Posts tagged ‘Prisoner Dilemma’

Gender-Neutral Third Person Pronoun

I am with Kevin Drum.  I got tired of using "his or her" or some other such kluge some time back.  I am using "their" until someone defines a better third person possessive pronoun that is gender-neutral (ditto "them" for "him or her").  After all, unlike French, English is a bottom-up language defined by common use rather than unchanging top-down rules.  So if enough of us use "their", it will become correct.

For those of you too young to remember, the invention of "Ms." as a generic women's prefix was one of the greatest improvements in the English language in my lifetime.  If you despair sometimes in looking down a list of names and trying to guess if the person is a "Mr." or "Ms." (remember "Pat" on Saturday Night Live), you wouldn't believe what a pain in the rear it was to figure out if one should use "Miss" or "Mrs."  for a given female.

Airplane Seats and the Prisoner's Dilemma

I suppose I should weigh in on the great airplane seat lean back or not kerfuffle.  A number of tall people like Megan McArdle have argued for leaning seats back.  I am in the opposite camp, despite being 6-4 and even taller than Ms. McArdle.  And the reason is sort of ironic, given McArdle's old blog title and twitter handle:  the benefits for leaning a seat back are not symmetric.   When the person in front of me leans their seat back, two things happen:  1:  my knees get scrunched and 2.  I can't use my laptop any more because the screen will not raise (given the position of the table and angle of the seat).  Leaning my seat back does not fully relieve either of these.  In other words, I gain less knee room leaning back than I lose from the person in front of me leaning back.  It is a form of the prisoner's dilemma where looking at only my choices, I  am always better off leaning back.  But I am worse off if everyone leans back.  My gut feeling is that everyone must experience the same thing.  Which is why there has grown up an unspoken agreement among most frequent flyers not to lean seats back, just as the solution to the prisoner's dilemma is for the prisoners to collude and keep their mouths shut.  I greatly appreciate McArdle's work and she is one of my favorite writers, but on airplanes she is the prisoner that cheats.

PS-  Brian Lowder argues we should go back to dressing up when we travel.  Yeah, we used to put on coats and ties to fly when I was little.  Well, I'll go back to dressing up when airplane travel goes back to being romantic again.  But that ship, not to mix metaphors, has already sailed.  The odds are that in a given week, at 6 feet 4 tall, my four hours on an airplane are the least comfortable four hours I spend all week.  I am not going to make it worse by putting on a coat and tie.  I dress in the most comfortable clothes I can, which means baggy cargo shorts and a polo shirt.


Who Said Economics Are Not Useful?

Wonder why no one thought of this before?  Prisoner's Dilemma as a game show.  Two players with two choices with rewards structured similar to a classic prisoners dilemma game (though not quite -- to be exactly the same the return of steal-steal should be higher than the returns of picking split in split-steal).