Monday, October 26, 2009

If There Were No Prisoners, There Would Be No Dilemma?

Bryan Caplan tries to argue that national defense is not a public good. I think his argument breaks down on his fourth point:
4. If no country had national defense, people's average physical security would be higher than it is now, because the danger which any given country's national defense deters is attacks from the national defense of other countries.
To which I respond:

Isn't this kind of like saying about the prisoner's dilemma that if there were no prisoners, there would be no dilemma?

If no country had national defense, many countries would benefit from developing "national offense" and taking over the defenseless ones. I have trouble seeing no countries having national defense as a stable outcome. (Or an outcome that could be reached given the world we live in.)

I think Arnold Kling agrees with me.

1 comment:

thinking said...

I'm no expert at game theory and the like, but isn't B. Caplan defining "national defense" forces as the same thing as "national offense" forces?

In other words, isn't Caplan really talking about the military when he mentions "national defense." Isn't Caplan really talking about any measure of force, whether it be soldiers, weapons, etc. that allows one to inflict violent harm upon other human beings?

Isn't he really saying that if no country had military forces, the physical security would be higher because the danger which any military force deters is attacks from other military forces?

At that point, he is correct; he is saying that if every country disarmed the world would overall be safer, as long as everyone stayed disarmed.

However, if you allow for the fact that such a scenario only works if there is total cooperation, then certainly, if a country "defects" and re-arms, then that country will be able to take over the disarmed countries.

So in theory as I take it Caplan is correct in my mind. However, in reality, given the current state of human nature, I agree with Dr. Bri that, it is not likely to happen.

Whether it would be a stable outcome is impossible to predict, since it's difficult to imagine the context of a world where humanity had reached such a state of affairs. In other words, what would be the state of humanity in such a world? Would people be so much more enlightened and benign, living in a kind of science fiction utopia? Or would people be basically the same as today, only somehow managing to arrive at this disarmament state?

At any rate, it's an interesting exercise in thought.