Covid-19: Prisoner’s Dilemma

Prisoner’s Dilemma comes from game theory. Essentially, two prisoners are not allowed to collaborate, and then are presented a set of options: stay silent and get a guaranteed sentence, or cooperate and get immunity. The optimal solution is to stay silent.

What does this have to do with Corona Virus and Covid-19? Right now, the only effective way to mitigate the spread of the virus is through social distancing: staying away from others to slow the spread. But humans can become irrational in time of panic – really toilet paper?

Corona Virus is now a pandemic and we now have a prisoner’s dilemma problem at a global scale – in absence of a cure/vaccine, the only other way to get this virus to go away would be to blunt the transmission: 7 billion people go on lock down/isolation for ~3 weeks. Otherwise, once people start moving around again (travel, random social contact, etc.) you will just get more flare ups. This isn’t feasible.

What’s not the solution? Self-interest. If you pursue your own self interests, and everyone pursues their own self interests – i.e. everyone goes Mad Max Thunder Dome, that puts excessive demand on supply chains and the health care systems. This will feed panic, which can turn to social unrest, and a bunch of other shitty outcomes.

What is a solution? Cooperation. What does cooperation look like? Practice social distancing. Don’t horde. Help your neighbors and the less fortunate. Maintain your physical and mental health.

Prisoner’s Dilemma. Accept the fact that this Corona Virus pandemic will affect you either directly or indirectly. You will not come out unscathed. The optimal solution for society will be cooperation not individualism.