour which the monkeys genuinely discovered on their own. Not when it's monkeys trained to reproduce a human behaviour. Then it becomes, basically, "haha, human traders act like monkeys trained to act like human traders"... err... what's the surprise or revelation there, then?

Even if you talk about the individual "trained monkey" humans, the best you can say that something is simple enough so both a human and a monkey can be trained to do. That's a valid observation.

But reducing the behaviour itself to, basically, "it's the same that monkeys do", isn't saying that much when those monkeys only do it because someone coaxed them to. It's not really monkey behaviour, it's _human_ behaviour that the monkeys have been trained to imitate. It's not really comparing human behaviour to monkey behaviour, but really human behaviour to the same human behaviour. Whop-de-do, big surprise that it ends up the same.

Even if you view humans as trained monkey, it's really comparing:

A) a human trained humans to do X, vs

B) a human trained monkeys to do X.

The real common denominator there isn't "humans act like monkeys", but the fact that a human trained both to do the same.

That is, basically, my objection.

Re:Yes and no (3, Insightful)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810223)

You're right, but IMHO, that just tells me that the monkeys and us are not so different. They haven'thad to evolve that behaviour, but they're capable of implementing it. It suggests that monkeys would be capable of arriving at a society similar to ours, given enough time and environmental pressure to do so (including specialization, see the post about the female bonobo monkey).

Re:Yes and no (1)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810867)

So you're saying that someone studied and explained the behavior of day traders and formalized a theory about how they behaved. Now that there is an explanation the behavior has been modified? The traders are no longer acting like trained monkeys?

Wouldn't it make more sense to explain the monkeys' behaviour with the same theories as used for the day traders?

Re:Yes and no (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811173)

Erh, I hope you don't want to claim that our system of trade somehow "evolved" into our genetic makeup. That would be, quite bluntly, bullcrap. Trading and the 'value of money' is a learned practice that we do of course pass on to the next generation, since they can't exist in our world without the knowledge of money and property in the first place, but it's no less a learned behaviour than stopping at a red light. It's not something ingrained in our brains and rooted so deeply that we simply feel compelled to accept money for our products.

The system evolved, that much I will hand you. The system grew from the exchange of furs for meat to stock options and day trade. But it still is something we have to teach our kids, they don't grow up and suddenly feel the urge to get money so they can get goods.

The system of exchanging money and goods is a learned practice, not an innate trait. And the same way we teach our kids the basics of commerce when they want to buy their first chewing gum those monkeys were trained.

How far you take the training will determine how deeply into the matter your kids can dig, how much they will understand the finer details of trade, commerce and the "real" value of money in international clearing business. But it is nontheless a trained skill.

Now, you will not make a chimp a day trader. How they are supposedly behaving like them is beyond me as well, I guess one would have to read that book to see where that guy saw the similarities.

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (3, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809965)

Most people don't understand money either. They're just passing around tokens the way they've been trained by their parents and others around them.

Washers and monopoly money aren't worth much because not enough people believe they are worth something.

What it takes is belief.

If the belief in the US Dollar's value weakened, it will fall in value. If it dropped enough you might have to give a million of them to perfect strangers just to buy loaves of bread, or a virtual sword in an MMOG.

Most people do not make buying decisions the way you claim they do. Only a few would do "this will save me X hours, but does it cost more than I make in X hours". Maybe even more people would go "Shiny! Let's buy it" than do what you say (looking at how advertising works ;) ).

See "The Psychology of Spending": http://web.mit.edu/giving/spectrum/winter99/spendi ng.html

Re:Yes, but TRAINED (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810877)

You're correct, but you make it sound a little too pessimistic. The dollar's market value is based on people's believe it's worth something, but it's not totally a collective delusion. Remember, the US government and the Federal Reserve (or do I repeat myself?) have real assets like gold that they can use to stop too sharp of a decline in value of the dollar (by "soaking up" dollars through sale of its assets for dollars). In practice, of course, it's a little screwy because the Fed actually manages the dollar's value not by trading gold, but buy trading claims to future dollars (aka US government bonds).

And, more importantly, the government has the ability to tax, and the need for people to pay their taxes in US dollars gives the dollar a (corrupt and immoral but effective) basis for its value.

Humans are not trained? (2, Insightful)

Lethyos (408045) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810045)

So you are saying you emerged from the womb with complete understanding of language, mathematics, and cause-effect association? When you were a child, did you have a clear rationale explaining why you were being taught how to divide or expand your vocabulary? I think you were sent to school where you received exposure to these and other concepts repeatedly until you began accurately repeating them to your instructors. Eventually you learned how to independently form sophisticated compositions of those simple concepts, possibly through repetition, for the purpose of solving problems. This seems a lot like training [reference.com] to me.

Re:Humans are not trained? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810561)

(random person responding)

"When you were a child, did you have a clear rationale explaining why you were being taught how to divide or expand your vocabulary?"

I certainly did. Learning is fun! No, honestly, I enjoy learning new words. And I've always enjoyed mathematics because understanding mathematics is fundamental to understanding the world - I'm sure that I understood that from the moment I saw someone demonstrate 1+1=2 with toy blocks. Wanting to understand the world is a very deep-seated desire with me, something I probably was born with. So, I spent a lot of time independently learning mathematics and reading. But then, I'm a nerd, and I became a physicist.

There's another reason too, now I think about it. I like showing off how smart I am (sadly, by the standards of my current peers I'm an idiot), and a big vocabulary and high exam scores are both great for that. I think that's also quite a primitive thing with everybody, it's all about social dominance.

Re:they are like us (1)

bloobloo (957543) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809653)

"Apes, especially monkeys" is like "Fish, especially dolphins"

Re:they are like us (1)

clacke (214199) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809739)

<nitpick>
No, "apes, especially monkeys" is not like "fish, especially dolphins". It's like "herrings, especially anchovies" or "dolphins, especially whales". Or, if we accept the colloquial definition of "monkey", it's actually like "humans, especially apes".
</nitpick>

Re:they are like us (1)

clacke (214199) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809787)

Saying that "apes, especially monkeys" is like "fish, especially dolphins" is like saying that "herrings, especially anchovies" is like "mammals, especially crocodiles".

Re:they are like us (2, Interesting)

eennaarbrak (1089393) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809987)

Just because we're genetically similar does not mean we have the same cognitive abilities. Which makes the fact that traders behave like monkeys so much more interesting.

For a nice expose on the myths of animal "training", take a look at "Do Animals Think?" by Clive Wynne (Easy search on Amazon). In a nutshell, there is no conclusive evidence that animals can "learn" beyond what is required for their natural environment. There is a big difference between Snake! Everyone watch out! and Hmm, I see a dangerous snake, maybe I should tell my rival that there is a nice juicy banana over there!

Re:they are like us (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810711)

apes, especially monkeys, are very genetically related to humans
Just to clarify. Apes are closely related to humans.
Monkeys are more closely related to a certain dancing executive.

From my personal experience (4, Funny)

metushelach (985526) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809385)

If anything, Day Traders are the closest thing you can find to prostitutes.

Only difference is that prostitutes usually dress up nicer and generally have a better taste in men.

Re:From my personal experience (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809825)

I'd rather compare them to gambling addicts. They'd die or kill, whatever necessary, for an inside tip.

Bonobo prostitution (5, Interesting)

dargaud (518470) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809397)

I remember watching this video about the sexual life of Bonobo apes (cousins of chimpanzee with a social life very similar to humans in many respects, in particular sex). One funny part was a young male coming to a female resting on a branch with a banana. The males makes it very clear what he wants in exchange, they do the deed and the the female eats the banana after he leaves. The funny part is that in the commentary they explain that this specific female never goes looking for food...

Re:Bonobo prostitution - maybe not (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809561)

On the contrary it sounds like the female has herself a sex slave. ;)

Re:Bonobo prostitution - maybe not (1)

mgblst (80109) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810087)

On the contrary it sounds like the female has herself a sex slave. ;)
 
How is this contrary, as opposed to the exactly what the poster was saying? Perhaps you should head back to the trees yourself.

Or it was his girlfriend (2)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810147)

Sounds to me like the poor guy was bringing his girlfriend gifts and/or taking her out to lunch to get any action. If the bonobos were any more evolved, they'd probably have also seen him taking her to a movie ;)

Re:Bonobo prostitution (4, Funny)

PateraSilk (668445) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810521)

An even funnier clip I saw had the male bonobo minding his own business, eating a bunch of bananas. A female comes over to him, rolls over and spreads her legs. You could clearly see the male thinking, "Uh, okay, sure!" He drops the bananas, is all ready to get it on, and the female gets up and steals the bananas. The male is left with no bananas and a raging hard-on.

Re:Bonobo prostitution (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810701)

Apparently even the monkeys are learning from Paris Hilton.

Re:Bonobo prostitution (5, Funny)

pohl (872) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811095)

...then he went back to his buddies and said "I slipped her the banana, heh heh heh..."

Washers as money? (5, Funny)

yada21 (1042762) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809511)

How can they use washers as money? I assume they're the normal kind made of base metal (not silver or gold) so anybody could mine some more zinc or steel and make more of them. Where's the intrinsic value? It's just another fiat currency like dollars except in this case the 'the man' is the zookeeper.

Re:Washers as money? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810085)

I assume they're the normal kind made of base metal (not silver or gold) so anybody could mine some more zinc or steel
1) Right, because we can't mine or silver or gold anymore, we just have to use what we already have.

2) I think you'll find a lot more silver and gold coming out of mines than steel.

Good book, big ego (1, Flamebait)

kenlars99 (795903) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809537)

I enjoyed the first freakanomics, but they guy does seem to have a big head... each chapter starts with some quote by somebody else about how great the author is.

A few things that were informative were also spun as revolutionary, such as the idea that a real estate agent or other agent in a transaction does not have the same incentives as the person they represent...

Re:Good book, big ego (2, Insightful)

Catchwa (1017396) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809733)

I enjoyed the first freakanomics, but they guy does seem to have a big head... each chapter starts with some quote by somebody else about how great the author is.

it does? In my "Revised and Expanded Edition" there's nothing of the sort.

Also, their blog [freakonomics.com] (which was linked in TFA, but who reads TFA) is well worth a read if you enjoyed the book (or even if you haven't read it).

Re:Good book, big ego (1)

kenlars99 (795903) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809753)

Well if someone had asked me to revise the book, that would be the first thing I would have removed, so I'm not surprised...

What makes monkeys so special? (3, Funny)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809555)

The only reason you don't see amoebas doing the same thing is because they don't have opposable thumbs.

They don't have any thumbs to speak of! (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809607)

And their cookings skills are none too developed either.

Re:They don't have any thumbs to speak of! (1)

zotz (3951) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810409)

What? Monkeys or amoebas?

And let's not even mention those spyrogyrators shall we?

all the best,

drew

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=zotzbro [youtube.com]
If you dare...

Re:They don't have any thumbs to speak of! (1)

PateraSilk (668445) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810545)

And because of this, they can't get the nuts on the bolts, so they have no use for washers.

pseudo-opposable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18811247)

But they're pseudo-opposable...

What amused me.. (0)

Brickwall (985910) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809717)

.. is that Dubner reportedly drew twice the audience of Microsoft's CEO.

Re:What amused me.. (2, Funny)

cntlzed (618525) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809745)

That is because there were twice as many chairs for this guy.

Re:What amused me.. (2, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809837)

Be honest: Given the choice of hearing a guy speak about the new features of Vista and one speaking of monkey prostitutes and how they do it for bottle caps, which one would you pick?

Also, bear the probable audience in mind...

I've read the book... (4, Funny)

rinkjustice (24156) | more than 7 years ago | (#18809891)

and I've taken economics in college, but the kinda freakonomics people should hear more about (and do something about) is how the top 1% of the American population controls 95% of the wealth. Between 1979 and 1997, income for the middle class rose 9%m while income for the top 1% rose 140%! Now that's freaky [nader.org] !

Re:I've read the book... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810131)

1% of obsessive compulsive people happen to be wealth oriented, and that's the only thing that makes them happy - more, more, more....

Re:I've read the book... (2, Insightful)

Notquitecajun (1073646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810347)

Odd how we haven't had any sort of economic collapse, isn't it? So the people who know how to make money just make more. Wow. What a concept.

Re:I've read the book... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810853)

Oh noes! You left out how the top 20% of wage earners pay 80% of the taxes, and how the top 50% pay 96.03% of the taxes.

Also notice how well the middle class has been doing all the years...after all, that's who the top 1% are paying their money to.

In other words, no shit. Every citizen can't have a multimillion-doller corporation, be a CEO, etc.

Would you rather us all be equally broke and unhappy, or just the ones who choose to be that way?

Re:I've read the book... (2, Insightful)

fruey (563914) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810915)

You say "the top 1% of the American population controls 95% of the wealth"

The article you quote says "The top 1 percent owns over 38 percent of the nation's wealth"

You got confused with "The top 1 percent's financial wealth is equal to that of the bottom 95 percent" which is not the same.

Re:I've read the book... (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811211)

Your complaints are meaningless unless you propose a solution. Oh, and any solution which causes business to LEAVE the US, driving pay for the average American DOWN, is probably a stupid solution.

Put up or shut up.

Proposed solution (1, Offtopic)

rinkjustice (24156) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811393)

It's a simple two step process.

1) I would discuss the issue. there needs to be an open dialogue with a free exchange of ideas. However this cannot be done without performing step two.

2) Reform the media in the United States. Inform the general public. Give the airwaves back to the public. There are a handful of transnational media conglomerates that control the news and entertainment in the United States [corporations.org] . Discussing unfair wealth distribution is a complex issue, which will not increase their profit base, therefore it is not discussed in the media at large. Instead, temporal issues of little significance are crammed down peoples throats to keep people pacified and preoccupied (Super Bowl, White House scandals, bad TV) so they forget what the real issues are. And so they continue to consume consume consume.

Without mention and discussion of these important issues, Americans will continue to be played and controlled and kept stupid.

Washers (1)

Gen. Malaise (530798) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810425)

I could really use some washers right now. I wonder if my wife would accept them?

Re:Washers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18810945)

The Wife said if she didn't get a shiny new washer, I'd be doing clothes at the laundromat twice or three times a week. She's tracking the GPS on my cellphone so I can't senak off with the Laundry Lady--I'm doomed.

I am not a script! I am a free radical!

Monkeys... (5, Funny)

Mockylock (1087585) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810845)

Lucky little bastages. I wish I could toss my wife some washers or food for some service. He needs to do experiments to see if a metal band around a Capuchin's ring finger stops the process of copulation. The males will give the females all of the washers and food, and the females will in turn become celibate or have intercourse with different monkeys.

Sensationalism to sell books? (1)

walterbyrd (182728) | more than 7 years ago | (#18810993)

Could this guy be deliberately setting up "experiments" to get weird results? My guess is that bizare stuff will sell more books, but is it more credible than the more traditional, boring, studies?

The titles of these books sound more catchy than the typical titles of most scientific studies, I'll say that.

What do other real economists think of these studies?

Perhaps they should do a study of... (1)

propagandize (894243) | more than 7 years ago | (#18811089)

...how many times you can repurpose content and not lower its value. The monkey money thing was from their column in the New York Times Magazine (and most of the first book was just expanded from the original article in said magazine).
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