Advancing a Free Society

The Predictioneer’s Game

Thursday, April 15, 2010

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Michael Krasny

Putting numbers to the news, Hoover fellow Bruce Bueno de Mesquita lays his bets on issues such as climate change and Middle East peace.

Michael Krasny:  The whole idea of doing things for strategic reasons and for self-interest sort of bypasses the irrationality of people . . . and they do act irrationally and unpredictably.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita:  Well, I would like an example of irrational as opposed to unpredictable; those are different things.  To me, rationality is doing what you believe is in your self-interest, and I can really think of only two groups of people who in general don’t behave that way.  I don’t make predictions about them, and they don’t [behave rationally] because they’re not able to form stable preferences:  two-year-olds—so you offer a two-year-old vanilla ice cream and they say they want chocolate.  You put chocolate in front of them.  No, no, no, they want vanilla.  They don’t know what they want, so it’s very hard to predict their behavior, and it’s very hard for them to act in what we would think of as a rational way.  And schizophrenics, who have difficulty forming stable preferences as well.  Other than that, I really can’t think of anybody who is irrational.

Krasny:  Is it self-interest for somebody to get on a plane and simply blow himself up?

Bueno de Mesquita:  Sadly, it is. In fact, in The Predictioneer’s Game I have a lengthy discussion of why suicide bombers are rational and why, at the other extreme, Mother Teresa and people like that are rational.

Continue reading this interview in The Hoover Digest…