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President Obama Will Never Have a Plan Liberals: The Necessary Delusion

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President Obama and the Prisoner's Dilemma

by Christopher Chantrill
January 08, 2013 at 12:00 am


THE WORD ABOUT negotiations is that Speaker Boehner has vowed not to negotiate one-on-one with President Obama any more. Not after being stiffed twice by the president: first in the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, and second in the fiscal cliff deal.

In this the speaker is merely admitting to a little piece of settled science: the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is an arcane piece of game theory, that takes forever to explain. But reduced to essentials, it tries to answer the question: should I trust the other guy?

If you answer: more research is needed, go straight to the head of the class.

But in the real world we want answers, and fortunately answers have emerged from a famous experiment in the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma conducted by Robert Axelrod. He invited people to submit strategies for an iterated game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. The winner submitted a simple strategy, TIT-FOR-TAT, which copied the opponent’s every move.

It’s obvious, really. If you are in a short-term relationship with another person then you profit by cheating them. If you are in a long-term relationship then you should always copy the other person’s actions. In other words, you should trust people that demonstrate trustworthiness, and should not trust people that stiff you.

We can see that Speaker Boehner has been a little slow on the uptake. But now he’s learned his lesson, and he won’t be fooled by the president again. Fool me once...

It’s obvious where the president’s cheater tactics come from. They issue from his lefty culture and its formalization in Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. We could say that Rules is a primer on how to act with people that you are determined to mistrust. Heck, let’s expand the problem and say that the whole point of left-wing politics is to sow distrust. Don’t trust the banker; he’s greedy. Don’t trust the grocer; he’s a company store. Don’t trust your employer; he’s making a profit off your labor. Don’t trust Wall Street; it’s a casino. Don’t trust the family; it’s a patriarchy. Don’t trust the church; the priests are hitting on little boys. Don’t trust the community organizer.. No wait! The community organizer is the good guy!

The end result of all the mistrust is to cut your followers off from all relationships except their relationship to you, the community organizer. Then, of course, your followers are stuck. They have burned all their bridges and so they must follow you, even if you lean them to national ruin like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or the Peronists in Argentina.

Ominously, the president’s tactics follow precisely the tactics of an enraged female cobra in Kipling’s Jungle Books. You’ll remember Nagaina telling the Brit colonial exploiters: “If you move I strike. And if you do not move I strike.” Hell hath no fury like a widowed snake. She was so angry you would think that she was upset about cuts to social programs, just as the president and his party are beside themselves about possible cuts to US social programs.

Conservatives just want to get on with the sensible middle-class job of cleaning up the national balance sheet, just as Rikki-Tikki-Tavi wanted to clear the garden of cobras. But instead it is probably best just to make life miserable for the president and the Democrats, because they still don’t get it.

Here’s an example. It is Joan Walsh at Salon burbling on about “Obama’s Great Society” and indulging in a little rational factual socialist argument while rearranging the administrative deck chairs on the unsinkable entitlement programs. You see, we need “universal programs for more than just the elderly – universal preschool and higher education, to cite two pressing priorities.” Too late, Joanie. We already spent all the money on the elderly.

Anyway, President Obama has made his choice. He believes in mistrust and division. Without trust there can be no deal on anything, let alone a grand bargain to reform the Democrats’ beloved entitlements. But that is all right. We are never going to do anything about entitlements anyway until the inevitable sovereign debt crisis arrives. Maybe, when it does, we’ll do what the Liberal Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin did in the mid 1990s: Cut Programs.

When we racists, bigots and homophobes actually do get our teeth in the neck of the administrative welfare snake it better be with the grudging consent of the Democrats. Otherwise they’ll be sending their thugs out into the street to start a national conversation.

Until then, conservatives and Republicans should remember the rules of the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. When your opponent shows by his actions that he can’t be trusted, it means you shouldn’t trust him. Ever.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990

Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures

German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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