Thursday, October 3, 2013

Capitalism + Socialism = America 2.0

Anthony Bourdain wrote a nice perspective piece on gun culture in America. It made me think.

Guns may not be a part of your culture, they're not part of mine, but they're definitely part of America's culture, past present and future. They are definitely deadly weapons, but so are cars. Neither are going away anytime soon.

Guns may not be what congress is fighting over today, but different cultures are definitely clashing. Do we individually pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps or do we collectively pull each other up? Do you spend your hard earned money to help some stranger you don't even know? Are people in need fellow humans down on their luck or mooching free loaders? That's what the fight is over.

If you're the mathematical type you might even recognize both issues from game theory, the study of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers. We could jest about congressional intelligence and rationality, but lets not miss the wide ranging implications. Eight game-theorists have won the Nobel prize, including John Nash for his idea of Nash equilibrium, the idea that the optimal solution for multiple competing game players is not just to play your own strategy but to adapt your strategy to the strategies of your competitors. If you ignore everyone else's priorities and goals and strategies you will lose.

I've applied this to corporate politics already, but it also applies to national politics. Granted, there are many complexities, like Bayes-Nash equilibrium, differing belief systems, random chance, incomplete information, risk avoidance or corruption. The core concept is still intuitive enough to apply (obviously the details are non-trivial). In general tho, we can't just think of ourselves and we can't just think of the collective. We need to think about what's best for us AND our community, me AND my neighbor, the state AND the country.

Our constitution may be a great document, but it's woefully lacking in these kinds of mixed-strategy incentives. It relies primarily on checks and balances, a strategy for combating the aggregation of power, but checks and balances are mostly disincentives, not incentives to do the right thing. Our constitution is great at stopping any one person or branch of government from becoming too powerful, but it's pretty terrible at motivating optimal behavior or continual improvement. What feedback loop is there to motivate your congressional representative to think about what's best for the country? If they please their constituents they get elected again, but where's the motivation to come to the table and do what's best for the other 99%+ of the people in the country? Instead of multiple incentives and enlightened thinking we have a government run on head butting competition that enables and glorifies pure selfish greed.

"Screw you, got mine" selfishness is poison the same way utopianaltruism is. Cooperation is nothing without a little self-interest, but too much self-interest unbalances the system so that everyone loses. Romanticized Capitalism is just as flawed as utopian Socialism. It's time for a new -ism; one where we think about us AND them.