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A “Beautiful Mind” Produced Some Ugly Results

Dark Assumptions of John Nash’s Game Theory Infected Politics and Economics

Nash’s Concept of Individual Self Interest – Not Cooperation – Corrosive In Many Fields

Princeton University Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash, subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” was killed yesterday in a Turnpike crash, see

In a supreme irony, apparently Nash was not wearing a seat belt. The irony does not flow from his mathematician’s misperception of quantitative risk.

Seat belts were a government regulatory mandate – in contrast, Nash’s ideas reinforced radical free market economic theories like those of Freidrich Hayek, who viewed such government intervention – before the slogan “command and control regulation”  had been coined – as a step along  The Road To Serfdom.

So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to present how some of his most recognized ideas known variously as “The Nash Equilibrium”,  “Game Theory” and “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” impacted various policy fields of politics and economics.

A very interesting effort to explore those ideas was the BBC intellectual history documentary by Adam Curtis: “The Trap – What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom?” Part One: Human Beings Will Always Betray You – You can Only Trust The Numbers.

Nash’s assumptions on human nature, reflected in game theory, were twisted: to Nash, humans were driven exclusively by ruthless and selfish individual self interest – a world where empathy, altruism, solidarity, the social contract, collective action, and cooperation did not exist.

These ideas poisoned other fields, leading to the madness of strategic nuclear deterrence, free market economics, public choice theory, and libertarian politics. 

Here is Curtis’ opening lede that describes the three part series:

The ultimate political goal at the heart of our age is the idea of individual freedom.

In Britain, our government has set out to create a revolution that will free individuals from the control of old elites and bureaucracies.

A new world, where we are free to choose our lives, not be trapped by class or income in predestined roles.

But if one steps back and looks at what has resulted, it is a very strange kind of freedom.

The attempt to liberate people from the dead hand of bureaucracy has led to the rise of a new and increasingly controlling system of management, driven by targets and numbers.

Governments that committed to creating freedom of choice in all areas, have actually presided over a dramatic rise in inequality and collapse of social mobility.

The consequence has been a return of the power of class and privilege.

This is a series of films about how this strange paradoxical world came into being.

It begins in the dark and frightening days of the Cold War.

And it will show that what we have today is a very narrow and peculiar idea of freedom that was borne out of the paranoia of that time.

It is based on an image of human beings as selfish, isolated, and suspicious creatures who constantly monitor and strategize against each other.

Our films will show how politicians and scientists came to believe that this idea of human nature could be the basis of a new type of free society.

But what none of them would realize is that within this dark and distrustful vision lay the seeds of a new and revolutionary system of social control.

It would use the language of freedom, but in reality it would come to entrap us and our leaders in a narrow and empty world.

Watch Part I  and follow the links to Part II “The Lonely Robot” and Part III “We Will Force You To Be Free” – I think you will love it.

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