Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 12, 2007

Game theory

Last night I drove some two and a half hours (from Norfolk to Yorkshire), yes late on a Sunday afternoon, so that I could get to work and meetings early on Monday morning.  The road is not as busy, or as frustrating, as on a Monday morning and rather than getting up at some awful time in the morning and drive in between lorries I decided to go on Sunday, stay in a hotel, and get a full night’s sleep.  Going along I listened to Beethoven’s Fifth which cheered me up no end.

What this is leading up to is that I was right in the mood to watch ‘The Idea of Freedom’ on BBC2, which analysed what happened to our idea of freedom after the war and the depression and how Game Theory provided the basis for policy and social development, with Nash’s theory of how society only works when individuals are in a rational pursuit of self-interest.  Only then will society not descend into chaos, but the prize is that everyone must act completely selfish, or in a self-interested way.  This will then lead to freedom, at the cost of trust and love.  The theory was of course fully embraced by Thatcherism and look at where it got us: a system based on incentives to follow self-interest, with all the consequences of an England that is finding it hard to do anything genuinely for ‘public interest’.  In the course of this first programme, the ideas of RD Laing on schizophrenia, Buchanan on public choice and Alan Enthoven’s on how to get rid of emotional overtones by replacing e.g. ‘patriotism’ by mathematical calculations and apply this theory to the NHS – and again, see where it got us! 

I cannot wait to watch and listen to the rest of this series, absolutely fascinating and I recommend it.  Only next time  I am going to stay at home, from a purely self-interest point of view, because why should I give up my valuable Sunday afternoon to track across English country roads in order to support an organisation that probably does not care one little bit about me?…  After all, according to game theory the world will only be a better place, with more freedome, when we are all being very selfish.  When I told my boss today, he laughed and thought that it was all quite amusing….  anyway he will also watch it next Sunday.


  1. I’ll have to reread this before I can make any comments.

  2. Isn’t this game theory more or less like the Libertarian principles?

    I find it to be unsocial and therefore bound to total failure.

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