A piece written by Simpol supporter, Rob Hickey, raising some questions for us to answer…
The day after watching John Bunzl’s presentation on the Political Prisoner’s Dilemma…
…I jolted up out of my bed in a cold sweat, thinking about something he said during the presentation. No…it was not that dramatic, but I was drinking a beer, and jolted up from the couch and over to my computer to write something down. That something, you are now reading. I like thinking about real world applications of game theory (from a non-mathematical perspective mind-you), particularly when I am sitting in my car in an intersection after cars from all four directions have pulled into the center, and traffic is jammed. Somehow, I think, we could all have avoided this is we had just had a little more foresight and were, perhaps a little bit more enlightened.
Anyway, one section of the talk I felt was glossed over a bit, was that regarding the actual implementation of the SIMPOL Pledge once a politician has agreed to it. In this scenario, voters will have already voted for them on the assumption that they would implement it. John told us that it would simply not make sense for them to not make good on their promise to their electorate as it would destroy their reputation as a politician. I found this questionable as this happens constantly as is seen as standard operative procedure in politics. John partially allayed my fears by telling us that politicians will only implement the pledge when all nations (or sufficient nations) have agreed to implement the reforms that the pledge highlights, simultaneously. It is only at this point that a chance to backtrack on their pledge is possible as it is the only situation under which they might act together. However, it is at this point where John says that “not implementing the simultaneous policy would just be completely nuts for anyone” (This was from 14:08-14:14 in the video). I am not sure that it would be completely nuts for politicians not to implement it, using the same game theory logic that John highlights earlier in the talk.
At this point, it would still be possible that not implementing the policy may still be in a country’s, or perhaps more accurately, an individual politicians self-interest. On the country level, this situation would occur where the countries would be a net short-term loser with regard to the simultaneous policy portfolio such as when a huge long-term mining contract was about to be signed between a government and a multinational (although John mentions that a Tobin tax might help assuage those fears). On the personal level, if political speech was protected so well enough (as in the US) that special interests have shaped politicians decision-making through campaign contributions and organizing fund-raisers (you know, the old tried-and-true lobbying techniques), the incentive structure may still be skewed towards the direction of inaction.
Forcing a politician to implement all of the campaign promises that they have made is a ludicrous proposition and is unenforceable in practice. Political negotiation and bargaining between parties must happen and the circumstances and context within which those promises were made may have changed, making implementation harmful or even impossible. Imperative mandate, whereby parliamentary deputies can only enact policies that those electing them tell them that they can enact have been ruled illegal in some jurisdictions. This has happened in some cases because such a policy limits the freedom of the representatives themselves and helps mitigate extreme views or populist tendencies among the electorate.
In the U.S., making false statements regarding ones military accomplishments has been regarding as protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution (the amendent protecting the freedom of speech and also the right to petition the government, which protects lobbyism) in the case of United States v. Alvarez in the US Supreme Court in 2012. This seems to point in the direction that any attempt to restrict speech in a political campaign, even if made in bad faith would fail on constitutional grounds. As such, a legal solution to this tradition of breaking campaign promises has nearly no chance of success despite its distastefulness to many voters. Some bottom-up approaches have been attempted to address this issue though, such as the Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact website that tracks the degree to which President Obama has kept his campaign promises and which has won the Pulitizer Prize for its work1. But the degree to which this affects election outcomes is questionable, I think.
I am, yet again, playing devil’s advocate here as I believe that a bottom-up approach to solving global issues, as SIMPOL attempts, is a valiant effort. I just deeply fear that for the reasons previously mentioned that such an approach will not happen fast enough, or deep enough to address global issues. This is most clearly visible regarding climate change, where some scientists claim that the extremity of measures measures needed to meet current climate targets have reached the point of absurdity and by implication, impossibility2.