ON COOPERATION (Capitalists: like chimps, just chumps?)

Craven, Jim jcraven at clark.edu
Tue Jul 23 19:48:29 MDT 2002


The article forwarded by Chris noted:

Studying neural activity in young women who were playing a classic
laboratory game called the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which participants can
select from a number of greedy or cooperative strategies as they pursue
financial gain, researchers found that when the women chose mutualism
over "me-ism," the mental circuitry normally associated with
reward-seeking behavior swelled to life.

Response (Jim C): Sadly, the so-called "Prisoner's Dilemma" and other such
"game theory" is not about "cooperation" but rather about
"collusion"--maximization of individual interests through collusion--rather
than rat race/ultra-individualistic competition with potential competitors.

All this stuff about the "Brilliant Mind" of John Nash, the movie/book
included, does not mention the supposed "special contribution" of
Nash--providing mathematical "proofs" to rescue neoclassical
hypothetico-deductivism from its own internally contradictory "axioms".

According to the neoclassicals, human behavior may be
deduced/predicted/modeled on the basis of the core "axioms" [their
pretentious terms not mine] of homo oeconomicus. "Man" is supposedly:
a) perfectly rational (changed to bounded rational) meaning can figure out
ends/means, costs and benefits, profits and loss, risks and risk
minimization/avoidance and rank orderings are consistent etc; b) calculating
(actually does the necessary calculations); c) competitive; d) atomistic
(acts do not affect and are unaffected by others); e) egoistic; f) greedy;
g) materialistic; e) selfish; f) individualistic etc. So if human beings are
[by nature?] all of this and more, how to explain real world collusion among
nominal competitors programmed to cut each other's throats? Is there not as
much potential for chaos and anarchy out of market relations and "natural"
proclivities of homo oeconomicus than for any [unintentioned] social
effects/efficiencies out of private greed, selfishness etc? Along comes game
theory and the "Nash Equilibrium". Plus a bonus: where neoclassical bullshit
is pure metaphysics with little if any empirical support for the purported
universal/ahistorical "axioms" of the neoclassical paradigm, now game theory
gives the possibility of "controlled" experimentation with empirical
"support" and "control" over the causes, effects and the intervening just
like the big boys--chemistry, physics etc. Wow, Economics becomes
"scientific" and capable of setting up our own kinds of "cloud chambers"
with controlled stepwise introduction and control of "variables" and
controlled conditions to establish the "ultimate" independent/dependent
variables of neoclassical theory.

No notions of "contextual imperatives" shaping behavior; no, all of it is
supposedly "human nature" unfolding in the kind of system that celebrates,
harnesses and ultilizes "homo oeconomicus" rather than trying to suppress
his/her "natural proclivities". What could be more natural and enduring than
a system that recognizes and celebrates--rather than tries to
suppress--"natural" greed, acquisitiveness and brutishness?

Jim C

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