Moniac computer


The MONIAC (Monetary National Income Analogue Computer) also known as the Phillips Hydraulic Computer and the Financephalograph, was created in 1949 by the New Zealand economist Bill Phillips (William Phillips) to model the national economic processes of the United Kingdom, while Phillips was a student at the London School of Economics (LSE). The MONIAC was an analogue computer which used fluidic logic to model the workings of an economy. The MONIAC name may have been suggested by an association of money and ENIAC, an early electronic digital computer.

Design and uses:-

The MONIAC was approximately 2 m high, 1.2 m wide and almost 1 m deep, and consisted of a series of transparent plastic tanks and pipes which were fastened to a wooden board. Each tank represented some aspect of the UK national economy and the flow of money around the economy was illustrated by coloured water. At the top of the board was a large tank called the treasury. Water (representing money) flowed from the treasury to other tanks representing the various ways in which a country could spend its money. For example, there were tanks for health and education. To increase spending on health care a tap could be opened to drain water from the treasury to the tank which represented health spending. Water then ran further down the model to other tanks, representing other interactions in the economy. Water could be pumped back to the treasury from some of the tanks to represent taxation. Changes in tax rates were modeled by increasing or decreasing pumping speeds.

Savings reduce the funds available to consumers and investment income increases those funds. The MONIAC showed it by draining water (savings) from the expenditure stream and by injecting water (investment income) into that stream. When the savings flow exceeds the investment flow, the level of water in the savings and investment tank (the surplus-balances tank) would rise to reflect the accumulated balance. When the investment flow exceeds the savings flow for any length of time, the surplus-balances tank would run dry. Import and export were represented by water draining from the model and by additional water being poured into the model.

The actual flow of the water was automatically controlled through a series of floats, counterweights, electrodes, and cords. When the level of water reached a certain level in a tank, pumps and drains would be activated. To their surprise, Phillips and his associate Walter Newlyn found that MONIAC could be calibrated to an accuracy of 2%.

The flow of water between the tanks was determined by economic principles and the settings for various parameters. Different economic parameters, such as tax rates and investment rates, could be entered by setting the valves which controlled the flow of water about the computer. Users could experiment with different settings and note the effect on the model. The MONIAC’s ability to model the subtle interaction of a number of variables made it a powerful tool for its time. When a set of parameters resulted in a viable economy the model would stabilise and the results could be read from scales. The output from the computer could also be sent to a rudimentary plotter.

MONIAC had been designed to be used as a teaching aid but was discovered also to be an effective economic simulator. At the time that MONIAC was created, electronic digital computers that could run complex economic simulations were unavailable. In 1949, the few computers in existence were restricted to government and military use. Neither did they have adequate visual display facilities, so were unable to illustrate the operation of complex models. Observing the MONIAC in operation made it much easier for students to understand the interrelated processes of a national economy. The range of organisations that acquired a MONIAC showed that it was used in both capacities.

Phillips scrounged a variety of materials to create his prototype computer, including bits and pieces from war surplus such as parts from old Lancaster bombers. The first MONIAC was created in his landlady’s garage in Croydon at a cost of £400 (equivalent to £14,000 in 2019).

Phillips first demonstrated the MONIAC to a number of leading economists at the LSE in 1949. It was very well received and Phillips was soon offered a teaching position at the LSE.


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