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News Link • Philosophy: Political

The Economics Of Spying And The Prisoners Dilemma

• Patrick Rishe, Forbes

The Prisoners Dilemma is an integral concept when discussing Game Theory.  In essence, the Prisoners Dilemma demonstrates the logic behind why two or more individuals, firms, or nations might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so.

For example, given the immense financial expenses associated with surveillance activities – not to mention the potential public relations damage associated with raising the ire among allies – it would seem rational for allied countries to ‘cooperate’ and not spy upon one another.  But as long as there are gains to be had from acquiring more information than your neighbors or rivals (be it for economic or national security reasons), some countries will undertake surveillance activities nonetheless.  And furthermore, if a country suspects its neighbors are spying on them, they will do likewise.  Tit-for-tat.

Be it Americans or citizens from an allied country, it would be fantastic to live in a world where we could assume that our neighbors/friends always have our back, that the information shared among friendly nations is legitimate and not feigned, and resources used for surveillance could be redirected to higher and better uses…in America’s case, such as paying down our massive debt or making renewed investments in education and technological growth which historically tend to boost productivity.


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