The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law

By Ward Farnsworth | Go to book overview

10 The Prisoner’s Dilemma

You and a confederate are arrested on suspicion of theft. The prosecutor puts you in separate rooms and gives you the same choices. If both of you confess, he will urge the judge to show lenity and give you each five years in prison. If neither confesses, you both will be charged with lesser offenses that are easier to prove, which you may assume will result in oneyear sentences. It’s more interesting if your partner talks and you don’t: he goes free and you get ten years. The reverse also is true: if you talk and he doesn’t, he does ten years and you go free—a tantalizing thought. So you might think like this: if your partner is going to talk, you had better talk (otherwise you get the maximum); and if he doesn’t talk, you have even more reason to confess: then you walk. No matter what he does, your best course is to confess—which you do. Alas, your partner has the same train of thought and confesses as well. You both end up in prison for five years. It’s too bad you weren’t able to cooperate; if you had trusted each other, you both could have kept silent and cut your jail time to one year apiece. Here is a matrix summarizing how the situation can play out; in each parenthesis the first figure is the number of years of prison time you serve, and the second figure is the number of years he serves:

There turn out to be many situations in life that are like this: cases where decisions that are individually rational end up making everyone in a group worse off, including you (the rational actor, let us imagine). If we both cooperate we’re better off than if neither of us does, but since we can choose strategies only for ourselves and not for others, the temptation may be enormous for each of us to do the selfish thing—to “defect,” as it

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The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Part I - Incentives 1
  • 1 - Ex Ante and Ex Post 3
  • 2 - The Idea of Efficiency 13
  • 3 - Thinking at the Margin 24
  • 4 - The Single Owner 37
  • 5 - The Least Cost Avoider 47
  • 6 - Administrative Cost 57
  • 7 - Rents 66
  • 8 - The Coase Theorem 75
  • Part II - Trust, Cooperation, and Other Problems for Multiple Players 85
  • 9 - Agency with Eric Posner 87
  • 10 - The Prisoner's Dilemma 100
  • 11 - Public Goods 109
  • 12 - The Stag Hunt 117
  • 13 - Chicken 126
  • 14 - Cascades 136
  • 15 - Voting Paradoxes 144
  • 16 - Suppressed Markets with Saul Levmore 152
  • Part III - Jurisprudence 161
  • 17 - Rules and Standards 163
  • 18 - Slippery Slopes with Eugene Volokh 172
  • 19 - Acoustic Separation 182
  • 20 - Property Rules and Liability Rules 188
  • 21 - Baselines 198
  • Part IV - Psychology 207
  • 22 - Willingness to Pay and Willingness to Accept- The Endowment Effect and Kindred Ideas 209
  • 23 - Hindsight Bias 218
  • 24 - Framing Effects 224
  • 25 - Anchoring 230
  • 26 - Self-Serving Bias, with a Note on Attribution Error 237
  • Part V - Problems of Proof 247
  • 27 - Acoustic Separation 249
  • 28 - Standards of Proof 257
  • 29 - The Product Rule 273
  • 30 - The Base Rate 281
  • 31 - Value and Markets 294
  • Notes 305
  • Author Index 329
  • Subject Index 335
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