Sunday, July 26, 2009


Since it looks like normal blogging isn't quite back yet, I'd like point out that I disagree mildly with Matt and Booman. The key feature of the "prisoner's dilemma" is not, contra Matt, that they may not communicate. Afterall, the prisoners were free to communicate before their apprehension, and have a plan for how to act if they are caught. The key feature is that as the pleas are offered, for either prisoner to remain silent is a strictly dominated strategy. That is, regardless of the actions of the other prisoner, it is always a preferrable strategy for each prisoner to rat out the other.

The only way to defeat a prisoner's dilemma is not through communication, but through changing the payoffs. The prisoners will not rat if they know doing so will get them shived in prison, or that remaining quiet and doing time will get them taken care of when they get out.

Obviously the political calculus for congresscritters is complicated, but there is an important lesson from here for activists. If congresspeople think that regardless of the success of the healthcare bill, they will be better off having voted against it, then they will. We need to convince them that they are wrong, and that they will either suffer if it fails or benefit if it succeeds. That means working the phones, writing letters to local papers, and doing whatever other individually meager but collectively powerful grassroots organizing we can.