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Quit Being Nashty; How Nash Equilibrium Relates to Societal Kindness

As we have learned, Nash Equilibria occur in non-cooperative games when each party makes the best possible decision for itself with the assumption that all other involved parties are operating with the same maximization-of-gains logic.  The definition of non-cooperation here does not imply that no cooperation occurs; it simply means that cooperation would be self-enforced, rather than externally imposed. Thus, considering members of society as free agents allows us to analyze these societies in terms of Nash Equilibria.

A relatively recent Forbes article claims that the existence of largely good societies, with low criminal activity and a general respect between people, is the consequence of a Nash Equilibrium where kindness by all (or at least, most) actors is a mutually beneficial behavior. ┬áThe article addresses cynical counterclaims that nasty behavior is expected from Nash Equilibria due to “rational maximization” by greedy societal actors. The author rebuts that aside from monetary and other immediate awards, psychological and other delayed rewards also exist as sufficient motivation.

The article also delineates the kind of mentalites that would be necessary to claim that good societies are not so because of Nash Equilibria. According to the author, those making such claims either believe that people in general do not correctly judge the personalities of other people (overestimating punishment) or that people in general are mean/selfish. This assertion seems to stem directly from the definition of Nash Equilibrium. Logically, if people do not believe societies are good because goodness is a mutually beneficial decision for all actors, they must truly believe that other selfish options are better, or that OTHER people believe that those options are better.

An optimistic outlook, one that maintains people as good at their core, reaches a logical conclusion that good societies are good because of the principles that govern Nash Equilibria. The author does, however, also highlight reasons that societies would behave in a non-equilibrium manner, such as incorrect beliefs leading to bad choices. In general, the author highlights that models can be used to form logical explanations for phenomena, but are not catch-all predictors of reality.


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