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December 19, 2016

Comments

Luis Enrique

I was went to a seminar by a game theorist who said that the predictions of game theory sometimes take a very long time to emerge. His example was whether employers and unions hire lawyers. At first none did, then some started to, then a few decades later everyone did.

I wonder if we aren't seeing something that could be called institutional decay, or perhaps the gradual emergence of a game theoretic equilibrium where once some demonstrate that disregard for truth or public services is a winning strategy, eventually all players converge on the same behaviour? I just read a book review about how the analytical arm of the CIA has descended into doing nothing but providing daily intelligence briefings for the White House and doing no long-term work, which you could also see as an organization that over time has converged on a successful yet sub-optimal equilibrium, because that's what got the players the best reward if others were playing that strategy. if you see what I mean.

Doug

It ill behoves people like Freedland to hand wring about the state of things when he and his ilk are partly responsible for the level of public discourse. The hysterical response by most of the media to Corbyn and accompanying lies and half truths, are a recent example.

Likewise, 'respectable' politicians like Nick Clegg, whose bare-faced lying and contempt for the voters is what has contributed to a general air of cynicism about many aspects of life.

Jim

Was Cameron lying then when he said 'I will stay on as Prime Minister after the referendum'? Was Osborne lying when he said that there would be an immediate emergency budget post a Leave vote, with tax rises and spending cuts? What about when the Remain camp told about how if the country voted to Leave the sky would fall and the rivers would run red with blood (I exaggerate, but not by much)?

Luke

As Luis says, "...the predictions of game theory sometimes take a very long time to emerge."

I reckon that happens in sports quite a lot. Players get more and more brazen about a tactic that would once have been frowned on. Sometimes there's a rule change that works pretty well, like no back pass/injury time to stop time wasting in football. But sometimes there isn't an easy fix to unsportsmanlike tactics (slow over rates in cricket?).

I'm not sure there's an obvious quick fix or rule change for lying in politics now people have seen you can get away with it.

Ralph Musgrave

Are Trump's appointments worse than previous administrations? Dean Baker said (long before Trump stood for office), "In elite Washington circles, ignorance is a credential".

Dipper

Doug and Jim are right. If you find yourself agreeing with Freedland you need to do some careful retracing of your line of argument because you have, for sure, ended up in the wrong place.

We haven't drifted into a world in which no-one can be trusted. Most of us have always lived in that world. It is just Freedland and others of a similar intellectual viewpoint didn't realise the fraud that was being committed on them. They were being told what they wanted to hear, so they believed it. The scale of the fraud became evident during the "renegotiation" when cards were finally laid on the table and the real nature of the EU became evident.

Oh, and that lie about the 350 million a week benefit on leaving the NHS, about 18 Billion a year? Well here comes the EU telling us our outstanding commitments amount to 50 Billion, which amounts to 3 years of the NHS benefit. Doesn't look such a whopper now, does it?

Dipper

Doug and Jim are right. If you find yourself agreeing with Freedland you need to do some careful retracing of your line of argument because you have, for sure, ended up in the wrong place.

We haven't drifted into a world in which no-one can be trusted. Most of us have always lived in that world. It is just Freedland and others of a similar intellectual viewpoint didn't realise the fraud that was being committed on them. They were being told what they wanted to hear, so they believed it. The scale of the fraud became evident during the "renegotiation" when cards were finally laid on the table and the real nature of the EU became evident.

Oh, and that lie about the 350 million a week benefit on leaving the NHS, about 18 Billion a year? Well here comes the EU telling us our outstanding commitments amount to 50 Billion, which amounts to 3 years of the NHS benefit. Doesn't look such a whopper now, does it?

From Arse To Elbow

Guys, it's time for some game theory. Actually, no, it isn't. It's time for some history.

The concept of public service is little more 150 years old in the UK, dating from the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms. This marks the point at which disinterest supersedes the interest of "old corruption". The subsequent growth of municipalism and the welfare state shifted the focus of stewardship from protecting Crown assets against private actors to protecting the people and public goods. What has happened over the last 40 years is the revanche of private interests at the expense of the public, both through the asset-stripping and rent-extraction of public goods and the use of state power to create new markets under private control.

Much of the "new corruption", such as nepotism and ministers lobbying on behalf of favoured businesses, is simply a revival of old forms. There hasn't been a change in human nature, let alone a moral decline. In this sense, claims about "narcissism", "tribalism" and "partisanship" are unhelpful as they carry an obvious ideological bias, not to mention the whiff of contempt. What matters is politically-motivated changes to structures, not social decadence.

Institutional decay, as Luis puts it, is real, and it is abundantly clear that this is being driven by the encroachment of markets and market-based thinking, which includes irrelevant appeals to game theory. If you elevate markets as a panacea, then you accept a logic in which truth is without intrinsic value and facts are just another commodity. After all, the customer is always right, even when she is wrong.

Jim

The Left are just getting some of their own medicine really. They are the side of the political divide that invented the concepts of 'The ends justifies the means' and 'relative truth' and have been prepared to lie in furtherance of their political objectives for decades. All thats happened is that their political opponents have finally cottoned on and are feeding it back at them, and they don't like it.

And Leave had one 'lie' the £350m one, which was a quantitative lie, not an absolute one. Thats pretty much it. Everything else was anti-immigration, nationalism, jingoism etc ('take back control' etc) which while you may find it distasteful, is not a lie.

Whereas the Remain campaign was riddled with lies from start to finish - immediate economic recession anyone? £4300 cost per household? All the foreign companies would leave? Unemployment would rise? 3m jobs lost? France would move the border to Dover? We'd be back of the queue for a US trade deal?

From Arse To Elbow

@Jim,

The concept of "the end justifies the means" is widely attributed to Machiavelli, though variations on the theme go back to classical antiquity. It isn't an invention of the left.

In contrast, the concept of "the [one] big lie" definitely originates on the right, specifically with Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.

You're being generous in saying that the Leave campaign's other claims were not lies. For example, that control would be returned to parliament, that we wouldn't need to rely on EU trade, that turning away Polish plumbers would allow us to bring in more Bangladeshi curry chefs etc.

Keith

Things have got worse as a result of market fundamentalism destroying the carefully built ethic of public service I am sure. But I am equally sure that all politicians believe to some degree that the ends justify the means and being economical with the actualite is justified when they do it. Politicians are interested in power which attracts certain personality types and they all think they are right and a few lies are ok if they do it as they are the "good guys".

Thatcher you seem to forget planned the miners lock out well in advance and like her Cabinet of union busters misled the public to do so and sent her Cabinet secretary to perjure himself to get an injunction from the Australian high court over spycatcher. Blair had his forty five minutes to armageddon dodgy dossier full of fabrications for war. Harold wilson was going to ban the bomb in 1963 but had already changed his mind and never did! But avoided telling the hippies until he won in 1964. He also believed in socialist planning until he decided the fixed pound was more important and was anti EU until he wasn't any more.

There are rules that are essential for civilisation and no doubt if they were broken often enough society would break down. Usually politicians hold back enough to avoid destroying society; but as Shakespeare showed in Macbeth things can easily go too far. But may be it is only luck which prevents disaster...not a happy thought.

Luis Enrique

Fate game theory is a way of thinking about self interested behaviour interacting and leading to bad outcomes in non market organisations. It might not appeal to you but it's not irrelevant nor is it market based thinking.

Blissex

«gradual emergence of a game theoretic equilibrium»

Some time ago I came up with an insight about that: that the "social purpose" (or memetic evolutionary advantage) of religious faith is to make easier exits from local maxima, that is from suboptimal game theoretic equilibria (consider the application to Nash equilibria like the "prisoners' dilemma"), that is it "raises the temperature" in real life "simulated annealing".

This is a vast generalization of the narrow point made by Weber about bankers and calvinism, the protestant ethic and capitalist "social trust".

Blissex

As to the general thesis of this blog post I feel in extended agreement with this previous comment:

«Much of the "new corruption", such as nepotism and ministers lobbying on behalf of favoured businesses, is simply a revival of old forms.»

Even A de Toqueville in the 1830s gives examples of the extraordinary mendacity and viciousness of USA politics. It is an old tradition, as american as apple pie and financial fraud.

Blissex

«If you elevate markets as a panacea, then you accept a logic in which truth is without intrinsic value and facts are just another commodity. After all, the customer is always right, even when she is wrong.»

This may be an oblique reference to G Trudeau's "Doonesbury" cartoon, where a recurring gag is the call centre of "MyFacts Inc.", introduced here:

http://doonesbury.washingtonpost.com/strip/archive/2013/02/25

and a recent panel:

http://doonesbury.washingtonpost.com/strip/archive/2016/10/02

Blissex


More seriously, I am a bit tired of talk of "experts" and "facts": several important known scientific "facts" discovered by "experts" have been shown to be unreliable in recent years, and in general people are well familiar with the idea that famous, obviously competent "experts" can come to opposite conclusions on the same "facts" (as for example in "expert witnesses" for the parties in court routinely do).

So we are left more realistically with persuasiveness.

A post-WW2 philosopher, Chaim Perelman, addressed it extensively in his books on "argumentation", and his reasoning should be more widely known, and my summary is: in western culture the cartesian focus on true deductions from obvious truths has left out all "gray" arguments, leaving them as arbitrary to be settled by to pure claims and counterclaims; therefore what is needed is to re-introduce an intermediate category between cartesian rationality and pure irrationality, and that should be of well formed arguments that are persuasive, and to define "well formed" and "persuasive" in ways that allow for a mostly-reliable weighting of "gray" arguments. Subjectivity is allowed, but constrained and moderated.

Why I pointed out "post-WW2"? Because it should be pretty obvious why he wanted to rediscover argumentation as a discipline, not mere propaganda appeal to irrationality.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/98694.The_New_Rhetoric

Blissex

«an intermediate category between cartesian rationality and pure irrationality, and that should be of well formed arguments that are persuasive,»

That is particularly important also because I reckon that most useful matters are not matters of truth, but of judgement.

Dipper

Years ago i came across something called Social Theory in an article by Matthew Taylor. It is nice and simple and seems to explain quite a lot such as the observations above.

You can fit people into a few categories; Individualists, who believe success is about individuals achieving things by themselves (think Yorkshiremen); hierarchists, who think if you get the social structure right then good things will follow, and egalitarians who think what is important is everyone is equal.

Many Remainders are hierarchists who felt the EU provided the right social and political structure for progress. The mistake many hierarchists make is that they think everyone else is a hierarchist, so they thought the EU politicians at the heart of the EU project were also hierarchists. However the thing that makes many individualists successful is their ability to portray themselves as hierarchists to con the hierarchists into being their allies, and that is what happened in the EU. It was only when push came to shove in the renegotiation that hierarchists found the true nature of the people they had been dealing with.

I think the same thing happened with banking pre-banking crisis. The Blair/Brown governments were hierarchists. The bankers were all individualists, but they played along to give themselves the cover to stuff their pockets. When the crisis hit, it was found the bankers had been lying about their values and their profits to hide the fact they were quietly looting the system. And i say that as a banker.

So the message is the same as my previous post. Beware people who play back to you the exact things you want to hear. You may not be the smart one in that relationship.

a random eman

'So the message is the same as my previous post. Beware people who play back to you the exact things you want to hear. You may not be the smart one in that relationship.'

The problem is that it is very difficult to hear the other side of the story. The other side of the story is often more challenging, less favourable, and closer to the truth.

Consider people who bought Trump's claim that he would do away with Obamacare. They thought he meant he would do away with Obamacare and replace it with something cheaper. What he actually meant was that he would do away with Obamacare. This was less an issue of Trump lying, but rather the people lying to themselves.

From Arse To Elbow

@Luis, I know what game theory is, and happily accept its usefulness in appropriate circumstances. I was referring to its vulgarisation, particularly the way in which it is wheeled out to provide supposed insights into "interests", notably in the fields of international relations, commercial negotiation and public choice (which is where it intersects with market thinking).

This vulgarisation has recently led to a parodic meme: "Guys, it's time for some game theory".

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