Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Those Who Defend the Rules

The vast majority of human activities can be understood as games. Games have rules and they have fields of play (game boards, etc.). This is why game theory is useful in understanding social interactions, including economics. Still, much work needs to be done on how actual rules result in actual actions in actual social situations, including how different combinations of rules give rise to different outcomes.

Different rules give rise to different games. Chess and checkers are both played on the same board, meaning there is a degree of rule similarity between the two games. However, different pieces and different rules create considerably different games, with chess being an unsolvable game, while checkers has already been solved. It is possible to change the rules of chess to make is solvable, but that would simplify the game and make it a less interesting game.

I have made the argument that chess is a "better" game than checkers precisely because the former is more complex and unsolvable. Yet, I have had checkers players insist checkers is better. Of course, in a certain sense chess is hardly better than checkers, since we are really comparing two different games with different rules. Both are good games, as demonstrated by the popularity of each.

The insistence of checkers players who don't know how to play chess that checkers is a better game points to a fact about human nature. People who have mastered a game will defend that game. They will defend that game against any kind of rule change that might "improve" the game.

Given this fact, we should never expect politicians to favor political reforms that affect how they play the game -- unless they think the rule changes will benefit themselves, of course. Currently elected politicians are good at playing the game as it stands -- they have proven themselves effective at getting elected and at getting things done. Along these lines, we shouldn't expect those who run large businesses to favor rules changes that much affect how their game is played. They will favor whatever game keeps them playing, and they will favor rule changes that improve the game for them.

We can take this to pretty much any social game. Take our universities. Those who are successful at playing the game of getting tenured or tenure-track positions will defend the system they have proven to be successful at playing. I have actually seen people who challenge the economic and political rules because of the injustices created by those rules turn around and defend equally unjust university rules. Their insights into human nature and the problems with institutions when it comes to political economy suddenly dissolve when making the same analysis for the university system in which they have been successful.

One can only conclude that they are defending the system in which they have succeeded because that is simply what all people who play a particular game tend to do. We defend the rules of whatever game at which we find ourselves successful. We cannot expect reform to come from such people. Reforms must always come from outside.
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