Chinese New Year celebrations start today, and 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.
Various studies have shown over the past few years that monkeys can be taught all sorts of things: sign language, rudimentary speech, etc. One study showed that they are not so far behind us when it comes to understanding the functions of money. Monkeys can use it the way we do, by exchanging it for goods and services they want. They can even work out that when the price of something drops, they can (and do) buy more of it.
In this 2005 experiment with capuchin monkeys: “the capuchins adhered to the rules of utility maximisation and price theory: when the price of something falls, people tend to buy more of it.”
They also demonstrated loss aversion behaviour, choosing options where there was a potential gain over a potential loss in gambling simulations, just like most humans, making them: “statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.”
They even learned how to exchange money for sex.
This might lead you to think that monkeys have mercenary tendencies. Far from it. A range of studies have also shown that they exhibit altruism. According to this Guardian piece: “Forms of altruism are hardwired into all creatures who live in social groups, in the same way that deep evolutionary instincts drive parents to quite extreme behaviour to ensure the survival of their offspring.”
For some animals, altruism is not just a mechanism to ensure survival of the group, however. “Some animals such as dolphins, elephants and in particular the primate family, are capable of forming social bonds to a far stronger extent and actually make conscious decisions to help members of their group with whom they feel a greater affinity. This is believed to be through an increased ability to feel emotion.”
So it is not impossible to imagine monkeys who had been taught how to use money eventually using it for the benefit of their community, the way humans give to charity, or choose an ethical ISA over a mainstream one.