Prisoner’s Dilemma Denim Style

At work denim was removed from the acceptable dress code. No worry to me because I could not remember the last time I actually wore jeans to the office. They are not clothes I wear often away from the office either. Even in “cold” weather (above freezing, below room temperature) I sweat in them. I find them uncomfortable to wear while sitting. So I pretty much only wear them when I am going to spend time in freezing weather and not at the office. Losing the authorization did not bother me much.

Your area has been assigned a denim dollar collector for “Denim Days” starting ******.   Each [certain weekday] your denim dollar collector will visit to see if you or everyone in  your area is wearing denim.   If everyone in your area is wearing denim the cost will be $3.00 per person, if not, the cost will be $5.00 per person.

I wonder if people know this is a more complex version the Prisoner’s Dilemma in game theory.

Tucker began with a little story, like this: two burglars, Bob and Al, are captured near the scene of a burglary and are given the “third degree” separately by the police. Each has to choose whether or not to confess and implicate the other. If neither man confesses, then both will serve one year on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. If each confesses and implicates the other, both will go to prison for 10 years. However, if one burglar confesses and implicates the other, and the other burglar does not confess, the one who has collaborated with the police will go free, while the other burglar will go to prison for 20 years on the maximum charge.

The strategies in this case are: confess or don’t confess. The payoffs (penalties, actually) are the sentences served. We can express all this compactly in a “payoff table” of a kind that has become pretty standard in game theory.

In this case, cooperation is both confessing (example) and wearing denim (situation). Defection is both not confessing (example) and not wearing denim (situation). Unlike Prisoner’s Dilemma there is not a middle point where both defecting has the second best result. Also, one has to anticipate whether 3-30 people all cooperate not one other. According to game theory, it is in everyone’s interests to cooperate which means wear the denim.

Unfortunately, there is a plausible third choice which may derail the whole thing: refusing to pay anything. Wearing jeans and not paying would still be unauthorized as the point of the activity is to raise money by letting people participate. However, forcing people who do not wish to participate seems like a Human Resources disaster waiting to happen. Yet, the game is predicated on universal participation. Hopefully, when there is push back from people like me they just strike those refusing to play along from the activity as non-participating and do not punish all the members of the group by making them pay for a non-participant.

BTW, Denim supposedly could mean “de Nîmes” aka “of Nîmes” a city in France. (Wikipedia / Yahoo news) I didn’t go into scholarly research to determine whether that is true.

2 thoughts on “Prisoner’s Dilemma Denim Style”

  1. I HATE these fundraisers which rally the troops with cries of 100% participation. There is one particular nationwide work place fundraiser which should come to mind.

    In your case, your best option, provided you want to support the charity or purpose behind the fundraiser, is to find a pin or other ‘indicator’ to substitute for not wearing the jeans (count this instead) and kick in to the fund.

    In my case, I’ve wanted to support charities of my own choice, esp. those which don’t have mainstream support and felt that every dollar I kick in to programs advocating compulsary participation based on work group or other ‘tribe’ I happen to be in, is a dollar I don’t have to give where I want to give. Recently however, I’ve come to see that because my primary membership is in the human race, the dollars I contribute to ANY charities promoted by the human race DO support the work done by my pet charities since those charities gain more if their members are perceived as less …ah, hmm, I’ll risk it and say “exclusive” (hoping you know in what sense I intend that) and more …. human.

  2. Well, if we are thinking about the same particular national work place fundraiser, they received the same amount of money in 2008 as in 2007 and spent $3 million less (to $16M from $19) on helping people and instead kept it. (Plus management of the organization is about $21 million.) So I don’t see this particular one as contributing to the human race so much as the organizer’s pocketbooks. This is from the Form 990 they gave to the IRS and published on the organization’s web site.

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