The Case for Government.

I recently read the best argument for government control over at least some aspects of life.

Game Theory looks at individuals’ different incentives when engaging with the world. We have all heard of zero-sum games, and one of the best things we have collectively managed to do is turn international relationships from zero-sum games into net positive games.

If I go to war with you, I will take some risks, and things may or may not end up as I envisioned. You might lose, and I may win, but will it be the victory I seek? Will I be better off, or will we both be worse off? On the other hand, I can decide not to go to war and instead engage in trade, which is a net positive.

Any time there is a commercial transaction, something unique happens. Two parties both walk away with more than they started with. I am currently in a coffee shop, and I am drinking an Americano. Clearly, I value the coffee and the temporary ambience of the coffee shop more than I value the few dollars it cost me to purchase the coffee.

On the other hand, the coffee shop owner values the dollars more than the coffee, otherwise, she would not sell it to me.

However, transaction implies initial ownership, and this is where things sometimes break down. What about something that nobody owns, but everyone can exploit? I think of shared government resources, the air we breathe, and even simple common ground.

This is where things become complicated. The incentives of the individual and the motivations of everyone in totally diverge considerably.

There is little to no incentive for an individual not to be a freeloader in society, if there is no punishment for doing so. It is easier to let everyone else comply and gain the benefits of non-compliance.

However, the crowds are not stupid. People do notice non-compliance, and they will take action. This can be everything from shunning to burning at the stake. This is where governments come in and attempt to do a better job than mob rule in enforcing the rules of common goods.

If one person takes more than their share, it is not a tragedy, but if everyone does, everything collapses.

Perhaps a sign of morality and responsibility is when someone refrains from misusing public resources, even when they could do so without consequence.

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