I’d like to take another stab at game theory.

In so far as game theory is a mathematical tool that can be tinkered with to suit any situation involving things that engage in rational strategizing, then of course game theory can apply to governments, in which case economists can interpret government regulations as collective bargaining.

In that case, though, game theory would be unfalsifiable and its interpretations or prescriptions would be neither true nor false, nor objectively right or wrong. You could apply the terms of this “theory” to cast an economical spin on anything that looks remotely like rationality. Indeed, if the game theorist permits herself the talk of “as if” or counterfactual rationality, of patterns that look as though they might have been produced by ratiocination even if they weren’t, then all natural order which scientists explain in terms of mindless causality can be deemed “rational optimizing.”

In the game theorist’s hands, “rational” would be a weasel word. Similarly, the psychological egotist redefines “selfish” to include behaviour that seems on the contrary selfless, by positing an unconscious pleasure taken in helping other people. And “information” becomes ubiquitous and empty if it includes anything that indicates something else, minus the social context of Shannon’s mathematical formulation in which information is a signal sent to a receiver for the purpose of conveying a meaningful, intelligently-designed message.

Those conceptual “tools” are intriguingly similar to the religionist’s unfalsifiable, self-reinforcing delusions which enable her to explain away all contrary evidence and interpret all events in a way that reinforces her presumptions. Needless to say, the use of these ever-renewable cognitive tools isn’t scientific. Game theory would be pseudoscientific at best. I know you said you don’t take game theory to be scientific, but it’s got the word “theory” in its name and it’s closely associated with economics which is supposed to be a social science, so that’s a problem.

What counts as irrational in game theory? Can’t you tinker with the model’s assumptions to interpret every single event that’s ever happened as “rational,” as an attempt to establish an optimizing means-end relationship? If nothing’s inherently irrational, the word “rational” becomes meaningless. The reason for that conceptual freedom, of course, is that the models in question are mathematical rather than empirical. Again, the empirical work of cognitive science refutes all this talk of rampant rationality.

Regarding my alleged ad hominem fallacy, I’d equate barbaric violence with irrationality in my narrower sense of “rationality,” not in the unfalsifiable game-theoretic sense which entails that all causal relations are rational (since they look as though they could have been designed by a divine architect but maybe weren’t).

You say game theory wouldn’t whitewash the foundational American atrocities. Really? Assessing slavery as rational doesn’t at least implicitly of unconsciously lend some dignity to that atrocity? I’d have though that our attitudes are often dictated by subtext, semantic framing, and subliminal cues, which the overuse of the word “rational” might establish.

But this is only a side-issue, since the main savagery that game theory is meant to whitewash is the free-market destruction of the planet (that is, the unsustainable, largely sociopathic pursuit of eternal economic growth).

Along those lines, you asked about my parenthetical remark about the RAND Corporation. That remark was meant to provide evidence to substantiate my claim that game theorists had the ulterior motive of defending or of making excuses for capitalism, since they took buyers and sellers to be rational enough to obviate government oversight of their economic transactions.

I don’t see how it’s fallacious to argue that game theory covers up rather than helps overcome the objective catastrophes we commit in the name of capitalism, consumerism, and neoliberalism. Is the right-wing denial of those damages supposed to be taken seriously or as ingenuous rather than as a component of a fraud literally steered by sociopaths who can’t feel straight?

Forgive me, but when there’s a good-versus-evil dimension to an intellectual conflict and I perceive something as being on the wrong side, I don’t let that side off easily. If that’s wrongheaded of me, could you show how game theory can be used to justify socialism at the expense of capitalism and the free market?

You said the government can bargain with corporations, telling them, for example, the people represented by the government won’t buy adulterated milk. But assuming the company is owned by a transnational conglomerate, wouldn’t that government regulation be irrational or at least the result of a failure to perceive the likely disastrous consequences? The company would leave the country and do business elsewhere, and would stop funding the politicians’ political campaigns (or would fund opposing campaigns or leak damaging info to the press, etc).

Isn’t the (merely instrumentally) rational bargaining position, rather, to pander to the masses and pretend to be serving them, while behind the scenes kowtowing to the plutocrats who have more money than God? Isn’t that what all neoliberal (Democratic and Republican) deregulators actually do? How would a socialist government be more rational than the neoliberal one, given the prevailing economic power asymmetries?

You said government regulation is “an integral part of American capitalism.” Sure, but the question is who tends to gain from the regulations, the poor majority or the wealthy minority.

And you said governments “bargain for the plus-sum outcome.” Really? Governments don’t assume there are winners and losers as a result of their capitulation to powerful corporate factions? The nineties rhetoric of globalization was that everyone would benefit from governments’ surrendering of much of their legislative power to international tribunals and to transnational corporations. Wealth would “trickle down” or would be the “tide that lifts all boats.”

Instead, there were tradeoffs as a result of that political capitulation; in particular, a tiny minority benefited in such godlike fashion as to make the advances of the majority of workers seem like crumbs from the table. Neoliberal globalization was in some sense a scam—certainly not the recommendation of any genuine scientific theory of markets or of rationality, contrary to the scientistic gestures to math.

If game-theory’s instrumentalist, amoral, bloodless notion of rationality implicitly favours the status quo of rapacious, free-market capitalism, I fail to see how (1) game theory doesn’t amount to a whitewash or doesn’t add to the whitewash provided by scientistic economics, and (2) I’m out of line in reminding us of the filth beneath that whitewash or of the damages swept under the carpet by these scientistic scams.

Perhaps my parenthetical insinuations are “snotty,” as you say. That doesn’t make them false, and if they’re true, if the damages of the kind of capitalism that neoclassical economics and game theory make excuses for are well-established by historians and real scientists (not the fake, wannabe kind), don’t you think the apologists for those damages would be guilty of much worse than snottiness?

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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