Friday, November 27, 2009

The GOP, Third Parties, and The Prisoner's Dilemma

The Prisoner's Dilemma is one of the great exercises in game theory. The classic definition (pulled from Wikipedia) is this:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

These choices can be summarized in the following table:

Prisoner B Stays SilentPrisoner B Betrays
Prisoner A Stays SilentEach serves 6 monthsPrisoner A: 10 years
Prisoner B: goes free
Prisoner A BetraysPrisoner A: goes free
Prisoner B: 10 years
Each serves 5 years

The GOP presents its base with a similarly cruel choice. Only their most delusional Kool-Aid drinkers could call them the party of small government, minimal regulation, low taxes (deficits have to be paid for eventually), and personal freedom. They certainly have had their (brief) moments in certain areas - the Contract For America comes to mind (that lasted about two years) as did the Reagan presidency (which had several benefits at the cost of an increased national debt). One must keep in mind that Reagan was not in any way the choice of the GOP leaders - they wanted George H.W. Bush to be the 1980 nominee. So if one is a conservative or libertarian the GOP represents, at best, the lesser of two evils. There are other, smaller parties out there that would provide far better governance if brought to power, but the fear is that voting for them will split the vote and allow the Democrats to take control (and, ummm, how's that logic working for you right this minute?).

So our current State of the Union is thus:

Two prisoners voters are given a choice of parties. Each of these parties promises low taxes, small government, and personal liberties, but the large, dominant party is known to lie like a rug. If one voter votes according to their principles and the other cowers in fear and votes for the party they know will betray them, then the evil progressives win and they get 10% closer to socialism or fascism (take your pick). If both voters chicken out and vote for the Party of Betrayal, then they'll only get 5% closer to socialism / fascism. If both voters stick to their guns (in the most literal sense) and vote for a Party with Principles, then they are rewarded with 10% less government. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation election. How should the prisoners voters act?

Voter A votes GOPVoter A votes 3rd Party
Voter B votes GOPGOP wins - 5% more gub'mintDems win - 10% more butter / 10% less guns
Voter B votes 3rd PartyDems win - 10% more socialism / fascism3rd Party wins - 10% more freedom

One would think this is a no-brainer - Electing the GOP versus electing the Democrats gets you the same results, just not as quickly. To pretend otherwise is to engage in a spectacular display of willful ignorance of very recent history (take Bush - either one - please!). The only thing that keeps the GOP relevant is fear, and that fear is mostly irrational... but that's a topic for another post.

Update: If it makes you feel any better, the progressives feel the same way about the Democratic Party. It seems that nobody outside of DC is terribly well-represented.

Update 2: I've never gotten what exactly it is that causes a group of people who ostensibly fear and loathe the corruption that occurs when power is concentrated and centralized in Washington DC to be so willing to ignore and even go so far as to embrace the exact same phenomenon when it occurs in a political party.


  1. Ha. Great post. I was just talking about the two-party system as the political form of the prisoner's dilemma the other day.

  2. Or the reactionary leftist who hates capitalistic monopolies with the white hot heat of ten thousand novas wants to give the government a.......monopoly on everything.

  3. The hypothesis doesn't include the effect of primary campaigns to pre-filter candidates, or the effect of third parties on primaries.

    For more than 40 years, the Liberal party in New York City had an effect all out of proportion to it's numbers, effectively controlling the Democratic party and driving it to the left.

    If the Liberals endorsed the Democratic candidate, he won. If they abstained or ran a sacraficial candidate of their own, he lost.

    From the Liberal's viewpoint, it was a win-win. Government grew slowly during a Republican administration, so they didn't lose ground, only gained it more slowly.

    During a Democratic/Liberal administration government would grow explosively, bringing in more government jobs and welfare recipients, and buying more votes among the lumpen proletariat.

    The system lasted until the Democrats had swung so far left there was no longer any difference between the Dems and the Liberals, and the two merged.

    Judging from the Rasmussen studies,the demographics of independents and Republicans seem almost identical. I would presume that means an independent is, on average, a center-right person who doesn't believe the Republicans can deliver on a "mainstream" promise of less government and lower taxes.

    Posit a strong third party, acting through the primary system and delivering conservative voters to the Republicans when they toe the minimalist/minarchist line.

    All it would take is patience and organization, obviating the need to suffer the risks and accelerated cultural decline our society would have to suffer under increasingly desperate and bizarre Democratic administrations.

    Although I might have misstated the above.

    Mr. Obama is n obedient,low level party aparatchik, about whom we know nothing. He has spent more than a million dollars to hide every single record of his scolastic and personal life from the public.

    Vice President Biden is an empty headed gaffe producer, another puppet of the political machine, on the rare occasion when he's sober enough to function at that sad level.

    Pelosi and Reed have to be considered overt sociopaths, and they're pulling the strings.

    I think the apocalypse is on us, if we let these people go ahead and do what they want to, which is rule by oligarchic fiat.

    Pelosi's orders to the Democratic Congress are an obvious example of her dedication to iron-fisted rule, essentially telling them to vote her way even if it means they lose their jobs in November.

    And she's right to order them to sacrafice themselves, at least from the viewpoint of a true believer. Government owned healthcare is the cusp. If they can take over one-seventh of the American economy, they can also hold on to their gains in control of the banks, investment houses, and the automobile industry.

    They would then naturally expand closed shop union practices until the Democrats and unions, essentially the same interlocking group, would control everything of economic and financial import. It's not a conspiracy, it's a simple Brownian movement. It's all they know how to do.