Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004


The Draft is Coming, Game Theory, and the End of Democracy (really)

Hmmm. I see that the draft meme is finally breaking into the mainstream blogosphere. I posted about it a few days back and linked to this article. If GWB is reelected, I think the draft is virtually a certainty, because it's in everyone's best interest to reinstate it - the army, GWB, the Senate, etc.

Oh, and yeah - it's generally not in the best interest of those who get killed, unless the war is a just war, or a war for survival.

Let's model this as a simple game. The problem is that, in a democracy, fanatics are always and everywhere willing to dedicate more time and effort to voting their party in. That's because, well, the definintion of fanaticism is thinking that there is no opportunity cost to what you do; that is, everything else pales in comparison to your party, cause, whatever. It's the most important thing - in extreme cases, like apocalyptic fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, nothing else even registers.

So what this means is that the average (nonfanatic) voter is at a relative disadvantage in terms of even playing the game. That's because their opportunity cost is much higher - they have other things they think are important, like paying bills, going out to to the opera, making friends, having consensual homosexual intercourse, and shooting up heroin. So they face a relative problem of commitment: fanatics are always and everywhere willing to commit more than they are. Alternatively, you could say the payoffs in this game are higher for fanatics than they are for the average person.

If this is a multiplayer game, the really important bit is coordination. But coordination takes (a lot) of time, effort, and usually, money - there are significant costs to coordination. Now, for fanatics, as we've noted, opportunity costs are really low - so the opportunity cost of coordination is similarly low. But for the average person, the opportunity cost of coordination is really high - they've got lives to live. That means, in an extreme case, coordination failure: average people will fail to coordinate among themselves and influence the outcome of the 'democratic' process. But fanatics, because they're at a relative advantage, won't - at the very least, they'll always coordinate themselves better than average people.

And that, boys and girls, means a massive market failure in democracy itself, when the population of a country tips and enough of the population becomes fanatics. That's the key variable to the whole game - without it, the coordination failure among average people doesn't matter, because aggregate payoffs equalize across the two groups. If it's not obvious, note that this number need not be a simple majority of the population - it can be far less.

Is this what we're seeing in the States today? You decide. One thing's for sure - medicating mentally ill people just so you can kill them is pretty consistent with the above definition of fanaticism. In fact, it's a great real-world example of the simple game outlined above

-- umair // 4:03 PM // 0 comments


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