So lately during some of my debates, leftist opponents have used a very interesting analogy. They equate government to the classic problem of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” They argue that governmental programs benefit everyone, but only if all parties are forced to participate in them. That even though some people might not willingly choose to participate in government (by paying taxes), being forced to do so makes them better off whether they realize it or not. I won’t even bother getting into debates about the moral or ethical problems of forcing someone to do something “for their own good,” rather, this post will prove this to be a completely fallacious analogy. There are (at least) two different ways that government is completely and totally incomparable to the prisoner’s dilemma. Either one would be enough to disprove this notion, but I’ll give you both anyway.
1. The only possible way to quantify whether someone is “better off” is by observing human action. Human action is by definition voluntary. The amount of variables that go into deciding whether a person is “better off” are near infinite, and the particular measured variables will be wildly different depending on the government program examined. For example, if government forcibly confiscates your assets to provide a police force, a leftist might argue that all of society is “better off” if the police force results in less crime. But surely the criminals aren’t better off. In matters of education, they might argue that all of society is “better off” if we have more college graduates. But those who unwilling or unable to go to college become worse off because it becomes harder for them to compete in the job market. Wealth distribution is a more obvious fallacy. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor quite clearly makes the poor better off at the expense of the rich. In the prisoner’s dilemma, an assumption is made that the goal of both players is to minimize their time spent in prison. But in real life, the goals of each individual are wildly different, and the issues at stake are multi-dimensional. To apply this to the analogy, let’s say that one of the players wants to go to prison. Say he is living on the street and doesn’t particularly value his freedom, he just wants a roof over his head and three meals a day. In this case, he is not “better off” if both parties stay silent. Or, what if one of the players is in a certain gang and the prison he would go to is controlled by a rival gang. He knows with certainty that if he goes to prison, he will be murdered quickly. His goal is no longer to minimize his time in prison, but to take whatever steps necessary to avoid it entirely. For him, he is no “better off” by spending one month in prison than he would be spending three, or twelve. He would obviously respond differently to the test. To summarize, the prisoner’s dilemma rests on the assumption that the goals of the two players are the same, and success in fulfilling those goals can be quantified. This is quite clearly not the case in the real world.
2. The prisoner’s dilemma also requires the use of an outside force designed to enforce the “rules.” One of the rules is that the players are not allowed to discuss the matter with each other. They cannot meet and plan the best outcome. In real life, this is quite obviously not the case. People can (and do) meet to discuss the best possible outcomes as a matter of course on a near constant basis. Hell, I’m doing it right now. Then, there is the matter of frequency. The prisoner’s dilemma describes a scenario where a decision is made once, and the effects are irreversible and non-repeatable. This also has absolutely nothing in common with reality. Decisions made regarding government are frequently revisited and reversed if necessary. Furthermore, new decisions are made on an almost daily basis. There is no one “moment of truth” where we either decide to have a military or not and if we decide wrong that’s it and we cannot have a military ever again.
As usual, leftists attempts to pigeonhole human action into some type of logical model fall flat on their faces. The prisoner’s dilemma is a made-up scenario that may have some practical applications, but completely fails at being a model for government in the real world. Remember this the next time someone tries to trick you into believing otherwise.