Why is anger currency?

Because it moves things along.

Currency is a form of money that is widely accepted, is current. It’s value comes from the fact that people accept it. As does anger – its value comes from the fact that the recipient accepts it.

Currency is a medium of exchange, and again, the ability to use it so gives it value. It gets you the purchase you desire. It facilitates a transaction – a change of state.

As does anger. Expressed Anger.

For some, anger is a way of doing business. Of emphasizing. Just as one would use money to take a taxi to work, some people take anger to the table. Arguments in anger are seen as more forceful and often are more convincing. Even if the force was of the anger, not of the argument.

Anger even works to convince, to influence, as currency does. Anger works to get the same results that a bribe does, it expedites a transaction. While bribes may grease the wheels, and anger power them, both change the pace at which transactions take place, catalyzing them.

Anger works like the bill one holds out to the bartender – it attracts attention, and then starts the transaction. Anger gives access and power disproportionate to the person wielding it – a purchase that enhances the value accruing to that person. It depends upon the culture, of course, and the context. But an angry customer may often get better service than another who waits patiently for redressal.

Of course, anger could be counterproductive too, and too much anger can reverse the power equation completely – In that sense, anger must always start tending to zero, and if measured against the benefits accruing from it, it will turn after an optimal point has been reached. More anger after that point not only worsens the situation and reduces the benefits accruing, but also can either create a discontinuity (the end of the transaction, a breakdown of negotiations) or worse – create negative value (where the other guy wants to punch you in the face). In that sense, anger as a currency has value only up to a point, after which it becomes negative currency, or worthless. (Some mapping due here. Scenarios.)

(Also can segue into good and bad anger- first via ranges of intensity, second via intent. The quality of anger – pure anger often illuminates in a flash, one sees through the issue in a state of heightened awareness. Poor quality anger, as diluted by fear or greed, or other lesser emotions may not deliver similar results or impact.)

The Transaction of Anger:

If anger is currency, or money, then can it be used to pay off people by transacting it? I am reminded of two incidents, both personal. Our car was stationary at a traffic light and another car came from behind and rammed into our car. The impact and damage, instantly assessed, about Rs.1000 (how did we know? It was in Delhi, thus a common occurrence). Now, in some countries the procedure in such a situation is to step out, exchange phone numbers and insurance company details. In Delhi, the procedure is step out quickly and start shouting. The person who demonstrates the most anger is the aggrieved party, and the first volleys are exchanges of anger. This series of transactions establishes the surplus or deficit that will normally be completed with a regular currency transaction. So, the currency in the first few rounds is anger – it is exchanged with practiced ease. It is given and received, accepted not just by the counter-parties but by bystanders too. It is currency.
It is possible to net off the transaction with anger matching anger. Only a difference is then cleared via ‘real’ (also nominal paper or plastic) currency.

Anger and its sister Currencies: Conversion

In the case of this accident, the other driver was clearly at fault. He could not transact with anger, thus used negative anger – or blubbering apology and offered to be punished in exchange. (The apology was not offered as exchange, though in other cultures it could have been) The currency offered in exchange for anger was punishment, and we, not versed in this, were stumped. We did not have a conversion rate. Now, we had three currencies to deal with – anger, apology and punishment.

As a teacher, I come across this all the time. Even post graduate students expect that a gap in work (or cheating in an examination or paper) which would naturally give rise to upset and anger can be compensated with a punishment or penalty. All alternate currencies that can transact with anger. When we create rule books at school, often the conversion rates are marked in that clearly. Or when the teacher sets a punishment or imposition for a class (or individual), we are converting anger to punishment. The transaction is one of conversion of one currency to another at the current going rate within the classroom, and at a fixed rate if written up in the rule book. As with all fixed rate transactions, negotiations are possible around the stated rate, and the choice of currency is part of the negotiation. Currency substitutes here include escalation, assignments, physical rounds, placation and of course the undignified but plausible monetary compensation.

The Wages of Anger:

If anger as a currency can be used to transact, if it can be substituted for other currencies, including the regular monetary one, then, can it be used at work? Can there be wages of anger? Can there be anger as a wage? An answer to this will also explore whether anger is mere currency or whether it is money too. Can it only be used in transactions or can it also be a store of value?

I wonder if the wages of such transactions are also anger. People do bring anger to work, and use that to motivate themselves and others. Many are driven by anger, others driven to it. Anger, and its substitute currencies do get exchanged for work as it does in every altercation or even heated debate, often translating into a passion for the task at hand. Some anger does travel with the person, like daily earnings in the pocket of a wage earner. Some gets spent on the way, the rest, often stored.

Anger begets anger, just as a (simple) trader would use currency to beget more. But, is the objective of anger ever to increase the amount (of anger) in the conversation? Clearly, yes. Because the person with more anger often wins. As does the one with more money or more currency. Or to refine it a bit , it is always advantageous to increase the reserve of anger available. To accrete anger to make it available as a source of current power is clearly a desired objective. In that sense, the reserve of anger does represent a store of value that increases the negotiating power at a table where anger has been accepted as currency.

Time Value of Anger

Anger stored up, often feeds on itself and begets more. Like money that accumulates and earns interest. Merely due to time value, in this case. Anger, like money changes over time. It can gain or lose value depending upon the context and the scaffolding factors. Anger can increase, so anger tomorrow is greater than anger today. Given a choice between expressing anger today and expressing anger tomorrow, a rational human being will want to express it today – and get results from that. To hold the anger to another day will need the anger to grow – for 2 reasons. First, It is the nature of anger to dissipate with time too, unless the provocation is maintained. So the growth has to be more than the systemic dissipation for it to remain at the same level. Second, the rational person needs a reason to hold back today’s anger, and will do so only if promised more currency for his anger tomorrow. Anger tomorrow thus needs to have greater exchange value than anger today.

This is a part of the process formal and informal armies, election campaigns, even marketing campaigns need to manage. Anger (or its conversion to passion) is what is traded in these battles. Anger needs to peak at the right time for it to be traded for maximum impact – and therefore needs to be stored, fostered, festered and enhanced for its value to increase in a managed fashion. Like money (or any rapidly tradable asset), anger can be managed for maximizing its currency and value.

Anger as a Store of Value, Functional Anger, and the Stocks or Flows

If anger can be fostered and built up,and if anger has intrinsic value then it could well be a store of value. Whether it has intrinsic value is debatable – so far we have seen that it is useful only to transact. A rational human being does not store anger for its own sake. By itself it has no value. But a stock of anger, a reserve of anger may have value, because of what it can achieve.

Anger, therefore can be both a stock and a flow variable, though more commonly the latter. The flow of anger, for transactions is clearly established, as are the instances of exchange. The stock of anger too is a valid construct, more valuable in the collective than in the individual. For an individual, again, beyond a certain level of stock, the anger is destructive and then dangerous. In small quantities, the stock may aid the purpose of the individual without harming others or society. So, a small or ‘reasonable’ stock of anger may be functional anger. Too little or too much would be dysfunctional.

For some people, anger flows, and can not be stopped. Either they express it and it is used up, or it dissipates. A bit like the issues with storing and trading electricity as an asset – one may have limited stocks, but it is virtually impossible to create large stocks for the future (so far). On the other hand, other people are capable of storing anger for years. Pent up anger can gain value, as said before, if fostered, and stoked. (Is there a cost to such stoking, is that also paid or received in the same currency – anger?). Pent up anger can also dissipate, organically or often the case for the anger disappears due to external factors. Maintaining a steady state stock of anger, at a controlled level requires investment.

While anger held back does gain value, it is also possible that the stock of anger has lost value in other ways. People who are rarely angry sometimes find that their occasional anger gets them a lot of attention and supernormal returns to such anger. At the other end of the spectrum are those that have not used their anger for years, and while they hold a stock, they are unskilled in the use of anger any more. They may express or transact anger, but will suffer sub normal returns to this anger. Those who inhabit the middle of this spectrum, are, under normal circumstances likely to report diminishing returns to anger expressed (If this was an academic paper, this would merely be a hypothesis, easily proved or otherwise with a literature survey and a few years of research). Abnormal circumstances, such as a hostage situation may report the reverse.

Functional anger: Of expression and control of anger:

Functional anger is useful anger that maximizes its transaction value. Uncontrolled expression of anger is rarely optimally functional, often using up more anger than is required for the desired result. It may also tip over the curve and either destroy the transaction, or tip it over the edge where self interest is damaged. Uncontrolled anger is ultimately dysfunctional. It can be uncontrolled and functional only in one exceptional circumstance – where the objective is destructive – to annihilate. Even so, it needs a measure, to decide whether and when it is off the charts. Uncontrolled anger is the natural state of anger, and needs measurement and calibration to identify controlled anger – which is when it becomes effective currency that can achieve its fair valuation.

The measure of anger is often by the display of such anger. The louder the decibels, the more the force exerted and thus, the greater the expected impact of this anger. Decibels (for want of a better metric now) are what anger units can be measured in.. the more the decibels, the greater the expenditure of anger. In this framework, it is not easy to measure the stock of anger, nor the state of that stock. Not yet anyway (Will think of a way soon).

Perhaps it is time to tell an ancient story about anger.

In a town that was not too large, just more than a village, but prosperous, lived a large snake. It was feared, for its bite was deadly, and its appetite voluminous. The snake was angry, it needed to take revenge on mankind. Every few days it would bite a human being, and the town would be up in arms. They send snake catchers and witch doctors but could not catch the wily snake. One day, a holy man came to the town, and upon hearing the townspeople’s plight, went to talk to the snake. He managed to reason with it and the snake’s anger was calmed. From then on, there were no snakebites in that town. A few months later, the holy man passed by the town again. He went to meet his brave and beautiful new friend, the snake. The snake was in a piteous state. Weak, beaten, depressed. The holy man asked what happened. The snake explained, “Ever since you asked me to give up my anger, I have been treated thus – beaten mercilessly.” The holy man was shocked, silent for a moment, and then said, “I asked you to give up on your anger, not your display of anger!”

The decibels at which anger is expressed is the market valuation of such anger, much as cash flows are for a business. It is what is used for influence, both for individuals and society. Decision by decibel is often the norm in many places..unless public anger, as measured by the collective decibels they score, there is little chance of their being heard or influencing change. Examples abound: The Steubenville rape case, the Delhi rape case, the Anna Hazare anti corruption movement that ultimately spawned another political party. Even cognizance of the problem requires a show of anger, of decibels. Once the currency of anger is gathered and deployed, it can purchase attention and a place at the table to seek change.

The Measure of Anger:

If Decibels are the way expressed anger is measured, we will need a way to measure the amount of anger that exists in a society, and to see how it changes over time. A Pent might be a good measure, of which a decibel is expressed – thus transacted. Figuring out the pent up anger in a society would be a challenging exercise, but clearly not merely academic. It is a tool to try to identify the chances of riots in a town, or a localized (terrorist) attack, or more generally, unrest in the nation – as feared by many nations with a large proportion of youth, few skills and fewer jobs.

The Unanswered Questions:

Decibels, how they change, what influences them – both as individuals and as society; what is the optimum deployment of decibels in a particular situation and how do decibels get eroded or enhanced are interesting questions that follow. As do the questions of entropy and negative entropy in anger. Anger is a brief madness, says the poet Horace. And yet, we see a very rational basis for expressing anger, transacting it and managing its stock and flow. It is renewable, so a sustainable source of passion, energy and motivation. It can, certainly turn dysfunctional, and this madness in a way.

Anger, as currency, tends to circulate too. The more it circulates, the more it grows – anger has a high and rapid multiplier. The stock of anger too is stoked via this circulation. Pent turns to decibel (need a better term), as the multiplier acts on it. When there is too much pent up anger, that cannot be controlled or transacted wisely, there is an imbalance (an avalanche awaits?). This disequilibrium of anger is clearly disruptive and destructive. The tools available here are managing the pent, managing the multiplier or managing the decibels.

Other interesting questions remain – Having established that there is a time value of anger, and that it is an element that can be transacted, it means that there is a valuation possible across time. Is it possible to extend this further and understand the present value of such anger. Of what use would the NPV of anger be? What would it be discounted at – a little more complex here, since there is the normative play of right and wrong substituting for reward and risk, while the principle of returns to anger remains the solid centerpiece of this argument. The philosophers had discussed this and more – to quote Marcus Aurelius : ‘How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it’ implying the quest for increasing returns on anger, not just the diminishing returns on anger hypothesized earlier.

While anger economics may be the dark side of happiness economics, it is a clear and distinct force in economic and sociological transactions, with many fascinating questions that seek explorers.


Anger is fascinating. A stronger force than happiness. It occurs by spontaneous combustion, seems to endlessly renew itself, self regulates when within reason, triggers off other angers, and explodes – just to settle down again, leaving just enough embers to rekindle and rise again. As a resource, it is the perfect sustainable. To study the behavior of anger, its harnessing and its destiny would be a joy.

The Author

(c) Meeta W Sengupta. She is a writer. Sometimes she thinks before she writes, often it just tumbles out of her. More about her at meetawsengupta.wordpress.com/about though it may be better to try to talk to her at meetasengupta at gmail dot com. She never makes promises she cannot keep and her best skill is being looked after.

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