Economics Professor Publishes Paper on Money & Moral Psychology

“Money’s Mutation of the Modern Moral Mind: The Simmel Hypothesis and the Cultural Evolution of WEIRDness” compares monetary exchange to other ways of organizing the division of labor, such as kin networks or religion, and shows how the availability of money changes our relationship to these other institutions – but in the opposite way from what you might think.

It was published in the Journal of Evolutionary Economics.


A great number of theories have been offered as to the root of the difference between modern and premodern mentalities. One neglected account comes from Georg Simmel’s The Philosophy of Money, which argues that the rise of the mass money economy in the early modern era encouraged calculative modes of thought, and took over the coordinating functions of a number of previously important institutions such as kin and religious networks, thus “freeing” the latter to evolve without strong material feedback. This paper considers monetary exchange and kin/religious networks as alternative strategies for coordinating the division of labor, and shows how the widespread availability of the former can alter the cultural-evolutionary constraints on the latter. This dynamic explains a number of salient differences between modern and premodern moral life such as money’s profaning character, as well as the sociological significance of modern moral phenomena like individualism, rationalism, and fundamentalism.

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Posted: November 08, 2023