13 March 2007

"All our problems stem from game theory!"

Milhouse: "The Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people ...
... under the supervision of the reverse vampires ...
[… and with the cooperation of the writers of Yes, Minister …]
... are FORCING our parents to go to bed early in a fiendish plot to eliminate the meal of dinner!"
(The Simpsons, Episode 113 — with a small addition)
Thanks to Jeremy for drawing the BBC's The Trap to my attention. More comments will follow, when I've finished watching it. (Link to an online copy can be found in one of the comments to this Samizdata post.) Off-the-cuff reaction: anti-intellectual nonsense.

One thing which writer/producer Adam Curtis has definitely got topsy-turvy is the attitude of the intellectual establishment to the Prisoner's Dilemma. As I said in a comment on Samizdata:

The Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) model has been used in the social sciences primarily to 'prove' the opposite point from the one Curtis is associating it with. Pro-intervention economists (i.e. the majority of British economists, in my experience) love PD because it's supposed to illustrate a type of market failure. I.e. because the two prisoners can't cooperate to generate the best possible outcome for their mini-society of two, the government has an excuse to intervene in analogous cases.

From my cynical point of view, this love of PD explains a good part of the popularity of game theory in economics, with all the negative fallout (in terms of gobbledygook-ing economic theory) which that has had.