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The Samaritans Dilemma* James M. Buchanan This paper is an essay in prescriptive diagnosis. It represents my attempt to show that many different "social problems" can be analyzed as separate symptoms of the same disease. The diagnosis, as such, may be accepted without agreeing that the disease amounts to much or that, indeed, it is disease at all. Prescription for improvement or cure is suggested only if the disease is acknowledged to be serious. Even if the diagnosis and prescription be accepted, however, prospects for "better social health" may not be bright because, as the analysis demonstrates, the source of difficulty may lie in modern man's own utility function. We may simply be too compassionate for our own well-being or for that of an orderly and productive free society. I. Consider a very simple two-by-two payoff matrix confronting two players, A and B. Player A chooses between rows; Player B chooses between columns. The payoffs are utility indicators, and these are arranged in ordinal sequence; there is no need to introduce cardinal utility at this point. As indicated in Figure 1, for Player A the second row dominates the first, in the strict game-theory sense. In a simple game setting, he will choose Row 2 regardless of what Player B • A preliminary version of this paper was presented in seminars at Harvard, Kentucky, UCLA, West Virginia, and Western Michigan Universities in the spring of 1971, and an early revised version was presented in the Seminar on the Mathematical Theory of Collective Decisions, Hilton Head, South Carolina, in August 1971. The final version was prepared for presentation at the Conference on Altruism and Economic Theory held at Russell Sage Foundation. 71 72 • ALTRUISM, MORALITY, AND ECONOMIC THEORY does or is predicted to do. Furthermore, and this is important for the mam points of this paper, Player A will select Row 2 even if he fails to recognize that he is in a game at all. Row 2 is simply his p~agmatic or independent-behavior response to the choice situation that he confronts, whether or not A recognizes that B exists as a choice-making entity who opposes him in a game-like situation. Note, however, that Player B does not find himself in a comparable position to A. The way that B chooses does depend on A's action, observed or predicted. If A should choose Row 1, B will choose Column I. But if A .chooses Row 2, Player B will always select Column 2. If B knows A's payoff matrix, he will predict that A will choose Row 2. Hence, the "solution" of this simple game would seem to be Cell IV of the matrix. If we look carefully at this outcome, however, we see that Player A is worse off than he would be in Cell III. His payoff is maximized in Cell III, but he cannot, in and of himself, accomplish a shift into Cell III. Nonetheless, since Player B's choices ds:pend strictly on those of A, the latter should be in the driver's seat in one way or the other. Player A surely could, by some appropriate changes in behavior or strategy, insure an outcome in Cell III. To secure this, however, A must first recognize that he is in a game with B. That is to say, he must realize that his own choice behavior does, in fact, influence the choice behavior of B. Secondly, Player A must begin to behave "strategically"; that is, he must make his own choices on the basis of predictions about the effects of these on B's behavior. If A knows precisely what B's utility payoffs are, he can insure that an outcome in Cell III is realized. He can do so by playing the game in terms of the false payoffs that would be indicated by switching his own utility indicators as between Cells II and IV. B 1 2 1 II 1 2, 2 1, 1 A 111 IV 2 4, 3 3, 4 Figure 1. The Samaritan's Dilemma - 73 This strategy may be quite difficult for A, however, when we allow for the problems of communication and credibility between the players. Player A cannot simply announce to B what his strategy is and then expect Player B to believe him. We are interested here only in a sequential game, and A's strategy is revealed only through his behavior on particular plays of the...


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