Prisoners’ Dilemmas

A few days ago I talked about flaccid strategies for iterated prisoners’ dilemmas, noting that strategies without retaliation cannot win. I remarked:

Many Western leaders seem committed not only to avoiding retaliation but to responding to defection on an opponent’s part with forgiveness and even more extensive cooperation. [Emphasis added.]

That inspires a further thought. Robert Alexrod and others have investigated strategies for iterated prisoners’ dilemmas. In the real world, however, and especially in politics, people and nations interact along many different fronts, cooperating or defecting on many different issues. Cooperation can be limited or extensive. That suggests that we might do better to model interactions as sets of iterated prisoners’ dilemmas. Ideally, certain kinds of interactions can not only affect what happens within a set but generate or foreclose new sets. (Think of businesses entering into a joint project, for example, or countries agreeing to join transnational organizations such as NATO.)

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