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[American Thinker]

January 7, 2014

By Christopher Chantrill

obama-offer11It was on December 4, 2013 that President Obama opened the Year of Inequality with his speech on economic mobility. A month later liberal hounds are baying for extended unemployment benefits and higher minimum wage, and conservatives are drawing up lists of what liberals know that ain’t so.

Here is John Hawkins’ enumeration of how liberal inequality politics hurts the poor.

1. Minimum wage prices poor out of jobs.

2. Minimum wage makes people comfortable, not succeed.

3. More government equals more economic stagnation.

4. More inequality programs make it harder to get ahead.

5. Inequality politics ignores real causes of poverty.

And here is John C. Goodman exposing “Five Myths about Inequality.”

1. Average family income has stagnated. No it hasn’t.

2. People at the bottom are there through no fault of their own. Except they don’t get out and work much.

3. Transfer programs are an effective remedy for inequality. No, they discourage people from seeking work.

4. Raising minimum wage reduces inequality. Science says: no evidence that minimum wage increases lift people out of poverty.

5. Income is best measure of inequality. Except that poorest quartile consumes twice its money income.

We know what is going on here. Right now liberals aren’t going to win votes by airy promises of Hope and Change. That dog won’t hunt, not with ObamaCare hammering ordinary Americans in the pocketbook. They have to turn the clock back to basic tribal instinct: vote for the Dems and we will give you loot. So 2014 must be the Year of Inequality. Democrats will extend long-term unemployment benefits even though science says that any period of unemployment is damaging to basic job skills. They will raise the minimum wage even though it will make it harder for your kid to get a job. And anyone that disagrees wants to starve little children.

We could go all Heideggerian here and sneer that the liberals are “falling” into the “inauthentic” “they-self” of “idle talk” at MSNBC and NPR. But we won’t.

No, let’s do something useful instead, and get back to science, the science of cooperation. Many of us have heard how game theorists use the Prisoners’ Dilemma to investigate the phenomenon of human cooperation, and we’ve even heard about Robert Axelrod. He is the guy that ran a Prisoners’ Dilemma tournament back in the 1970s and found that the best strategy for successful cooperation was TIT FOR TAT. Check out Wikipedia for details. I recently read the book, Robert Axelrod’s The Evolution of Cooperation. He boils it down to this, what we might call the Four Steps to Successful Social Cooperation:

1. Don’t be envious.

2. Don’t be the first to defect (i.e., be nice).

3. Reciprocate both cooperation and defection ( i.e., don’t be a sucker).

4. Don’t be too clever.

Ever cracked The Evolution of Cooperation, Mr. President, in between Game of Thrones and Rules for Radicals? Ever thought how your new inequality policy goes against the settled science of cooperation?

First, you like to encourage envy in your supporters with your class and race policy. Then your permanent campaign means that you believe in a philosophy of noncooperation, hitting your opponents twice as hard. And, finally, you and the other Axelrod, David, think that clever tactics will always win the game.

The error that political activists make — even on the right — is to reduce all life to politics. But politics, I like to say, is civil war by other means, and every political action is therefore like a chess move, designed to inflict maximum harm on the opposition.

If you reduce life in society to civil-war-by-other-means you create a social and economic wasteland, so wise politicians typically put the chess game aside after the election. They try to dial down the triumphalism in their own supporters and the resentment in the opposition with calls to unity; they often work with the opposition to pass legislation that commands bipartisan support.

The new generation of progressives doesn’t get this. Thus President Obama snubbed Republican congressional leaders after the 2008 election with “I won.” The de Blasio folks went out of their way to insult out-going Mayor Bloomberg at Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration as New York City mayor. Don’t be nice, be nasty, and teach those racist, sexist bigots a lesson.

But human society, any society, is the group of people who are nice to each other, trust rather than suspect, that friend rather than un-friend. In the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma tournament, it was the “nice” cooperative strategies that won the tournament.

You want to help the poor? You want to make a more prosperous society? Then do everything you can to increase the payoff from cooperation.

Apparently our liberal friends are too clever to figure this out.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism. Get his Road to the Middle Class.