Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

32 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. How Cooperation Can Evolve In A Cheater’s World


    “Timothy Killingback, a mathematician at the College of William & Mary, led work on the model. It’s based on public goods games, a staple of game theory and a simple model of social dilemmas.

    “Under the typical public goods game, an experimenter gives four players a pot of money. Each player can invest all or some of the money into a common pool. The experimenter then collects money thrown into the pool, doubles it and divides it amongst the players. The outcome: If every player invests all the money, every player wins big. If every player cheats by investing a just few dollars, every player reaps a small dividend. But if a cooperator squares off against a cheater – with the altruist investing more than the swindler – the swindler always gets the bigger payoff. Cheating, in short, is a winning survival strategy.

    “Under the new model, the team introduced population dynamics into the public goods game.

    “Players were broken into groups and played with other members of their group. Each player then reproduced in proportion to the payoff they received from playing the game, passing their cooperator or cheater strategy on to their offspring. After reproduction, random mutations occurred, changing how much an individual invests. Finally, players randomly dispersed to other groups, bringing their investment strategies with them. The result was an ever-changing cast of characters creating groups of various sizes.

    “After running the model through 100,000 generations, the results were striking. Cooperators not only survived, they thrived and maintained their numbers over time. The key is group size.”


  2. Meika,

    “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins has some excellant insights in the area of altruism arising from systems that are seemingly driven by payoffs for selfish action. To a large extent it is why I think the use of state based coersion to supposedly enforce and ensure altruism and co-operative behaviour is mostly flawed and unnecessary. Most of what the state currently does in the name of altruism (ie the welfare state) can be better achieved in the long term by individual acts of charity, free market dynamics and civil society.


  3. Book recommendation.
    Grab yourself a copy of Lawless World by Philippe Sands. He writes extensively about Gitmo Bay and given the US Supreme court decision today, his book is well worth another read.

  4. Meika,

    You’d probably be interested by Matt Ridley’s ‘The Origins of Virtue’, which looks at cooperative behaviour in various social animals, including man.

    The best strategy in game theory experiments is usually ‘tit-for-tat’, where the player cooperates until the other player defects, and then defects itself.


  5. read all of them you know, the link is new stuff

    Terje have you read the following

    Japan, Refutation of Neoliberalism
    Robert Locke

    Remember that Board discussion a few years ago on whether Nazism was left or right, amidst your questions on re-looking at corporatism, well according to the article above it exists, and everything Hitler was after (corporate state, yoked market, pagan culture) is in Japan

  6. Regarding welfare etc, quite often those individuals decide it is more efficient and rational to do these things collectively, through a central authority. It makes economic sense.

  7. Actually, no, PK, it doesn’t make economic sense – unless of course the range of options has been restricted beforehand. Guess what, in our time and place it has been restricted like that.

    I’d suggest you follow the Mutualist reasoning presented by the likes of Kevin Carson.

  8. So everyone should wander around guessing who is the most needy and give them money? Just pick the skinniest person? Or should research be done?

  9. I’m sorry PK, was there some reason you didn’t find the material I referred you to at Kevin Carson‘s site, or is it just that you think I should spoonfeed things?

    Surely you aren’t under the impression that (a) the problems would be as great as they are now if only efforts were made to engineer them out (rather than provide governmental palliative care for them), and (b) that only a government can ever handle problems?

  10. PM, don’t confuse collectivism for government. PK talks about collectives, and you assume government. While I personally believe government will inevitably organically arise from collectives, for the purposes of thought experiments, stick with the given parameters.

    Also, PK is under no obligation to read your linked material. As you are under no obligation to spoonfeed. But if you want to make a point, I’m sure you can pass on some of Kevin Carson’s wisdom in your own words. That also ensures you are conversant with the subject, and not just nodding your head to someone else’s nice-sounding platitudes.

    I’m sorry, I must be in a bad mood from reading GMB on Catallaxy. I don’t mean to take it out on you. I promise to be nicer next time.

  11. Terje,

    Most of what the state currently does in the name of altruism (ie the welfare state) can be better achieved in the long term by individual acts of charity, free market dynamics and civil society.

    As JMK said; “in the long term we are all dead”, so, in the short term we need some organising authority be it govt or some form of collective. I don’t think anyone would claim that in our current “market”-based society that all players are omniscient and unrestricted. Some have more ability to influence outcomes than others thus the market is hardly the “free” market envisaged by the early liberal economists.

  12. I pointed out previously that in choosing Iraq for the liberal progressive Beacon of Light treatment, the Coalition of Willing would no doubt have been mindful of failure and what would that mean. Well if it went pear shaped, the downside argument of the critics was that Osama and Co would be the obvious big winners. By some peculiar circumstances that logic didn’t apply to regime change and nation building efforts in places like Afghanistan. However we all should have forseen the obvious in Iraq that the COW did- default Plan B
    Now Osama is forced to choose his ‘true’ version of Islam and the beginning of the end of his broad Islamist appeal. Like Zarqawi, he and his cohort risk being ratted on by his new enemies now. Serious check and headed for checkmate Osama baby!

  13. When you think about Osama’s position now, he’s seriously hooked his nuts on the barbed wire in Iraq. He’s been forced to announce himself publicly as the small time, tribal, Wahabbist he’s quietly been all this time. No self respecting ME Shiite would be seen dead in an Osama T-shirt now. That’s something that could never have been achieved by only fighting AQ in Afghanistan and the critics of Iraq have to recognise the Bush/Blair masterstroke there now. Saddam’s gone, the Kurds are free and it’s all up to Sunni and Shia to make a peaceful civil society in the Land Of the Two Rivers now. If they don’t and Islam wants to tear itself apart for the forseeable future, then who are we to intervene for much longer. Civil war or no, Coalition troops will be withdrawn in large numbers and soon

    If I looked at Iraq, Afgahnistan and ET a priori, I would have said Afghanistan was the most risky venture as the Soviets would attest. From an Aust point of view ET seemed to be the riskiest. We could have been bogged down in a cross border guerilla war with the Indos quite easily. However that turned out to be illusory. They fled the field with barely a shot in anger. Unfortunately now we are beginning to understand only too well why. The East Timorese are apparently a warlike bunch of troublemakers and we would have been best to leave them to the Indos. Their nationhood is an illusory pipedream it seems. Better to have a secure Timor Sea oil treaty with the Indos and the ET more peacable under the Indonesian flag.(The ‘Saddam was the better option’ pragmatic view of international relations)

    In summary, I have to say, of the three affirmative action plans, Iraq is looking like the one with the quickest exit and best overall outcome from a western point of view. Meanwhile on another front the battle goes on
    Speak firmly and carry a big stick.

  14. You’re right PM, I’m not going to read a long economic paper explaining why it’s better for everyone to walk around making their own individual decisions. I would prefer a spoonfeeding please.

  15. Observa, you have to take the big picture view, rather that indulging in myopic wishful thinking. Iraq is a disaster for the west, because with the American in there (and they will be, in maybe numbers of a low few tens of thoudands, for decades) Iran can do what it likes, vis-a-vis it’s nuclear weapons plans. The US cannot militarily intervene with so many assets close by, as there own war-gaming on the subject amply attests. Plus, there’s a serious risk of the Iraqi civil war spreadly to northern Saudi Arabia (where the oil is), where Shia are in the oppressed majority. So oil won’t be coming down in price any time soon… Plus, Iran has successfully got into bed with the emergent industrial giants in Asia, another leverage on American and European efforts to contain them. Plus the cost of the Iraqi adventure is simply too high for the American voter to care for in the long run, and if (=when) the US economy tanks then Iraq is doomed. I don’t see any upside, even in the most Clauswitzian sense, to what’s happened to Iraq. Er, especially for the Iraqis, who have been pretty well done over by everyone since the poorly thought country was invented after WW1.

    You’re dreaming.


  16. Remember that Board discussion a few years ago on whether Nazism was left or right, amidst your questions on re-looking at corporatism, well according to the article above it exists, and everything Hitler was after (corporate state, yoked market, pagan culture) is in Japan

    Japan is prosperious predominantly because it has a low level of tax (relative to other nations) and a vibrant private sector.

    Japan had a gloomy time in the 1990s because it’s strong YEN was deflationary (ie a failing of central bank economic policy).

    The fact that Japan sometimes runs a protectionist INTER-national trade policy is in my view less relevant that the fact that it runs a low tax economy. In other words the tariffs on domestic INTRA-national trade is low. In fact a low tax regime was imposed on both Germany and Japan following WWII and both nations subsequently grew prosperous manufacturing sectors. Meanwhile other victims of WWII like Britian wallowed under the weight of high tax systems (the British disease).

    For what it is worth I would be in favour of an increase in import tariffs if the revenue was used exclusively to reduce other taxes that effect domestic trade (eg income tax).

    Japan privatised most of their railways in the 1980s. And unlike in Britian it has actually resulted in a high quality service. The reason is that Japan choose to lightly regulate the structure of the rail industry whilst in Britian they have an excessive level of “pro-competition” regulatory structures intended to prevent cross ownership between components within the rail system.

    It is true that Japan has a highly regulated financial system. However the last election was mostly about removing the states strangle hold on credit. And I don’t believe that the success of Japan relates at all to it’s strict controls on finance or on property zoning.

    The article suggest that neo-liberalism is against cartels. I think that many people are againts cartels however I’m not personally and I don’t think that neo-liberals as a rule are more opposed to cartels than other economic schools of thought. For what it is worth I don’t think that cartels should be illegal (just as I don’t think labour cartels or unions should be illegal).

    What the acticle seems to argue for (and I only skimmed the article) is macroeconomic central planning (eg Keynesianism etc). As such I think I disagree with the general trust of the article.

    However there was little in the conclusion that I actively object to:-

    1. Any nation can usefully increase its savings rate, not necessarily by Japan’s means.

    2. Any nation can prop up working-class wages by not importing cheap foreign labor.

    3. Advanced nations can benefit from carefully relaxing anti-cartel laws to allow cooperative R&D, as in the Sematech consortium in the US.

  17. As JMK said; “in the long term we are all dead�, so, in the short term we need some organising authority be it govt or some form of collective.


    I think you miss my point and the JKM quote is not relevant. Remove the current heavy burden of the state and I think that the non-state factors (civil societ, the market, individual compassion) will deliver a superior result. However it will not do it immediately. It takes time for civil institutions and cultural practices to evolve. However once evolved these civil institutions and cultural practices can:-

    a) provide timely and well targeted welfare and prevent most poverty traps.
    b) be wiped away by subsequent state intevention.

    So in the short term an organising authority that has the power to direct action through the point of a gun rather than through the goodwill of cooperating parties is mostly disruptive.

    The short term solution offered through violent means is rarely the right solution even if though it may appear expedient.


  18. Terje Says:

    Japan is prosperious predominantly because it has a low level of tax (relative to other nations) and a vibrant private sector.

    A few months ago, you were telling us all that Japan was not prosperous, for some reason having to do with them abandoning the gold standard.

    I look forward to your next post on the subject, telling us that the Japanses aren’t prosperous again, due to their prediliction for comic books.

  19. SJ,

    That is interesting. Perhaps you could source a quote where I said that Japan is “not prosperous”. What I likely said is that the Japanese economy faultered in the 1990s due to deflation. And I would more than likely have claimed that Japan would have avoided such deflation if it had been on a gold standard.

    However I’ll wait for you to dig up the apparent quote before I comment further. Good luck locating it.


  20. I guess I should provide a citation indicating why I think your statement about taxation in Japan is complete and utter nonsense:

    Japan Factsheet

    Taxation: The standard national corporate tax rate is 30%. Including local taxes, the effective standard corporate tax rate is 40.9%. The top effective personal income tax rate, including local taxes, is 50%. The consumption tax rate is 5%.

  21. SJ,

    Thanks for the link to what was an interesting discussion. Now having re-visited the link you offer and searched the discussion for the word “Japan” I still don’t find any reference to justify the allegation that I said Japan was “not prospereous”. Perhaps your allegation is simply wrong.

    I’ll wait for you to dig up the apparent quote before I comment further.


  22. Fatfingers, I did not “assume” that PK was talking about governments. He was explicitly talking about central authority, not merely some form of co-operative or collective action. That’s what a government is. If you are obliged to submit to it, it qualifies under the walks like a dusck test.

    As for my not having to spoonfeed him – well, I take the view that bloggers who introduce threads ought to go that extra step, but that mere commenters who want to point out fallacies and/or misunderstandings need only provide minimal references, and that only so that their own efforts don’t just get dismissed as mere opinion.

    That is, in a blog a commenter isn’t trying to instruct those who don’t want to be instructed – like those who guess that a blog they are referred to is a deep economic work – but rather to highlight for all readers that there is more to be said on the subject.

    Anyone can consult that blog. If anyone is well equipped to comment here on what is to be found there, it’s Kevin Carson himself, not me, so I’ll sugest to him that he visit this thread and chip in.

    But I don’t run this thread or that blog, so it would be inauthentic for me to push anything found there. It would run the risk that I might inadvertently misrepresent it, for instance.

  23. fatfingers,

    As P.M. Lawrence said, it is Paul Kelley who assumes that cooperative effort can only be organized through government, and PML who is trying to get it into PK’s head that cooperative (or collective) effort can be achieved by voluntary means.

    The fact that PK automatically dismisses any suggestion that voluntary cooperation is possible as a call for “everyone [to] wander around guessing who is the most needy and give them money,” suggests to me that PK’s problem goes beyond mere historical illiteracy. The underlying problem is far more basic: an inability (or unwillingness) to recognize a non sequitur in his own argument. If he is unable to acknowledge a fundamental logical flaw in his argument, all the empirical evidence in the world won’t do him any good.

    But I’m more than willing to accept a person’s admission that he’s too lazy to follow a simple link that directly concerns the validity of a general assertion he made, or that he’s uninterested in any evidence as to whether his opinion is correct–just so long as he’s willing to admit that his opinion is, as a result, absolutely worthless.

    For anyone else who is interested, though, there is a wealth of historical material on associations for mutual aid among the working class before the rise of the welfare state. Kropotkin’s last two chapters on the recent history of Europe in *Mutual Aid* are a good starting point.

    E.P. Thompson has a great deal of good information on sick benefit societies, burial societies, and other mutuals in *The Making of the English Working Class*.

    Colin Ward’s *Anarchism in Action* contains a section on the “welfare road we failed to take.”

    Dr. Bob James is one of the best historians of working class friendly societies in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of his articles can be found at the “Radical Tradition” site. http://www.takver.com/history/indexbj.htm

    Finally, Section J.5.16 of An Anachist FAQ has an amazing amount of material on such self-organization, including extended block quotes and many, many references. http://www.infoshop.org/faq/secJ5.html#secj516

    The kinds of voluntary mutual aid described by these writers were first suppressed by the capitalists (because they were seen as potential breeding grounds for subversion, and a possible basis for mutual economic support during strikes), and later crowded out or suppressed by regulation when the New Class decided that working class self-organization was atavistic and should be supplanted by the benevolent supervision of “qualified professionals.” David Beito’s *From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State* is a history, in large part, of the latter phenomenon, in addition to a good account of mutual aid organizations themselves.

  24. The idea of long-run payoffs from altruism is an old one, and Maynard Smith in his classic stuff in the early 70s showed such equilibria can be stable even in the presence of cheaters (in fact, it’s quite similar to the old predator-prey models, with the proportion of cheaters often oscillating). These experiments are interesting, but they’re not really new in a theoretical sense.

    That said, I’m always a little chary of trying to apply results from experimental games to reality, because it’s so easy to tweak outcomes by small variations in rules and relative payoffs. IOW the results are often not very robust.

  25. Backflip Enterprise
    Many ABC watchers and listeners are still unaware or unable to believe that muzzling goes on within our national broadcaster. Do they need further proof than the backflip by ABC Enterprises on its commission to publish Chris Masters’ biography of Alan Jones, the commercial radio cash-for-comment shock jock?
    There is now not one ABC staff member on the executive board of the people’s erstwhile independent voice. It has been stacked by John Howard’s friends keen to dumb down its programs to appeal to advertisers chasing barrel-bottom ratings, while he juggernauts the law to allow our ABC to be sold off to commercial broadcasters and people like Alan Jones.
    Why else would the board pull the plug on Masters’ book and risk the loss of one of the finest investigative journalists in the world? The ABC as we knew it is struggling to survive on the ever-dwindling funds the federal government dribbles from our taxes. This latest of a thousand cuts calls for popular resistance and a protest march in every state.

  26. The ABC as we knew it is struggling to survive on the ever-dwindling funds the federal government dribbles from our taxes.

    You suggesting that it now cost us less than 8 cents per day?

  27. Just for the record:
    According to the ABC 2004-5 Annual Report financials section [pdf] the amount that the ABC receives in goverment funding is $808,153,000. Divide this by 365 to get total cost per day = $2,214,117. Divide this by the number of tax payers to get total cost per taxpayer per day. The number of individual returns lodged in 2003-4 [pdf] is 10,978,900 (or if you prefer, the total number of tax returns is 12,860,125). So the cost per ‘taxpayer’ per day of the ABC is somewhere between 20 and 17 cents.

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