Exploring Smart for One But Dumb for All

5. Robert Frank calls situations in which the logic of the prisoner's dilemma plays out in the form of an arms race "smart for one but dumb for all."

a. For example, it is "smart" for one peacock to grow more impressive tail feathers because it increases his chances of getting mates, but this competition of which bird can have the longest tail feathers has made peacocks more vulnerable to predators, which means the overall competition is "dumb." Can you illustrate this competition in the form of a prisoner's dilemma diagram?

b. Frank has always been interested in "smart-for-one-but-dumb-for-all" competitions that involve the quest for status. Is the quest for status zero-sum, positive-sum, or negative-sum?

c. Some schools require standardized uniforms. Economists say that one reason for school uniforms may be to stop an "arms-race" competition among students. Can you explain?

d. Frank says that laws that require stores to close on Sundays, the so-called blue laws, can be justified as a way of containing a prisoner's-dilemma situation. Can you figure out his argument by analyzing the number of hours a store wants to stay open in terms of the prisoner's dilemma?

e. One Long Island high school banned its prom because parents were spending too much. (See http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,172416,00.html.) Is this an example of a smart-for-one-but-but-dumb-for-all competition?

f. The National Hockey League imposed a requirement that all players wear helmets for the 1979-80 season, in part due to the death of hockey player Bill Masterson in a game in 1968. Economist Thomas Schelling has analyzed the decision to wear or not wear a helmet as a prisoner's dilemma and you might google Thomas Schelling hockey helmets to learn more about what he said. Benefits of not wearing a helmet were that the player appeared more fearless and had slightly better peripheral vision. Schelling argued that polls of hockey players before helmets were made mandatory indicated that most of them, even those who did not wear helmets, thought that a rule requiring helmets would be a good thing. Could you explain how this example could be explained in prisoner-dilemma terms?

g. A similar situation to hockey helmets is steroids in football and baseball. Explain why it is dumb for all but smart for one.

h. In 2004 the National Hockey League locked out its players in an effort to negotiate a salary cap that would limit the payroll of each team. League officials said that because the teams had paid players too much, they were no longer profitable. Clearly it was the teams themselves that had caused this problem. Can you explain their situation as a case of the prisoner's dilemma that led to a smart-for-one-but-dumb-for-all outcome?

i. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has many restrictions on college athletics. For example, there are limitations on when and how much basketball and football teams can practice. These restrictions exist because the colleges that make up the NCAA vote for them. Why do you think that colleges voted to put restrictions on themselves?

j. Another section told the story of the newscaster who urged people to drive to work earlier to get parking spaces during a train strike. Explain this story as a "smart-for-one-but-dumb-for-all" competition that could be illustrated as a prisoner's dilemma.

k. Does Adam Smith's Invisible Hand describe a situation that is smart for one but dumb for all, or one that is smart for one and smart for all?

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