If society followed the rules of game theory

I am assuming you know what game theory is, and the basic rules behind it. If you do not, here is a handy YouTube-playlist that will get you up to speed. In this blog post I will write a bit about how I think society would behave if everyone acted as a rational agent would in game theory.

Now, most of what us humans do is already pretty rational. We perform our daily functions, such as eating and sleeping, for pretty obvious and rational reasons. That is besides the point though, and game theory is all about points. But what sort of points, how do we keep track of them, and who decides how many points something is worth? The points are completely abstract. They are just a representation that one option is better or worse than another option, and keeping track of them is not really necessary. The important part here is to understand that how many points we have in total is irrelevant. What is important, is to always choose whatever strategy that is dominant, weakly dominant, or that will give you the most points. If you know that you are always choosing the ‘best’ option, then you know that you have maximized your score, whatever it might be in total. In this sense, the amount of points a strategy is worth is also irrelevant. If the ‘best’ strategy is worth 10 points or 5 points does not matter as long as all the other strategies are also scaled accordingly.

Everyone would be attempting to maximize their own score, but this raises another question. What does the points we gather represent? Are we just maximizing for the sake of maximizing our score? That would not be rational. What we would have to do, is have personal goals that we wish to accomplish. I imagine a person could have multiple goals, ordered by personal importance. The ordering is to make it easier to make a rational decision if they are faced with a game where there are strategies that might benefit the score towards one goal, but subtract from another. For example might a person with their #1 goal being amassing wealth, and a #2 goal of being kind to others, be faced with a game where they can gather a lot of wealth at the cost of other people suffering. With that goal ordering, they would not mind causing other people suffering.

When I came up with this idea for a blog post, I first thought that I would be writing about a robotic society of soulless people that acted with calm rationality without any emotions, but the more I thought about it I started to realize I was wrong with my first assessment. As you probably realized with my previous example, that is exactly what some people are doing today. A quick example is how a lot of large corporations use cheap labour in underdeveloped countries, where they can pay the workers less than what their work is worth. They maximize their wealth while other people are suffering. At the same time, those workers are also acting rationally. They need a job so they can buy food and pay rent. Both of them are following their dominant strategies.

It seems like the more I think about it, the more we are acting as we are game theory agents. You might think that a person that forgoes something that seems more obviously rational like money and power in favor of something a bit more traditionally irrational like love, is not a rational agent. I would argue the opposite, that a person like that is acting completely rational within game theory rules. The points they are trying to maximize are simply a different type of points from what someone interested in money is. Emotions are hard to measure in points though and it seems that not many people are interested in applying game theory to them. That is fine, game theory was not created for that purpose anyway.

My conclusion seems to be that all of us are rational agents. Maybe not all considering people with mental illness, but even they might be acting rationally from their own point of view.