Games_2 Most of us would have heard this statement – “What can I do about the situation? Everybody is behaving in that manner. My change of behavior is not going to change the situation?”

The above response could be in many situations in India like:

Why should you give bribe govt. official / middle man / for that matter anybody to get work done?
Why should you stop at a signal showing red, at the middle of the night?
Why should you care to throw garbage at some other place when the whole street is throwing it on the road?
Why should you care to use spittoons rather than spit on the road / wall?
Why does one stand to an injustice that is happening right in public places and doesn’t do any thing about it?
Why do people not pay up their student loans?

There are umpteen such situations where “What can I do” syndrome paralyzes action amongst Indians.

You view the above problems from the lens of a Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD) and what you have is the book “Games Indians Play – Why we are the way we are”. It’s an opinion by the author and not rigorously tested by empirical / experimental data. However, the author offers an interesting explanation for the way we behave. It is definitely a delightful read which can be read in one sitting.

The book starts off with a brief explanation of prisoner’s dilemma. Every PD contains four states T, – Temptation, R – Reward, P – Punishment, S – Sucker from a player’s standpoint.  (Player A for example interacting with Player B)
T is where Player A cheats while Player B plays a fair
R is where Player A and Player B plays a fair game
P is where Player A plays and Player B cheats
S is where Player A plays a fair game while Player B cheats

It then goes on to talk about Single PD, a situation where players interact only once. A couple of situations to illustrate Single PD are:
One time export contract given to Indian – Should the exporter be sending lesser quality goods as his chance of getting another export contract is very unlikely
Whether to give a handsome Tip in a foreign restaurant that would be visited only once?
Whether to jump the queue?
Whether to put billboards all through the city so that one can get more publicity?

Indians, according to author’s opinion, always try to squeal in this Single PD interaction. Once this type of behavior is showing by each of individuals, then we end up in a situation where, individually we might be good, but collectively we are dumb. If an Indian exporter has to export only once, he would end up in T or P, i.e be either present in the Temptation zone or Punishment zone. The sad part of the story is when this sort of behavior is aggregated, we become collectively dumb . Why not be try to be in state R , by playing fairly and thus thinking about long term profits than the immediate profits that one can get by squealing

The book then goes on to talk about Iterative PD where players interact multiple times. The author brings out three strategies which are usually found in Iterative PD scenario. How do you play if you know that you would be interacting with another person multiple times? There are some folks who always squeal, come what may – Fall under Supremely Selfish category. Some folks keep playing a fair game until they see that the other player has cheated. Post this they never trust the other person and become defensive and cheat through out. The best strategy in an iterative PD scenario is that of Tit for Tat Strategy / Gentleman Strategy. Keep playing the fair game until there is a defection. Once the other player starts playing a fair game, revert to playing the fair game. All this might sound a little complicated but the examples given in the book flow smoothly with these categories thus giving a reader an interesting perspective towards the application of iterative PD to understand Indian behavior.

The author comes hardly on Indians saying that we lack self regulation. An example he cites is of a traffic behavior at Ithaca where the vehicles follow a clear pattern with mutual understanding. Also the presence of free riding which is rampant amongst folks, gives rise to a host of problems. One interesting thing I came to know was about the prevalence of insurance to ticket less is a thriving industry in Mumbai. It is something to be shameful of, but that’s how the situation is.

The other aspect is about the fact the Indians are typically not system driven people. They love uncertainty, chaos. India, they say is functioning anarchy.  This lack of creating systems, understanding systems and following the systems is one of the biggest reasons of many maladies.

Overall, this book gives an interesting perspective towards behavior of Indians. I loved it.