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Game theory’s cure for corruption (aeon.co)
246 points by vimes656 on May 11, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments



  > In righteous societies, police were not a separate, elite order.
  > They were everybody. 
Attributed to John Peel in his establishment of London Metropolitan Police: “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”¹

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peelian_Principles


>In righteous societies, police were not a separate, elite order. They were everybody.

Also in totalitarian dystopias.

The thing is, before you get to who the police is (and it being everybody can be OK), it's more important to know what to police for and what is considered an offense.


Hunter-gatherer societies that did fit this model could be considered to be the ultimate totalitarian organizations. Extremely strict rules controlling every aspect of the life of the members, from birth to death, and no deviation ever tolerated, under pain of banishment or even death.


Yes but the power equation wasn't as bad as a modern totalitarian society. In a 100 people tribe, you are exactly 1% of it, and know in person the entire population.


Over most of human hunter-gatherer prehistory, the population was not generally resource-constrained. (Rather, it was constrained over the long term by catastrophes, which could be related to resources, diseases, genetics, culture, or some combination.) Therefore, most of the time, banishment did not lead to starvation or even necessarily isolation. One just walked for some time, until one was alone or in more accepting company, and then started hunting and gathering wherever one found oneself. This actually leads me to wonder whether "banishment" could even have been an actual threat, before the advent of agriculture. What if the tribe "banished" some people, and then a year later found itself migrating into wherever they had settled? Would it "banish" them again, if it could?


"Therefore, most of the time, banishment did not lead to starvation or even necessarily isolation."

Do you have a reference for that? It doesn't jibe with my understanding of banishment, but my readings are from agricultural traditions. More specifically, outlawry under Germanic law, where someone was judge to be outside of the protection of the law. Full outlawry on Iceland effectively meant banishment from Iceland or death. (See https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/documents/innervate/09-... .)

I found https://books.google.com/books?id=9ZkIAAAAQBAJ&lpg=PA81&ots=... which says:

> By the end of the last ice age .... To be cast out of a band .. usually meant total banishment from the society and eventual death, either by starvation or as a result of aggression by members of another society (Salisbury, 1962).

And here's a reference concerning Aboriginal use of banishment, from http://www.ajic.mb.ca/volumel/chapter2.html :

> As in European societies, some crimes required the complete removal of the criminal from society. In most Aboriginal societies, this meant banishment. In such close, family-oriented societies, where survival depended upon communal cooperation, such sanctions were considered a humane alternative to death, no matter how traumatic they may have been to the offender.

Further, http://rsc2012hscls.wikispaces.com/file/view/Law+Reform+Coun... :

> Exile or banishment has been described as an extremely harsh punishment and was not embraced by all Aboriginal societies.

This does not sound compatible with your conjecture that pre-agricultural era banishment was not a real threat.

Further, I do not follow the logic to "Therefore, most of the time, banishment did not lead to starvation".

Consider this non-real scenario. Humans can survive only be eating buffalo meat. There are huge numbers of buffalo compared to humans, so there is a food surplus. However, it takes 10 people to kill one buffalo. In that scenario, exiling someone leads to certain death as a lone human cannot hunt a buffalo. While the human species is not resource-constrained, a single human is.

Similarly, in Intuit cultures there were strong specializations between male and female roles. For example, it was women who were trained in how to sew the skins to make clothes against the harsh weather, while the men learned hunting skills. If a male were banished, I wonder if he might not have the skills to survive on his own.


>This does not sound compatible with your conjecture that pre-agricultural era banishment was not a real threat.

It doesn't have to be a real threat to be considered "extremely harsh".

That is, it's not just physical damage or potential danger that's "harsh". Isolation from the community you belong too could be considered just as harsh, from a social standpoint.


I do not understand your comment. I was asking for clarification as the statement did not match my understanding of banishment across several cultures, nor does the logic used to reach the conclusion make sense.

In this context I used "threat" as a short-hand for the previous poster's "Therefore, most of the time, banishment did not lead to starvation or even necessarily isolation". I did not mean it as a purely physical threat. Indeed, the link I gave to Aboriginal customary law uses 'threat' for both physical and non-physical punishments ("In addition to the threat of being killed for a breach of customary law it has been reported that in some cases the threat also involved the denial of mortuary rites"), so my broader use does not appear to be unusual.

Therefore, I agree with your comment, as it is a restatement of mine. But my experience is that comments with similar structure to yours are meant to point out incorrect or incomplete statement. Yet I don't see how that's the case here.

Would you kindly elaborate the intent behind your response?


Banishment is most certainly a punishment. Just imagine never being allowed to speak with almost all the people you met in your entire life.

Hunter Gatherers also find a strength and safety in numbers, even if only in avoiding the fatility of personal "catastrophes" like a broken limb.


"Therefore, most of the time, banishment did not lead to starvation or even necessarily isolation. One just walked for some time, until one was alone or in more accepting company, and then started hunting and gathering wherever one found oneself."

Where danger can be found, banishment is death. Consider this quote from Sebastian Junger:

"What all these people seem to miss isn’t danger or loss, per se, but the closeness and cooperation that danger and loss often engender. Humans evolved to survive in extremely harsh environments, and our capacity for cooperation and sharing clearly helped us do that. Structurally, a band of hunter-gatherers and a platoon in combat are almost exactly the same: in each case, the group numbers between 30 and 50 individuals, they sleep in a common area, they conduct patrols, they are completely reliant on one another for support, comfort, and defense, and they share a group identity that most would risk their lives for." [0]

There is a lot of anthropological studies that confirm this observation.

[0] http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/05/ptsd-war-home-sebasti...


Care to link to sources on that?

From what I read on hunter-gatherers they were very egalitarian - and there was no need for strict rules controlling every aspect of the life of the members. Unlike in pastoral and settled cultures they did not have any way to accumulate wealth and they did not need to defend it later.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter-gatherer#Social_and_econ...

In fact the ways hunter-gatherers enforced their rules were often playful: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201105/ho... (lots of other interesting material at this site).


That's the point of separating powers - the police shouldn't judge or carry out sentences.


Interesting. I wonder what it would be like if Police Duty was mandatory service that everyone was required to perform, either like Jury Duty is supposed to work, or as a mandatory service for young people.


The USSR did that. Militia draftees did much routine street policing.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militsiya#Conscripted_police


I've lived in London for most of my life and have never heard that. Thanks.

It does jibe somewhat with certain modern police practices, like 'kettling' peaceful protestors, and their insistence on calling it police 'force'


Believe you mean Sir Robert Peel, John Peel is an entirely different guy.


John Peel's opinion on the Police has a lot more to do with bass lines and guitar parts than community involvement.


"Imagine a city where police commit blatant traffic violations and never ticket one another. The authorities could decrease power inequalities by developing an online system in which all citizens are able to anonymously report dangerous drivers. Anyone who received too many independent reports would be investigated – police included."

This makes sense to me. It infuriates me as a biker and pedestrian when police dangerously disobey the traffic laws. I see them do rolling stops, putting on their lights briefly to get through a red light, or speed up and pass me on the left as I'm making a left turn.

One way to do this would be to allow anyone to report traffic violations that they caught on video. So if I record the video of someone committing a violation, I upload the video to the town's website, they send the owner of the license plate a ticket.

That said, I thought that most of this article was pretty weak, a lot of meandering, incoherence, and conflation of different ideas.

One of the best articles I read on morality, game theory and evolution was here: http://jim.com/rights.html The author derives a theory of natural rights from game theory, and it makes a lot of sense.


Even as another driver I automatically class any police car I see as "highest possible risk of doing something stupid without warning", right up there with a minivan full of kids and a texting driver that I've observed swerving several times and has changed lanes without signaling.

The only problem with this is that the cop car probably deserves a class of its own, even riskier than the swerving distracted-driver minivan full of kids.


Maybe it's a function of me living in a small town, but I have only once seen police doing anything dangerous while driving. I've NEVER seen one use his siren to get through a red-light, either.

When they have the siren on, they're typically driving much faster than normal, but normally they're indistinguishable from a normal driver.

The one incident I did see was a motorcycle officer do a U-turn across four lanes to come ticket me (no seatbelt). He turned on his lights first, and the road was relatively clear.


Small town makes a big difference. What are the odds that a friend of a friend (or even a cousin) sees the cop do something stupid, compared to a large town?

[edit] To put this in the context of the article, if a Cop does something publicly stupid in a small town, there will be a social penalty levied against them when they e.g. sit down for a beer next to someone who saw them do something stupid.


Well, it's not that small.

~35k population.

I have no idea who any police officers are, nor have I ever (knowingly) sat down next to one...anywhere. I occasionally see a group of them at Arby's or something, eating with each other at lunch.

FWIW I have a very wide social circle in town, here (I own a bar)--but it includes no police officers.


> Maybe it's a function of me living in a small town, but I only once seen police doing anything dangerous while driving.

I guess so. I've seen it more times than I can count.


Know this, we had a former officer as a guest speaker and he made it quite clear that, between radio calls, logging and looking up stuff on their systems, police are incredibly dangerous to be around. His best advice was to stay far away from patrol cars.


DPS and the local PD used to race from the center of our town to the 24hr diner on interstate in our town at 3 am. Why, no one ever reported them.


We tried this in chicago with bus drivers blowing through reds and getting caught on our red light cameras. Turns out the unions strong-armed the city early on to make bus drivers non-responsible for traffic violations and the city ends up paying their own fines.

The larger issue with urban corruption is how unions enable this corruption. All the technology and feel good sentiment doesn't mean a thing if unions continue to have this much power over the taxpayer. Police unions make sure the bad apples don't get prosecuted as well, so this goes way beyond mere traffic issues into human rights issues like being killed in police custody and having a 'code of silence' and all the powers and wealth of the police union against the victim's family looking for justice.


http://bribespot.com/en/ tried/is trying to do something like that: crowdsourcing info on corruption. I saw their pitch and thought it's an awesome idea, but I don't think they got the traction that would be needed.


India has one with quite a lot of reports: http://www.ipaidabribe.com/


I have twice had to jump out of the way of an unmarked NYC police car that turned on its lights and sirens and ran a red as I was crossing the street.

I also always look both ways crossing one way streets as I've almost been clipped by a police car going the wrong way down one.


The trick is still: who does the investigation?


A past idea of mine is: everyone. Every vehicle registration accumulates points at the rate of one per week. Fingering another vehicle deducts 5 points from their total and (to deter false reports) one from yours. If your total is negative, you can't drive/ride.

There's probably a great deal wrong with this.


This would de-incentivize the reporting of infractions, which is the opposite of what you want.

You want to incentivize the reporting of verified infractions, while de-incentivize false reports. A consensus system could be used to "verify" a report.


In this kind of system, I think the negative points are to remove the burden of confirming infractions. It's in an individual's best interest to both keep driving AND to remove poor drivers. Hitting the correct ratio is the key.


Old people who don't drive would report one vehicle per week.


We could also do network analysis on the graph of people reporting other people. If there are any strange, unnatural patterns, they could be ignored. But if Jonny has been reported by 10 people in the last month, and those 10 are unrelated to each other, that would be compelling evidence Jonny is not behaving well. The system can still be gamed if a group of people are organized online to report targets (like 4chan does DDOS attacks). Fortunately, in order to report someone one would need to disclose his identity. On 4chan there is radical anonymity, by contrast.


the system i've laid out here can help solve that problem:

https://github.com/neyer/respect

if someone you respect, directly or implicitly, performs the investigation, then you can respect the results of the investigation. if someone you don't respect does it, you can disregard it.


Robert Klitgaard posits that accountability/transparency reduces corruption


Have everyone empowered to dispense justice is an interesting proposition, but there's a big difference between insects and people.

People aren't all logical, analytic creatures, especially when they operate in groups. They tend to act on emotion rather than logic and it often isn't clear which information is factual and which is rumor. People tend to be susceptible to groupthink, and often go with the crowd.

Having everyone dealing out justice might work if everyone was calm, rational, logical, and well-educated, which is often what game theory supposes, but that's not how things work. In reality, I would think that such a system would result in mob violence, sometimes triggered by good information, but often triggered by hearsay and rumors.

Not everyone agrees what is correct behavior and what isn't, so what would be acceptable to one person would not be acceptable to another. We'd get a lot of uncertainty whether our behavior is acceptable or not.

If we had a system where a mass of people decided via some sort of upvoting/downvoting, it would be a "tyranny of the majority", where minorities would be oppressed by majorities just because they had different standards of what is acceptable behavior. Goodbye civil rights, because those would count for nothing if a member of the minority did something that offended the majority.

It seems to me that this is what happens in anarchical places in the world where authority has broken down. Anyone can and will dispense justice. Violence because someone was offended by someone else's behavior (which I find completely non-offensive) is common and mob violence is common.

Strong authority often breeds corruption but a lack of authority can also breed disorder and chaos, an environment where people who can gather followers become a strong authority and become corrupt. It's bad either way.


You wouldn't want to legalize lynch mobs. But maybe there's a happy medium. Making it clear that citizens are allowed to take videos of cops might be a good start.

For actual punishment, force isn't necessarily needed. A lot of societies manage it by social pressure, with "shunning" being an extreme version. Pressure for conformity already exists regarding things which are not illegal, so I'm not convinced that it makes things worse to rely on it more for things which are currently illegal.

One of my anthropology professors used to say there are two ways to keep order in society: by force, and by ideology, and the second is a lot cheaper.


It's rare but you can perform a citizen's arrest


It's also actively discouraged by the police for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are even good: chain of custody concerns for any evidence on the suspect's person, danger to the untrained person making the arrest, danger to the suspect, and the possibility that the suspect will sue.


> I would think that such a system would result in mob violence, sometimes triggered by good information, but often triggered by hearsay and rumors.

We are already seeing this with the "reddit affect" where some poor soul gets targeted by "Hey this guy didn't tip me on a busy Friday night," and it all turns out to be bullshit. Even if it wasn't, thousands of angry netizens shouldn't be picking on lone individuals.

There's also an element of bikeshedding here as an average Joe can understand being stiffed and be unreasonably angry about it, but perhaps cannot understand the intricacies of sexual assault or financial fraud. This is why police, lawmakers, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges are all trained, educated, and regulated in some fashion. This stuff is much harder than it looks. Anyone who has ever lived in a HOA knows exactly what happens when average Joes are given the authority to enforce random things. Its death by a million paper cuts and everyone is miserable and hates each other in the end.

We tried the snitch society in communist regimes (and still have it in places like Cuba and N Korea) and its hellish.

>Anyone who received too many independent reports would be investigated – police included."

Except the police have a powerful union behind them. 100 reports against me will lead to my arrest or a beating or whatever. 100 against a cop will merit nothing, maybe a rubber-stamped investigation that always leads to 'innocent.'


> In reality, I would think that such a system would result in mob violence, sometimes triggered by good information, but often triggered by hearsay and rumors.

Basically what you see today on social media, where everyone is empowered to be an agent of "justice" (a public shaming and harassment-based justice system).


The Scarlet Twitter.


The Facebookrucible.


>Not everyone agrees what is correct behavior and what isn't, so what would be acceptable to one person would not be acceptable to another.

That!

If there would be one set of rules that everyone would agree, then this idea could work. It works in ants, because there is no ambiguous ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

You could think that law suppose to be that set of rules that suppose to tell you what is right and what is wrong. But is not that simple, law doesn't ask you whether you agree with it, you just must comply with it. So if you disagree that listening to pirated mp3 is a unlawful, you might as well do it without feeling guilt. And even when law is already forced upon you, disputes still arise and disagreements has to be solved in court, simply because you cannot cover every possible situation in the rules.


>If we had a system where a mass of people decided via some sort of upvoting/downvoting, it would be a "tyranny of the majority", where minorities would be oppressed...

Maybe. But isn't it an experiment worth trying? Does anyone really know what would happen in a modern, secular, money-driven society if you gave people more authority to enforce the law?


This happens in cyberspace all the time (just look at any HN discussion about airport security): what reason do we have to believe that in meatspace people would behave differently?


Moreover, why do we think that this process would happen in meatspace? Distinction between on-line and off-line is getting increasingly meaningless anyway. People now mostly communicate on-line, mostly get their news on-line, so it stands to reason they'd behave exactly as they do now, only with worse consequences.


People behave very differently online and offline


No, not exactly. People behave differently when they believe there will be consequences for their actions. I may troll because there is almost zero repercussions to the action online. You see the same action in large crowds. A few people in a large crowd can easily start a riot by realizing their individual actions are not likely to be punished.


I do think it's an experiment worth trying. My hypothesis would be that it wouldn't work, but it would be indeed interesting to see what happens. I think that we'd learn a lot even from failure.

I suspect it would have a greater chance of being successful on a small scale and then break down on a large scale. Like corruption, I think it's somewhat dependent on the culture shared by the people who are involved, much like with successful companies vs disfunctional companies.


One of the key points is that abusive "punishing" is in itself punished.

To get the best of both worlds, it would be good enough to make sure citizens are empowered to investigate and persecute abuse. Both through strong "rat squads" and good systems for reporting abuse.


> If we had a system where a mass of people decided via some sort of upvoting/downvoting, it would be a "tyranny of the majority", where minorities would be oppressed...

I feel like, in tech, we have a bunch of those


This article, like many, mentions the idea of the Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) but does not convincingly connect it to the particular nature of police corruption.

An interesting article; still, I tire of seeing so many articles introduce and anchor game theory based on the PD or one particular configuration of it. The PD is frequently overblown, misunderstood, and misapplied. Game theory is much more than the PD.

I think it is also worth mentioning that game theory isn't the only game or theory in town when it comes to thinking about society and collective action. For example, systems dynamics is also quite interesting; see Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows.

To get a handle for police corruption, I'd argue a theory probably should explain how and why:

  * corrupt police do/don't get caught
  * corrupt police do/don't rat each other out
  * police are/aren't monitored
  * police are/aren't incentivized


The Prisoner's Dilemma is frequently mentioned because it is one of the most fundamental building blocks of game theory. Almost everything else that we think of as game theory is either a variant of it, built on top of it, or is an attempt to tweak it.

The simplest version of the Prisoner's Dilemma succinctly explains both (1) why rational beings feel compelled to have a moral code in the first place, and (2) why they so often disobey the moral code that they themselves believe in. It's best for everyone to cooperate; but in the absence of a guarantee that everyone else will, it's in my best interest to defect.

Of course, you can't get from PD to police corruption in a single step. Lots of intermediate steps and computer modeling is needed to get there. But most of that is probably too technical for an Aeon article, so the article only mentions the first and last steps. A more detailed account of the models they used would be very interesting, but that's probably the job of actual scientific papers.


But the PD is faulty at it's core, because it doesn't take into account external factors. What if the criminals are in a gang that treats snitches very harshly? Or not in a gang but in a culture of 'omerta'? What if the criminals' career prospects are affected more harshly by a long vs short sentence? What if admitting guilt fast-tracks the criminal into a drug rehab course that the criminal is interested in? What if one police interrogator reads criminal A better and thus phrases the deal in a more attractive way? What if the criminal is on the third strike in a 'three strikes' location? What if the criminal is a devoted father, and can't possibly entertain the option of being away from his child for the term of the long sentence? What if the criminal is an institutionalised homeless person, and the idea of prison is attractive?

There are heaps of external factors that can affect this decision, from subtle to severe, and the PD doesn't model them well at all. As a base building block, it's not very solid.


All the complications you mentioned can be, and usually are, modeled as additional constraints on PD.

You can add arbitrary constraints on PD, such as a 50% chance that a third party will punish you for defecting. More importantly, you can play PD many times in a row and have each round's incentive structure depends on the result of previous rounds, sort of like encrypting in CBC mode.

The rewards and penalties don't need to be jail time, either. You can gamble with money, your life, or anything else you value. Usually it's done with some representation of money, because money is easy to measure and more intuitive to people who've never been in a prison.

The iterated (many rounds) variant is extremely powerful, as it allows researchers to simulate all sorts of complicated constraints. For example, other players might become more likely to defect on you if you defect on them three times in a row (three strikes). Certain players (the mob boss) might be much more interested in your performance than others, and defect on you much more severely when disappointed. You might be given an opportunity to reset your records (rehab or pardon) after a certain pattern of defection and cooperation, or maybe it will be game over (death sentence) after a different pattern. Iterate a few million times, and you've got a pretty damn accurate picture of how effective each policy will be in discouraging defection (crime).

Iterated PD also allows researchers to study whether a given incentive structure is stable, i.e. doesn't change much over thousands of iterations. According to the article, the incentives that give rise to police corruption are stable, but tweaking the constraints in a certain way can disrupt them.

More information on iterated PD:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma#The_itera...


> I think it is also worth mentioning that game theory isn't the only game or theory in town when it comes to thinking about society and collective action. For example, systems dynamics is also quite interesting

Not to mention the huge numbers of psychologists and anthropologists who provided data illustrating the numerous fallacies of game theory. In the early days, game theorists were laughably naive about actual humans.


We don't have to speculate about how widespread power of prosecution might work out; there's history. http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/England_18thc./Englan... http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Iceland/Iceland.html


TLDR: despite Friedman's best attempts to spin otherwise, not very well, unless you have a particular fondness for punishments being either extremely draconian or purely financial and think justice is improved if the likelihood of punishment is more closely related to the wealth and connections of the accuser.


...justice is improved if the likelihood of punishment is more closely related to the wealth and connections of the accuser.

Eh, modern justice systems have their fair share of that.


I haven't argued otherwise. But modern accusers aren't expected to pay for the costs of the prosecution and the witnesses, or enforce fine collection via escalating blood feud, and relatively few people would argue reverting to such a system would improve the chances of the likelihood and level of punishment being closely associated with actual guilt.


It seems like the ubiquity of small recording devices that nearly anyone could own and use (like a cellphone) will have a larger impact on corruption than anything else we could do.

You may not have any direct power over the cop that just shook you down for a few hundred, but discretely recording that interaction and posting it on YouTube is likely to end his career in any society.


It seems like many of the cops who are filmed brutalizing people end up on brief suspension, and then back at their jobs shortly after.

For filming police to be effective, we need more regularly enforced punishments (like actually being fired) for police brutality.


Those who are actually fired are sometimes discovered working as a cop in another nearby jurisdiction shortly thereafter.

If you really want to punish a rotten cop, you need to prevent him from being rehired.


I'm not generally in favour of occupational bans, but I think that's a great example for an occupation you should be able to get banned from if you are found to abuse your position of power (much like caretakers). You wouldn't want to see a rapist nurse be employed as a nurse or a molesting teacher work in a school, so why should police brutality be treated any different? You abuse a privileged position, you lose the privilege for a reasonable amount of time.


> If you really want to punish a rotten cop, you need to prevent him from being rehired.

Isn't preventing rehire part of the premise behind jailing criminals? It makes me ill that it is so difficult to jail common criminals if they have worn a badge. They earn the name 'pigs' every time they obstruct justice.


posting it on YouTube is likely to end his career in any society.

Given that the video gains enough visibility of course but I would still take that with a grain of salt.


That's why you pay attention to the people in the media that are good at distributing this kind of stuff and pass it to them.


For your amusement let me point out some implicit assumptions that are required for that to be true. The country in which I live has criminal defamation laws that would result in you going to jail for posting that video - the truth is not a defense against defamation here, unlike other countries. Also, the authorities would likely demand the video be taken down or they would require ISPs to block it within the country.


to be relevant, this same author writes a very interesting piece about pregnancy seen as a war of conflict between mom and infant

http://aeon.co/magazine/science/pregnancy-is-a-battleground-...


That was a fantastic read -thank you :)


> The results were startling. By making a few alterations to the composition of the justice system, corrupt societies could be made to transition to a state called ‘righteousness’. In righteous societies, police were not a separate, elite order. They were everybody. When virtually all of society stood ready to defend the common good, corruption didn’t pay.

Is this saying that the justice system is the problem, not law-enforcement?


Righteousness is a problem in of itself at times, and the vision of "common good" enforced by the citizens in general will not necessarily be good.


That's a pretty fine distinction you're attempting to draw. The portion of the "justice system" that is not police, is instead made up of people who interact with police several times a week. Most citizens are not in either of those groups.


In other words:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.


Can someone tl;dr this? I skimmed it but the florid prose and the lack of any, you know, concrete suggestion (that I could find) really, really put me off (and I'm normally a huge fan of aeon).


Game theory predicts that corruption is inevitable when only a subset of the population is empowered to enforce societal norms. Hence, the only way to eliminate corruption is by empowering all of the members of a society to enforce societal norms.


Anarchy in 3... 2... 1...


Thank you. I really like that idea!


You really need to read the article in order to have an informed opinion of it. At the very least, you should take into account the author's own caveats around her conclusion.


Maybe I'm cynical, but I can't shake the thought that this will simply lead to the formation of gangs/clans.


I think social media is a somewhat relevant corollary, where it self-polices content.

I'd say sometimes--like HN--it's a success. Good behavior is encouraged & enforced. Bad behavior is punished.

Other times--like reddit--not a success. The hive-mind is real there, and in particular well-mannered disagreement that is misaligned with the norm is punished pretty strongly there.

Plus we all have heard how their investigations of real-life events have turned out--witch hunts.

I think reddit's population is more reflective of the general population, unfortunately. I don't think self-policing would end well at all.


Reddit is actually quite a complex ecosystem nowadays. There's a lot of HN-quality subreddits focused on particular topics. I'd risk saying that most topical subreddits are sort-of OK. The rule of thumb I'm seeing is: the more niche the interest, the better the community. It's only when you start dealing with "normals" that you see the worst parts of humanity.


As a general (no just limited to Reddit) observation, the easier a topic can be opinionated the more noise there will be.


And on twitter and tumblr, doxxing your opponents' families is the norm.


Both communities are heavily moderated


This only works if all members of the population share the exact same set of values. Even then, it might be undesirable.

Mob stoning individuals for extra martial sex is an example of this behavior.

I don't think that would be desirable ..


There could easily be modern manifestations of this too. Mob beatings for a 1 percenter that they deemed corrupt. Humanity will always find a way to get too outraged over something.


What is funny is that, if we sum it up with another article of this site : http://aeon.co/magazine/psychology/when-bad-behaviour-does-a... we conclude that a society without corruption (where every bad or coward behaviour are punish) is also a society without creativity !

By the way, this is one of the greatest article I have ever read in hacker news. Loved it.


This article has interesting implications for the current attempts to revive community policing, which promotes the idea of police getting more involved and integrated into the communities in which they work, with the hope that they become more trusted and aware of the social landscape in which they are operating.

By integrating themselves with the community, they would necessarily fall under the influences of some of the community's norms, and perhaps be better tuned, and also more accountable, to it's norms of righteousness.

That may work in many cases, but the article seems to assume that most individuals in any community will promote righteousness in the community's interest.

What happens if the community lacks the social norms to enforce righteousness, especially with respect to the property rights and justification of violence? What happens when the "community" is hardly a community at all, but, due to its socioeconomic circumstances, is a place where suspicions of neighbors and incentives to cheat the community are pervasive?

Whose job is it to establish the norms of righteousness where they are lacking, or significantly degraded?


On a very similar theme I was discussing the merits of requiring police to have personal professional insurance that pays out for a portion of any civil liabilities and is priced accordingly.

It seems somewhat perverse at first glance, but might actually be a good incentive if carefully structured and actuaries are also one group of people that might actually get somewhere with demanding actual figures from police.


I'm for this. I think it would get the same pushback that most good ideas for policing routinely gets: They'll say it might make cops timid. As if they're already too timid.


Long story short: If you enable every member of a society to punish abuse, you get a righteous community.

But this has been known for quite some time: Transparency can fight corruption. That's why it may be a good Idea to put cameras on policemen, and that publishing public budgets is an inevitable step towards reducing corruption.


Game theory as a subject is something I wish was taught as standard curiculum. It contains so many answers to so many deep and vexing questions and problems of our age, and it holds the promise of so many more. It is among the great intellectual achievements of the 20th century.


I will teach my son first Game Theory and Statistics and only then economics and law.


If your mental model for something is so malleable that it can explain cancer and police corruption the same way, maybe it's not actually providing any insight and all you've done is distort reality to fit it. Just saying... Game theory is so easy to invoke



On the other hand, many times deep principles can be discovered and validated when they reveal unusual correlations between previously unknown-to-be-related systems.


tl;dr

The main strategy:

Here’s how it might look in practice. Imagine a city where police commit blatant traffic violations and never ticket one another. The authorities could decrease power inequalities by developing an online system in which all citizens are able to anonymously report dangerous drivers. Anyone who received too many independent reports would be investigated – police included. This sounds almost laughably simple, and yet the model indicates that it ought to do the trick. It is, after all, essentially the same system used by many online communities.


I'm not entirely sure I like that. Ever hear of brigading on Reddit, or "your personal army" on 4chan /b/ ?

That's the bad end of what we have to deal with. And it is easy to imagine every officer getting more votes than the city has residents... and we're back to square 1.


I thought the article was too lengthy/wordy, so I didn't read it all. I was curious if it described the same anti-corruption approach that I know was once suggested in India: "legalize one side of the corruption". That makes those in a corruption scheme think twice (or more) -- now both sides are equally punishable (thus create a bond by bribing/taking-bribe).

That's also a game-theory approach to corruption!


I would love to hear more about this "legalize one side of the corruption" proposed solution. Can you elaborate?

The article is lengthy but ultimately boils down to what one of the other comments mentioned: Game theory predicts that corruption is inevitable when only a subset of the population is empowered to enforce societal norms. Hence, the only way to eliminate corruption is by empowering all of the members of a society to enforce societal norms.


A logical consequence of legalising one side of the corruption is that a mutual incentive to conceal its occurrence no longer exists, which makes corrupt agreements more difficult to reach as well as more likely to be exposed.


Are you talking about the legalization of paying bribes?

I was looking close, because I think the topic is very interesting. They legalized paying bribes only for services that one'd have the right to have anyway. If a person get any kind of advantage over what they already have a right, it's not legal anymore.

Overall, I think it's a very well thought-out law, and completely not radical. The entire world should copy it.


Pretty sure cops see other cops break laws far more serious than speeding and say nothing, every single week.

How can you expect any cop to be honest if they watch others break the law and say nothing?

You'll never change bad behavior if there is no penalty for that behavior.


That's a big part of what the article is about; so long as only the police can levy penalties against people for breaking the law, there will be police corruption.


What I would like to see is serious incentives for police officers to turn in their colleagues and give IAB unlimited power to spy on every aspect of officers' lives.


There are good game-theoretic reasons why that is just a band-aid solution, compared to empowering citizens to apply some form of pressure to officers.


I think this goes a little too far. I would settle for cops being held to the same rules as everyone else for starters. If that's not enough, then sure, special inquisition powers for IAB and maybe also a citizen led review board.


gotta go along to get along


Never cross the blue line.


Did anyone else read this and think about the ending of The Stand? It's the same problem; as society scales, policing scales and problems start to arise.


So, the world might actually work if all of us self-police ourselves from self-corruption.




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